Editor at Ecommerce Platforms
The coronavirus outbreak has had an enormous physical and emotional impact on our lives, transforming how we live amongst one another. Everything we once took for granted, from going to work to meeting with friends and family has changed. The economic impacts of the virus due to its removal of the labor force and closure of public shops, restaurants and more has been widely noted, but what effect has the virus had on us as consumers, and what have our actions so far as a society revealed about our consumer attitudes?
Cautious in what sense?
Before you can really analyze whether or not the average consumer is really more cautious because of the ongoing impact of the coronavirus, you need to decide what you mean by cautious and analyze the unique and largely differing circumstances of the public.
Are we looking at cautious in the sense of how frequently people are shopping in comparison to before the outbreak started to spread across the world? This must be looked at not just as a case of individual choice, but government restrictions.
Next, you need to look at consumer habits in an entirely different economic situation to what the majority of people worldwide were facing just a few months ago. Millions have lost their jobs worldwide, turning them from frequent casual consumers into people who rarely consume at all, as their available income has been drastically slashed if not eliminated altogether.
Finally, you need to consider lockdown lifestyles. In many countries where the virus has been particularly devastating, the population is in lockdown. This means they are working from home and unable to spend money in shops, restaurants and retail, as these establishments are closed.
This doesn’t just eliminate spending during dedicated shopping sessions, but all the income these sectors would make from snap decisions while out and about, such as walking to and from work. People may not be cautious consumers, as they can’t be consumers altogether.
Virus shopping habits
The early days of the coronavirus outbreak across the Western world were dominated by images of people panic buying in supermarkets, with items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer in high demand. This panic buying seemed to signify the last real consumer boom before lockdowns and social distancing measures began to be implemented across these countries.
In a way, this action plays into both sides of the cautious consumer argument. This shows consumers were aware of the potential for product scarcity and incoming economic issues and decided to buy in bulk prior to the full impact, but also shows a complete lack of caution in reacting wildly to news about the virus and bulk buying in obscene numbers. Is the cautious consumer one that buys solely with their own interest in mind?
Online retail has also seen a boom. Many e-commerce stores have continued to operate throughout the crisis, with consumers turning to them to fulfill their needs and even order groceries. This does show responsibility and caution in the sense people are acting with restraint and trying to not shopping person, but also suggests a need to retain normality despite people being forced to work in dangerous conditions. There is also a resistance to this due to fears that deliveries could be carrying the virus, despite disputes against this and precautions being taken throughout the industry when packing orders.
Beyond retail, numerous other industries have seen dramatic changes to the way consumers buy, particularly in larger purchases. The real estate industry, driven by the accessibility of people to view new properties, has completely shut down for the most part. This has left numerous deals in limbo and left sellers with properties they can’t shift, with no sign of where the housing market will become the end of the crisis. The upturn in virtual tours of properties does suggest there is still a willingness from consumers to continue as they were though.
What changes could we see?
So what does this all mean for consumers in a post-COVID 19 world? What can we expect from consumer patterns once retail stores re-open and the dining and entertainment industries start to recover?
Bulk buying is a difficult trend to ascertain anything from, as it is such an ‘of the moment’ action, often spurred on by seeing someone else do it. The economic effect of it could cause ripples in the future spending patterns of the average person for a short while at least, as they work through their stocks at home and try and avoid crowded areas such as supermarkets immediately after lockdown precautions are lifted. Of course, mass unemployment and economic strife throughout the population will no doubt have an enormous impact on what people have to spend on consumer goods.
Throughout the course of the virus’s spread across the globe, there have been reports of diminished pollution in cities as fewer people inhabit these spaces, production stalls and vehicles are driven less frequently. While a much-debated topic, this could lead to a dramatic change in individual consumer approaches to eco-concerns. More people could transition to electric vehicles for example, especially if trends revert back to pre-coronavirus status as electric car insurance and upkeep tends to be cheaper than that of gas-guzzling options. It would not be surprising to see a more eco-conscious consumer once lockdown is lifted and individual impact becomes more apparent.
Consumer habits could also change in terms of which businesses they chose to support after the crisis. Small and local businesses will suffer the most from forced closure due to coronavirus. A conscious consumer could choose to shop exclusively with them to rebuild the economic standing of their local area.
Until sales figures are released and people are able to consume at a normal rate again, we have no way of telling what impact coronavirus has truly had on consumer habits. So far we have seen a combination of panic buying and compassionate community purchasing. Like so many things in life though, this virus could start the wheel that dramatically changes how we purchase and consume goods and services.
Rodney Laws is an online entrepreneur who has been building online businesses for over a decade. He knows what it’s like to see websites both succeed and fail – even the best business ideas can fall short. Rodney runs EcommercePlatforms.io and uses his experience to help fellow entrepreneurs start and run their own companies.