The onset of the COVID-19 epidemic in March of 2020 disrupted the global economy. It forced many companies to change their products or services as well as the way they market to customers. Consumer behavior during the pandemic changed drastically. For example, consumers wanted perks such as safe delivery and curbside pickup options, demand for CPG products increased, and even the demographics of who was doing the shopping for the household shifted. As vaccines are administered, and consumers look forward to a return to normalcy – companies must decipher how much of the changes brought around by the pandemic will be permanent.
Accenture’s recent report on consumer behavior found that 95% of consumers polled said they had made at least one change to their lifestyle that they expect will be permanent after the pandemic.1
“Working from home, changing travel patterns, and a growing desire to shop locally are challenging industries to fundamentally rethink how they cater to the pandemic-adapted consumer,” Accenture said in a statement announcing the survey findings.2
A Forrester survey of U.S. consumers corroborates Accenture’s findings. Forrester found that only 16% of those surveyed believe they will revert to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy after the pandemic subsides, and 75% say that the pandemic and related crises will drive long-term changes in their behaviors and preferences.3
Let’s dig into the changes to consumer behavior that are most likely to stay and how companies can adjust to ensure they are offering relevant services/products and targeting the right audiences with the right message.
Online shopping isn’t going anywhere. Before the pandemic, it was increasing in popularity. During the pandemic, online shopping was the only safe option, and consumers adopted it in droves. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. consumers spent $211.5 billion on e-commerce during the second quarter of 2020,4 up 31.8% quarter-over-quarter. Ravi Jariwala, senior director of public relations for Walmart e-commerce, notes that such a drastic shift in consumer behavior would typically take place over years. “The events of the last year have resulted in such a significant acceleration both from a consumer and a business standpoint. We’ve seen shopping behavior from consumers just fast-forward,”Jirwala said.5
When the pandemic hit, non-essential employees went remote. A WeWork and HR Research study found that 79% of employers plan to let their employees split their time between corporate offices and remote working if their job allows for it. 76% say they’re likely to give their employees a stipend to work from home or a co-working space.6 The same survey also found that post-COVID, employees want to split their time between their company HQ, home, and other locations such as satellite offices, co-working spaces, and public spaces like a library or café. A similar research report by Envoy, a provider of workplace safety tools, found that nearly half of U.S. full and part-time employees would rather quit than be forced back into the office every day.7
Some audiences that could be worth targeting? Homeowners and new movers. Americans are buying homes in record numbers.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that “mortgage applications for new home purchases increased 33 percent compared to a year ago” in August and 27.1 percent in November compared to a year ago.8 Data from online listing company, Zillow, show that in September 2020, the typical home sold in only 16 days, down from 28 days a year earlier.9 The New York Times reports that some Americans are combining the top two pandemic activities, shopping online and buying a home. Due to the frenzied housing market, the Times reports that many shoppers are buying homes online, sight unseen.10
In addition to shopping for homes, many consumers are sprucing up the homes they do have. Now that many have been house-bound, they have invested in ways to improve their homes or make them more comfortable. Home improvement retailers, such as Lowes and Home Depot have reported a bump in 2020 sales.11
During the pandemic, there was a boom in the “convenience” economy. Offers such as one-day shipping, which had previously been a perk, became essential. Some companies began offering same-day delivery or even promised to have products delivered within the hour. Other offers, such as curbside pickup, also increased in popularity as it became unsafe to have shoppers packed next to each other in storefronts. Online grocery shopping and delivery services also saw a surge in popularity.12 Consumers paid premiums to have their groceries delivered to their doorstep without setting foot in a store.
Online grocery, expedited delivery, and curbside pickup are most likely here to stay – although not at pandemic levels. Much like with online shopping, consumers have gotten used to the convenience and efficiency of these options.13
How can advertisers be sure that they are targeting the right people?
The pandemic altered consumer behaviors, changed the landscape across industries, and created new rules of engagement for marketers. Brands need to create messaging that fits the new normal, tailor their offerings to fit those needs, and target new customer segments to reflect who is buying, and how to reach them.
The pandemic caused a massive shift in consumer behavior and preferences – one that has only accelerated as the pandemic wears on. Now that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, companies need to determine which behaviors and preferences are here to stay – which is no easy feat. However, there are ways that companies can reach out to new target audiences and re-engage with current or lapsed customers to drive growth as we head into an uncertain future.
As Content Marketing Manager, Natasia is responsible for helping strategize, produce and execute Data Axle's content. With a passion for writing and an enthusiasm for data management and technology, Natasia creates content that is designed to deliver nuggets of wisdom to help brands and individuals elevate their data governance policies. A native New Yorker, when Natasia is not at work she can be found enjoying New York’s food scene, at one of NYC’s many museums, or at one of the city’s many parks with her two teacup yorkies.