Survey: COVID-19 & The Future of Commerce—How a Global Pandemic Changed the Way We Shop
COVID-19 has changed the face of commerce, forcing many retailers to speed through several years worth of digital transformation in the span of months. What has this meant for consumers, we wondered. How has the pandemic impacted shopping habits, and what could that mean for the future of commerce? To help answer these critical questions, we conducted a survey of more than 1,000 consumers. The results are surprising—particularly when it comes to issues of sustainability, where 32.7 percent said they are actually more likely to buy sustainable products now than pre-pandemic.
The survey also confirms that consumers are less likely to buy from small businesses than before and more likely to turn to large online retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Bulk buying has also spiked. Differences in how Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z are handling this new normal showed up in the data as well, with Millennials and Gen Zers most likely to order food delivery.
Lastly, we wanted to know what consumers expected from stores upon reopening, and how they plan to approach their shopping needs in the future. Here’s what they said.
Small Businesses Hit Hardest by Shifting Shopping Habits
Small businesses are getting hit hard by consumers’ sudden pandemic-related change in behavior. Nearly a quarter of respondents (22.5 percent) said they were buying less frequently from small businesses. In contrast, nearly two-thirds of respondents (61.3 percent) said they were buying more frequently from Amazon or other large online retailers. U.S. ecommerce sales nearly doubled in May 2020, showing a 92.7 percent spike. While positive for ecommerce, continued lockdowns and changing mandates have hit the small business community hard, forcing many to close their doors permanently.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents reported changing their shopping behavior due to the current health crisis. Only a scant 7.3 percent of survey respondents said the pandemic hadn’t changed the way they shopped at all. Between store closures and social distancing guidelines, this 7.3 percent could represent those who previously shopped exclusively online and were able to continue doing so, even during the pandemic.
What’s Worth a Trip to the Store—and What Isn’t?
If respondent behavior is any indication, the apparel and electronics industries are destined for online futures while the entertainment industry leads the way in digital transformation. Less than 11 percent of respondents reported buying entertainment in-store while almost sixty-five percent said entertainment purchases were made online.
Dressing rooms could vanish from clothing stores when you consider less than 17 percent of respondents require an in-store experience to buy clothes and more than 60 percent are making apparel purchases online. In the market for a new electronic? Just 12.3 percent of respondents feel the need to see it in a store setting and nearly 60 percent are content to make those purchases online.
Generational Preferences: Millennials & Gen Z Flock to Food Delivery & Takeout
While not new, curbside pickup and food deliveries have become more common in our pandemic-era society. Stores and restaurants were quick to adopt “contactless” transactions, offering to make deliveries to the trunks of cars or leave items at the door. For some restaurants and retailers, figuring out contactless transactions meant the difference between conducting some business vs none at all.
Across generations, these options vary in popularity. For instance, since March, food delivery services have been favored among Millennials and Gen Z respondents, with 54.6 percent and 53.7 percent using them, respectively. Comparatively, only 34 percent of Baby boomers have opted for food delivery since March but 45.6 percent had picked up a meal curbside. Generation X respondents also preferred curbside restaurant pickup over other services.
Who Wins During a Pandemic? Mother Nature
The effects of widespread shelter-at-home orders almost instantly impacted the environment. NASA reported lower fossil fuel emissions visible from space, birds returned to Venice, Italy, and air quality across the globe dramatically improved. We wanted to know if the experience of living through a global pandemic impacted the importance of sustainability among consumers—and it did.
A solid 63 percent of respondents said they purposely seek out sustainable brands when shopping. Since the pandemic, 32.7 percent of people said shopping sustainably is more important to them now than it was before—perhaps motivated by the dramatic, positive changes in the environment.
As mentioned earlier, respondents were more likely to shop in bulk since the pandemic began. In addition to reducing exposure risks, less trips to the store also mean less carbon emissions. When asked about sustainability, respondents showed a range of concern for the amount of packaging used to fulfill their online shopping orders. Companies such as RePack, which plans to expand from Europe to the U.S. this year, have been focused on reducing the packaging waste associated with ecommerce by creating a reusable option.
