How Uncertainty is Changing Consumer Behavior

Brian Burton

This pandemic has presented new and continuously evolving challenges for all of us, and it appears these uncertainties are likely to last for some time. Nearly all sectors of the global economy have felt some level of pain, forcing businesses both big and small to adapt in order to survive. One specific area where we are seeing a great deal of adaptation is in consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and spending habits. What we don’t know yet is whether these changes are temporary. Now that we are seeing that this pandemic will likely last for months to come, could this disruption have lasting effects on consumer behavior? Only time will tell, but for now here is where we are seeing the most meaningful shifts in consumer sentiment and behavior:
  1. A Shift to Digital – with people spending more time at home, a “homebody economy” has become, at least temporarily, a new normal. A growing number of consumers are now shopping, working, studying,and finding entertainment online at home. We are also seeing much higher adoption rates of contact less services like curbside pickup, delivery, and drive-through service. For example, grocery delivery platforms such as Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have all seen dramatic spikes in sales, with much of the growth coming from new customers who are trying online grocery shopping for the first time. These could prove be temporary work-arounds but some at-home solutions will likely be here for the long-term.
  2. A Shift to Mindful Shopping – unfortunately, many families have experienced stress to their household finances due to the pandemic. These challenging circumstances have forced many consumers to become more vigilant about their spending, researching brands and products more, and many times trading down for less expensive items.Although spending on discretionary categories such as travel and leisure have picked back up, many consumers continue holding back on these areas and shifting their spending to mostly essentials.This trend is likely to continue at least until there is more certainty around the pandemic, if not much longer.
  3. A Shift Away from Brand Loyalty – with less availability due to supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic, many consumers are trying new brands and shopping at different retailers. Not only are availability and value driving this shift,but consumers are also looking for brands that value health, hygiene, and treatment of employees. In other words, consumers are making buying decisions based more on company behavior than ever before and brands are being held to a new standard.

Whether it’s buying in bulk to load up the pantry, picking up a new hobby, streaming video content, or learning new recipes to cook at home, consumer behavior has changed drastically since the COVID-19 outbreak. I believe that many of these changes are temporary and will likely revert to pre-pandemic behaviors; however, a number of these transformations are likely here to stay and could change the face of our consumer-based economy permanently.

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