How the Pandemic Has Changed Consumer Behavior

The pandemic has profoundly impacted society, as you may have noticed: people are working from home, sports stadiums and airplanes continue to gather dust, and schools and universities have gone online. Not surprisingly, consumer behavior has also changed drastically.

Indeed, the “new normal” that we’ve heard so much about has had broad implications not only for how people shop but also for what they are buying. Retailers need to rethink old assumptions about traditional consumer habits and pivot for the future. Here are some of the ways consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and purchasing patterns have changed, and how retailers can adapt.

Consumers Are Going Local and Sustainable

The pandemic has accelerated consumers’ love of locally sourced and artisanal products—a logical shift given that people aren’t traveling as frequently, either for work or for pleasure, and want to support their communities. The go-local trend was well entrenched before the pandemic—now it’s firmly rooted and can’t be ignored by businesses.

Likewise, a recent Accenture report notes that 61% of consumers are making more environmentally friendly purchases, with 89% likely to continue post-crisis.

The takeaway for retailers: Given consumers’ growing taste for local and sustainable goods, retailers should think about creating partnerships with local businesses and highlighting locally produced goods to address this expanding market segment.

Consumers Are Moving Online

It appears that people aren’t just going online to connect over Zoom—ecommerce market share, which has been steadily increasing over the last decade, has also exploded since the pandemic. Indeed, according to McKinsey, most retail categories have seen a 10% increase in their online customer base over the past few months, while the data suggest a post-pandemic increase of 169% in ecommerce purchases by new and low-frequency online users.

The takeaway for retailers: People don’t want to stand in line with a mask and risk infection, nor do they want to freeze their boots off now the colder weather is on the way. Consequently, alternatives such as curbside pickup and buy-online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) are crucial for businesses. To facilitate these new ways of shopping, merchants should consider online solutions such as virtual terminals and email invoicing, which are ideal for card-not-present transactions.

Consumers Are More Hygiene-Conscious

Hygiene and personal-safety concerns are keeping people out bricks-and-mortar establishments, especially restaurants, forcing stores to move online and make the in-store experience less anxiety-inducing. Most businesses have responded appropriately, many providing clear guidelines for physical distancing, such as on-floor decals and signage, as well as complimentary face masks, hand sanitizer, and handwashing stations.

The takeaway for retailers: Businesses must instill confidence in consumers and create a smooth in-store shopping experience that puts them at ease and makes it clear that their health and safety are the number one priority. Employees are key to this—if they feel comfortable, then they will be in a better position to provide an enjoyable and anxiety-free shopping experience. Stores need to make sure that employees are trained (1) how to wear personal protective equipment properly, and (2) how to handle new customers.

Here's a great small business Covid safety guide to help you with that.

Customers Are Embracing Contactless

No surprise here: the pandemic has supercharged contactless payments (for obvious hygienic reasons). According to Mastercard, the first quarter of 2020 saw a 40% increase in contactless payments, while Visa says that overall contactless device usage in the United States has grown 150% since March 2019.

Furthermore, card issuers increased contactless transaction limits shortly after the pandemic began, which undoubtedly encouraged people to tap and go instead of inserting payment cards and touching the keypad.

The takeaway for retailers: If you have a legacy POS system that doesn’t accept contactless payments, it’s time to rethink your strategy and upgrade to contactless to meet growing demand and customer expectations. The benefits extend well beyond simple transactions—smart POS systems can generate invoices, help you manage customers, employees, and inventory, view data, and run comparisons. These added functionalities will allow you to stay abreast of trends and adapt accordingly.

Will these trends stick?

It appears that many of them, including the shift to digital, are here to stay. Consumers have discovered the true convenience and seamlessness of ecommerce and contactless payments, while the support-local movement appears to have gained traction.

The bottom line: what worked in the past may not work in the future, and you need to be nimble, stay attuned to trends, and leverage customer insights to survive.

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