Will COVID-19 Mean the End to In-Store Shopping? Probably Not
During the era of extended lockdowns, what motivates shoppers to go to the store and what are the benefits of buying online? Is it possible that some people just want a reason to get out of the house? Seventeen percent said yes.
Conversely, social distancing was the second most popular reason to buy online (38.3 percent). Without having to go to a physical store, shoppers can limit their exposure to coronavirus by staying at home, avoiding other shoppers and store employees, and limiting interactions with product and store surfaces.
Other top reasons to buy online include convenience (54.1 percent), a wider selection (36.6 percent), and spending less time than traditional shopping requires (30.3 percent).
For some shoppers, human interaction was a reason in itself to go to the store—11 percent wanted to speak to a sales associate. More commonly, consumers valued the ability to obtain items immediately when shopping in-store (64.1 percent). Nearly half (46.7 percent) wanted to compare items in person, as opposed to on a screen. And a third just wanted to avoid shipping fees.
A New Normal: Shopping After COVID-19
Retailers were quick to respond to the pandemic with new campaigns that created a sense of solidarity and reflected the sudden change in everyone’s shared reality. Brands that did this well will likely reap the benefits of connecting with consumers. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73.9 percent) said retailers’ responses to the pandemic affected their opinion of them.
Another opportunity for retailers to win trust is with their cleaning protocols. Baby boomers, among the generations, were most likely to have their loyalty swayed by a store’s approach to sanitation and disinfection. But 90 percent of customers overall said a cleaning protocol would have some impact on their decision to continue shopping with a retailer.
And what will consumers do when the pandemic is behind us? At the risk of oversimplification, we wanted to know how respondents planned to shop in the future. Local delivery was the choice for 7.3 percent with everyone else split almost evenly between online (44.1 percent) and in-store (48.7 percent) shopping.
Why Understanding Customer Data Could Save Your Business
No longer a nice to have, understanding and even predicting how your customers’ attitudes and behaviors are changing is critical to staying connected and relevant to your consumers. Among the myriad of marketing technologies, Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are foundational for successful and automatic collection, unification, and activation of individual customer data. The ability to know your customers is the first step to meeting them with the right offers, at the right times, and through the right communications and delivery channels.
Treasure Data CDP empowers companies by delivering rich customer insights that drive outstanding customer experiences and personalization. To see what a CDP could do for your business, visit Treasure Data.
We surveyed 1,017 people about how their shopping habits have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents were 55.3 percent men and 44.5 percent women. One respondent identified as transgender, and one respondent identified as gender-fluid. The average age of respondents was 41.8 with a standard deviation of 14.5.
Respondents were asked to report how frequently they were performing specific actions now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. They were given the following scale of answer options:
- Much less frequently
- Less frequently
- The same amount
- More frequently
- Much more frequently
In our final visualization of the data, we combined these into three groups: less frequently, the same amount, and more frequently.
Respondents were also asked to report what shopping method they were using to acquire various types of goods. They were given the following options:
- Primarily in-store
- Primarily online
- Equally in-store and online
- N/A; I haven’t been buying this
Percentages represented in our final visualization of this data reflect only people who reported buying each category of goods.
When exploring the importance of shopping sustainably, respondents were asked how important shopping for sustainable brands is to them now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. They were given the following scale of options:
- Much less important
- Less important
- Neither less nor more important
- More important
- Much more important
In our final visualization of the data, we combined these into the following groups: less important, neither less nor more important, and more important.
When reporting the top benefits of shopping both in-store and online, respondents were allowed to select up to three benefits that were most important to them for each method of shopping.
Parts of this project include data broken down by generation. Respondents were asked to report their generation based on the following classifications:
- The Greatest Generation (born 1927 or earlier)
- Silent Generation (born 1928–1945)
- Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)
- Generation X (born 1965–1980)
- Millennials (born 1981–1997)
- Generation Z (born 1998–2012)
The Greatest Generation and Silent Generation were excluded from our final data visualizations due to low sample sizes in those groups.
This data was self-reported. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things for people around the world, including how we shop for and obtain goods. If you know someone who would benefit from the information in this project, you are free to share for any noncommercial reuse. Please link back here so the full project and methodology can be reviewed. This also gives credit to our hardworking contributors, without whom this work would not be possible.