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The Coronavirus Pandemic and Changes in Consumer Behavior

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Changes in Consumer Behavior

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University

How has the lockdown changed your behavior as a consumer? When we resume our activities outside of our homes, will you go back to “business as usual” or not?

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In a recent article, MarketingDive reporter Peter Adams presented his ideas on why consumers probably will not return to their old ways of living their lives. He identified some new beliefs that consumers now display and suggests that a “permanent shift” in consumer behavior can be expected.

For example, Adams says thatForty-two percent of surveyed consumers believe the coronavirus pandemic will fundamentally alter their shopping habits.” I am a part of that 42 percent, and I know my consumer behavior has definitely been affected by this pandemic.

How the Pandemic Has Changed My Own Consumer Behavior

What have I found out about myself during the last six weeks? This time has shown me that my spending habits could be improved.

I realized that many of the items that I have purchased were unnecessary. The lockdown has provided me the time to evaluate whether or not I need a product or service. As a result, my finances have improved.

Also, I now understand how previous lifestyle habits worked against me. I was spending valuable time securing items that did not warrant the time needed to obtain them.

Overall, I have learned to be selective about where and when I spend my money during this pandemic. I developed a systematic approach for justifying purchases and found out there are many services that I could perform for myself.

I have to be mindful to slow down and have taken the time to do so. I can lead a more balanced life with fewer material possessions.

Consumers Are More Likely to Buy According to Locality, Trust and Ethics

Adams also points out that according to an Ernst and Young study, “Around one-third (34%) said they would pay more for local products, while 25% will pay more for trusted brands, and 23% will pay more for ethical brands.”

I understand the results of this study and believe that all three elements are essential in consumer behavior. Local products are usually farm to table, and you know where the products you’re buying have originated. The busiest stores in my area are the farmers’ markets and chain grocery stores promoting organic items.

While there are concerns about food processing, people tend to trust the local merchants because there is a sense of community. I very seldom go to the chain supermarkets unless I want items to be delivered.

Consumers Are More Willing to Sacrifice Some Privacy for Safety

Adams notes, “Attitudes toward areas like privacy and purpose are evolving as well, with 54% of respondents saying they are open to sharing more personal data to help monitor and track an infection cluster.”

People are scared for their safety, especially during this pandemic. They are afraid of the unknown. As a result, they are comfortable with giving up some of their rights in order to feel secure.

Consumer Behavior Has Varied during the Pandemic

According to the Ernst and Young study, Adams says that “Four consumer profiles have formed during the pandemic, with 27% of people falling into a ‘Cut Deep’ segment that’s spending less across the board as they’re furloughed or laid off; 26% comprising a ‘Stay calm, carry on’ category that’s holding steady and mostly unaffected by the pandemic; 35% landing in a more pessimistic, family-oriented ‘Save and stockpile’ group; and just 11% making up a ‘Hibernate and spend’ category that’s spending more during the crisis.”

Once again, I believe the results of this study are related to a person’s perspective. As Ernst and Young notes, the most significant and highest percentage of consumers was the group who is probably uncomfortable with not being sure about what the future holds. They want to be prepared and equipped.

Consequently, this group will purchase everything they need because they are concerned that our situation will get worse before it gets better. Also, they may be worried about how others will react if supplies get low.

The second-largest group of consumers is the individuals who have been directly affected by the crisis. They may be scared for their health, but they also have the additional burden of trying to survive without a steady source of income. Decisions and adjustments to their lifestyles will need to be made.

The third group with the mantra of “stay calm, carry on” is very close in consumer behavior to the second group, and I believe that’s a good thing. These individuals recognize that there is a global health crisis, but they are adapting to the “new norm” by making the best of the situation. These individuals will seek alternatives to make their situations work.

In terms of employment, these individuals probably work for companies that have effectively utilized technology, so their work-life hasn’t seen an adverse impact. As a result, they are still receiving a paid check because they are as close as one can be to “business as usual.”

Ideally, we want the last group to remain small. In my mind, it means that people are not binge-shopping as a result of being pessimistic and closed off from the world. Like most businesses, consumers will need to find creative ways to adapt to the “new normal.” Life won’t be the same because we cannot predict when this pandemic will end, but life still goes on nonetheless.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders.

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