How Has the Pandemic Affected Shopping Behavior?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, especially physical businesses. See how peoples' grappling with the coronavirus changed spending habits through pandemic shopping

No contact delivery, pick-up orders only, limited operating hours. We all remember those adaptations that our favorite food places, book stores, clothing boutiques, and other favorite shops implemented to keep visitors safe while pandemic shopping. 

With the holiday season rolling around, it’s well worth it to look back on the past two years and examine how shopping has changed. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we view commerce in general. 

More specifically, how the pandemic has affected shopping behavior in everyone. We think you’ll be surprised.

E-Commerce And Effective Marketing During a Pandemic

We’re not saying anything controversial when we declare e-commerce as the definitive winners of pandemic shopping 

The pandemic has shifted the attention away from physical stores to online in a big way. E-commerce was suddenly the king of the hill, which isn’t too surprising considering the circumstances. 

And when businesses effectively market their products and services during a pandemic, that’s pretty impressive. It shows adaptability, growth, and outside-the-box thinking.

Let’s face it, digital marketing experts weren’t exactly prepared for ‘unprecedented times.’ But it turns out that companies and their teams of brand experts knew exactly what to say and how to say it to their customer base. 

Plus, with excellent brand awareness, SEO efforts, and other marketing initiatives, companies were able to weather the storm and even see a marked increase in conversions, leads, and revenue.

For example, the pandemic helped subscription services grow massively over a short period. A piece in the Washington Post from Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam explains that, 

“The subscription economy was on the rise before the pandemic, but its wider and deeper reach in nearly every industry is expected to last, even after the pandemic subsides in the United States. The UBS financial services firm predicts that this “subscription economy” will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025, more than double the $650 billion it’s estimated to be worth now.” (Source: The Washington Post)

Buy With One-Click: Pandemic Shopping Online

We’ll be honest: the first few months of the pandemic, we indulged in our minor shopping addictions. We’re helping out businesses, right? We imagine many consumers felt the same(and maybe indulged a bit themselves. Hey, no judgment!)

Millions of people who were suddenly sequestered in their homes had to persevere through online shopping, whether through ordering their weekly groceries online or supporting their favorite local coffee shop during hard times. 

In a piece from January 2021, journalist Christine LaFave Grace interviewed Walmart’s senior director of public relations, Ravi Jariwala, about online grocery shopping and commerce in general.

“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. You think about the penetration of online grocery shopping today vs. where it was 18 months ago—18 months ago, would you ever have predicted people would be shopping for fresh, perishable groceries [online] as much as they are, as frequently as they are, today?” (Source: Winsight Grocery Business)

However, when observing the statistics and sales figures, it was a lot more staggering than even we had initially thought. 

According to J.P. Morgan, “In the U.S., consumers spent $211.5 billion during the second quarter on e-commerce, up 31.8% quarter-over-quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.” (Source: J.P. Morgan).

Okay, so maybe a few more of you indulged than we initially thought. But that’s okay! We’re all learning to live through unprecedented times.

While you can speak on the undeniable impact of e-commerce on pandemic shopping, there’s a lot more nuance to the past two years than you think. For example, let’s look at the actual products consumers gravitated towards.

What Did Pandemic Shoppers Buy?

We’re all aware of the now-iconic panic buying toilet paper and other personal care products early in the pandemic. However, looking deeper into that trend allows us to see what people prioritized over other consumer items. 

People were investing in a massive amount of cleaning products early on in the pandemic. Soaps, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers were often in low supply or completely out at your local stores. And while these cleaning products are usually moderately popular year-round, the pandemic provided a massive boost in sales for this group of products.

In the aforementioned J.P. Morgan piece, Celine Pannuti, Head of European Staples and Beverages Research at J.P. Morgan, says of cleaning products: 

“Clearly, hygiene and health are two factors that customers will continue to be focused on. All household cleaners and hand sanitizers, soaps, cleaning gels are at the top of consumers’ shopping lists. The items that were in high demand earlier in the year are still hugely popular. 

Overall, consumers want very high standards of hygiene, so the reality is cleaning, and disinfectant products are going to be in demand for quite some time to come…” (Source: J.P. Morgan)

But what products and services did the pandemic entirely sideline? It’s time to look at the travel industry. 

Traveling Abroad: Do Not Enter

With canceled plans and nowhere to go, would-be travelers delayed that important work trip, wondering if they’d even be able to return to their offices in the near future. It’s safe to say that people weren’t focused on traveling during the throes of the pandemic’s surges. 

In early 2020, the travel industry took a nosedive. With unprecedented travel restrictions nearly all over the world, it’s not surprising that the travel industry took a massive hit. 

Look at this graph from Flight Radar charting the severe downturn of flights in early 2020, with some help from Thanksgiving and Christmas later on.

A graphy showing the comparison between commerical flights in 2019 versus 2020
March and April 2020, when commercial flights were hit the hardest. (Source: flightradar24)

Other Pandemic Shopping Products

Some other products that saw significant popularity were items like:

  • Coffee - pretty self-explanatory. Work meetings via Zoom were much more productive this way.
  • Hair products - specifically hair coloring products
  • Technology - from gaming consoles to a replacement phone charger
  • Books - curling up with our favorite books helped take the edge off of some of the ‘unprecedented times’
  • Exercise equipment - you have to stay in shape somehow, right?

Final Thoughts On Pandemic Shopping

If you’re an e-commerce business, you likely saw an upsurge in client activity over the past two years, perhaps more than ever before. With outside events dictating the tempo, the shopping model changes drastically to accommodate customers and clients. 

The real question is, where does it go from here? Seeing the innovations and trends that the public adapts to seamlessly is impressive. And, let’s be honest, keeping your favorite small business operating feels really good, too.

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