EXPERIENCES

Research shows COVID-19 is unquestionably changing consumer habits

How have consumer habits, preferences, and lifestyles changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Our research uncovered a few notable trends that may signal long term change.

Abigail Matsumoto

December 20, 2021 | 6 min read

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In the business world, the historic COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass disruption and required new and agile ways of working. But how have consumers adapted—and what can we learn from their new habits, preferences, and lifestyles?

We took a look at what our research studies have uncovered about consumers throughout the pandemic. Though some changes have arisen out of necessity, that doesn’t mean they’re fleeting, or that we’ll see a major return to pre-COVID consumer behavior. Here are some takeaways to keep in mind as you consider how transactions may take a turn:

Convenience will continue to be key

Throughout the pandemic, consumers have been fueled by the desire to shop safely and efficiently. Convenience has been key, from technology to customer experience perks and accommodations. 

About half of people (49%) said they’re making online purchases more often now than before the pandemic1—and skipping in-store shopping doesn’t show signs of being temporary. Most (59%) people said they expect to be making online purchases about as often in 2022, with the rest split between those who think they’ll be making purchases more often (19%) and less often (19%).

In addition to digital shifts, consumers have readily adopted the flexible pickup options that arose during COVID. In fact, these accommodations have proven popular across age groups. About half of Gen Z (47%), Millennials (51%), and Gen X (47%) shoppers have done an in-store pickup of an online purchase within the last year, and 4 in 10 have used a curbside pickup service². Plus, 35% of all consumers have benefited from flexible payment options during the pandemic.

As for the future of flexible shopping? The majority (89%) of consumers want businesses to continue to offer flexible in-person pickup options even after the pandemic is over and 35% expect flexible billing options (including delayed billing or “skipping a month” for subscription services) to stay². 

So much surrounding the pandemic is still uncertain, but as our data shows, consumers have a hunger for convenience and can see a future where that’s the norm. Businesses would do well to remember that as they plan how to improve and optimize the customer experience.

New lifestyle habits may lead to new spending

COVID has sparked rolling lockdowns, increased awareness of health risks, and massive shifts in people’s priorities, especially when it comes to their career path. So is it any wonder that certain lifestyle changes have shown up among consumer data?

A full 71% of Americans have formed some sort of new travel habit during the pandemic; 35% said they are planning to spend less money on vacations, 28% will be traveling more locally, and 20% will only travel by car for vacations³. This may be linked to health concerns about traveling—and it’s not the only health-related trend among consumers.

More than one third (37%) of people said they are focusing more on eating healthier since the start of the pandemic, while 40% said they are currently on a diet. Millennials had an even higher rate of dieting (46%), with low-carb diets the most popular across all age groups⁴.

Then there’s COVID’s effect on consumers’ relationships with brands. Nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers said they have been spending more on private labels than on name brands throughout the pandemic. Among those who are spending more on private label brands, more than half (55%) cited price as a driving factor and one in six (16%) cited availability. This behavior may stick: 52% of those who said they were spending more on private label products plan to continue doing so after the pandemic subsides⁵.

So what do travel habits, eating habits, and brand loyalty tell us about consumers right now? For one thing, businesses should recognize that many consumers are envisioning a future where they have different spending habits—from airline and low-carb food purchases to go-to brands. Yes, some lifestyle habits may not last outside of the pandemic, but many have the potential to become fixed, which will affect the products and experiences that consumers prioritize.

Consumers are compensating for supply chain issues

COVID-caused supply chain problems have been in the news for months, from stock shortages and shipping delays to increased shipping rates. Compounding the problems has been an increase in demand from consumers; the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that in the last year, furniture sales are up 12%, electronics and appliances sales are up 18%, and clothing and accessories saw a 25% surge.

In August, we found that over two-thirds (68%) of people had bought larger quantities of an item because of past stock issues, fear of future stock issues, or both⁶. That mindset continued into the holiday shopping season. By October, nearly half (45%) of U.S. adults expressed concern about supply chain issues affecting their holiday shopping. Among those concerned shoppers, 38% had begun or were planning to begin their holiday shopping as a result⁷.

While the current supply chain issues are hopefully temporary, it’s worth noting that consumers track such things and alter their behavior accordingly. In the future, similar issues may impact not only what is purchased but how and when it’s purchased. As businesses grapple with the snagged supply chain on their end, they should consider how consumers are doing their own future-focused planning.

1Methodology: This Momentive study was conducted March 24-25, 2021 among a national sample of 1,566 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

²Methodology: This Momentive study was conducted between November 15-17, 2021 among a national sample of 3,279 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

³This Momentive study was conducted August 20-21, 2021 among a national sample of 1,196 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

⁴This Momentive study was conducted between September 9-10, 2021 among a national sample of 1,380 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

⁵This Momentive study was conducted May 19-20, 2021 among a national sample of 2,132 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

⁶This Momentive study was conducted August 27-28, 2021 among a national sample of 1,188 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

⁷This Momentive study was conducted between October 5-7, 2021 among a national sample of 2,738 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

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