As social distancing becomes the new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer habits are adapting in real-time to the new environment and circumstances. Here, we’ll recap some of those key patterns, what the implications are for brands and organizations, and highlight which behaviours we think will have staying power.

Shopping behaviour is evolving

Overall, 56% of consumers prefer to spend less and are only buying what they need given the current landscape. What we have seen is a shift in where consumers are spending, with a dramatic shift towards e-commerce. According to a recent study by Absolunet, e-commerce sales have doubled for Canadian merchants since March 11 – the day the World Health Organization announced a global pandemic.

One-stop-shop retailers (whether online or brick-and-mortar) will see success during this time as 24% of Canadians plan to shop at big box retailers like Costco and Walmart, and 18% of Canadians plan to shop at prominent online marketplaces such as Amazon – who will continue to lead the online delivery category. More than ever, brand loyalty is a low priority for consumers as product availability is of the highest importance. 40% of consumers say they would purchase from a less familiar brand if their first choice was unavailable rather than wait until the product is restocked.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is predicted that consumers will be slow to come back to brick-and-mortar retailers and the majority of the e-commerce business will continue to go to the biggest players like Amazon.

Consumers are considering new forms of entertainment

Consumers are turning to new forms of entertainment such as subscriptions services like Netflix, Disney+ and Spotify. In fact, 43% of consumers are considering paying for a subscription service they didn’t have before the outbreak of COVID-19. This is most common among Gen Z (57%) and Millennials (56%).

Consumers are also spending more time viewing different media, specifically online video content such as YouTube and TikTok. In fact, Gen Z is demonstrating the largest increase in media consumption with 58% of Gen Z audiences reporting greater use of social media during the novel coronavirus. With higher consumption and engagement on social media among the Gen Z audience, brands are presented with a unique opportunity to reach this young audience with fewer distractions.

Brands are being held to a new standard

Canadians have indicated they want to hear from brands about how they are operating during these uncertain times and, it’s clear that current and future consumer buying decisions will be affected by how brands respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers expect brands to shift their business priorities and resources to appropriately respond and adapt to current challenges, even if it translates to suffering significant economic losses. Unsurprisingly, consumers expect brands to produce products that aid consumers with today’s challenges and communicate transparently to stakeholders. Beyond these expectations, consumers want companies to further support the crisis by donating a portion of sales to local hospitals and/or partnering with other brands to maximize the impact of their efforts.

What we’re watching for as we look ahead

Evidently, COVID-19 has caused a shift in consumer behaviour and it is likely a handful of these new habits will remain in the long term, while others will fade over time. Below is a look at consumer habits that are predicted to stay:

  • Online purchasing will continue to be a prominent channel for consumer buying going forward. Brands and organizations that haven’t historically been easily available online must rapidly adapt to the “new normal” or they won’t survive.
  • Consumers will continue to turn to delivery services for restaurant and grocery food items. People are adapting to spending more time at home and it is predicted they will eat out less in the immediate future but still support their local favourites.
  • Luxury purchases will likely decline significantly as consumers continue to reduce their discretionary spending. However, people will continue to spend above-average amounts on products related to disease prevention, pandemic prevention, health, food and medicine.
  • Greater media consumption, especially online video content, is predicted to have staying power post-pandemic. Brands should consider new ways to reach audiences online, such as through TikTok or YouTube, depending on target audience demographics.
  • Out-of-home campaigns and in-person events will likely see a decline for months to come. Marketers will need to consider adapting their media mix going forward.

It is still unknown if consumers will be more or less brand loyal moving forward, but we do know that brands that keep their purpose at the forefront will be well positioned to maintain sales (and trust) of consumers in the long term.