How the Pandemic Has Changed Consumer Behavior

The pandemic has caused months of ups and downs and uncertainty for retailers. When lockdown orders were put into place and millions of people were relegated to their homes, online shopping rose more than 30% in just two months, compared to 2019. Most brick and mortar retailers had to shutter their doors. And every retailer had to make operational changes to comply with safety guidelines and meet consumer need, while trying to remain profitable.

Meanwhile, consumers were forced to change their shopping behavior—shopping online instead of in-store, keeping a safe distance in grocery stores, stocking up on essentials, and using curbside and delivery services.

Now that lockdown orders are being lifted and economies are opening back up, some of the consumer behaviors that were forced upon us have potentially become permanent ways of life.

For retailers to survive and succeed post-COVID, they’ll have to rethink and retool their businesses to meet these new consumer behaviors.

The Deloitte State of the Consumer Tracker has identified four distinct consumer behaviors that have emerged from both the pandemic and the resulting recession. We've offered suggestions on how to meet these emerging consumer personalities where they are.

The Bargain Hunter This consumer will buy non-essential items if they find a great deal, despite pandemic concerns.

What to do:

  • Offer discounts for in-store purchases to encourage customers to come back in to shop.

  • If you sell online, use social media, emails, and digital ads to share promo codes.

  • Use your existing customer data to offer hyper-targeted offers with tools like variable printing for direct mail.

  • Even though bargain hunters will buy non-essential items, right now you’ll get more traction if you offer discounts on essential or timely items, such as cleaning supplies, groceries, office furniture and décor, or activewear.

The Stockpiler This consumer has learned from the pandemic to keep their home stocked with more than they immediately need. Consumers who stockpile are also more likely to be concerned with safety and cleanliness.

What to do:

  • No matter what you sell, you can offer products your customer feels are essential. Clothing stores can sell athletic wear and athleisure for those still spending a lot of time at home. Furniture stores can start stocking cleaning supplies. Liquor stores can stock paper towels.

  • Place frequently purchased items at the front of your store near the checkout so customers can easily and safely stock up and go.

  • Post-COVID, continue your store cleaning and sanitizing efforts, including social distancing measures and sneeze guards at the register, and consider offering contactless payment options if you don’t already.

The Convenience Seeker This consumer has realized how convenient alternative shopping options can be, and they are fine with spending more for the convenience. Even if they were not aware or engaged with retail convenience features pre-pandemic, they now expect them.

What to do:

  • Develop a robust online/offline experience using tools such as AI (artificial intelligence) and AR (augmented reality). AI can be used for such things as customer service online chats, while AR can provide a virtual in-store experience, such as allowing consumers to see what a piece of furniture would look like in their home.

  • Continue or begin implementing curbside pickup, delivery and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) options.

  • Implement or continue easy and safe exchange/return policies.

  • If you already sell online, consider overhauling your e-commerce site to create a seamless shopping experience for your customers.

The Socially Conscious Shopper This consumer prefers to buy from brands that have responded well to the pandemic and crisis. They have also realized how important it is to support local businesses, even if it costs more to shop with them. More than 50% of consumers say they are shopping—and will continue to shop for the foreseeable future—with businesses that have shown community-minded responsibility during the pandemic.

What to do:

  • If you haven’t already adopted policies that create a safer, cleaner shopping experience that puts the wellbeing of your customers and employees first, consider doing so now. It will be reflected in your bottom line post-COVID.

  • Partner with companies that help you promote a healthier, happier lifestyle, such as wellness providers, fitness instructors, natural cleaning product suppliers, or other types of companies that complement your brand.

  • Consider “experience marketing,” which involves providing access to non-shopping related events at your locations or virtually (i.e., Walmart holding free, socially distanced drive-in movies in their store parking lots for those who are entertainment hungry).

By pivoting business focus, shifting marketing strategy, and adapting to current consumer behavior, retailers can survive and thrive through the rest of 2020 and for years to come.

Deloitte survey field dates: 8/18/20-8/22/20

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