The 'seismic shift' in our shopping behaviour

We all remember panic buying at the outset of the pandemic. And many of us subsequently became accustomed to shopping online.

But what are the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on our shopping habits?

Wendy Umberger, a professor of agriculture and food economics at the University of Adelaide, told ABC News one change is an increased emphasis on Australian-made products.

Prof. Umberger said 46 per cent of consumers told researchers that Australian origin was more important to them since the onset of the pandemic.

“They’re just not sure they can trust food from other countries. Australians’ trust in our food system is really strong and really impressive,” she said.

Our interest in health and nutrition was “turbocharged” during the pandemic, says Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns. There was a 45 per cent increase in consumers eating home-cooked meals, 33 per cent of consumers ate more fresh fruit and vegetables, and there was a 60 per cent increase in “plant-based protein sales”.

Prof. Umberger says environmental considerations were now “front and centre” for Australian consumers. And how we shopped changed as much as what we bought.

“They were visiting fewer times, shopping less and doing bigger and more planned shopping,” Mr Cairns said.

One-third (33 per cent) of Australians are “newly constrained” in their shopping habits due to the coronavirus pandemic, a global study by NielsenIQ found.

This means more than 60 per cent of the Australian survey respondents said they would switch to the lowest-priced option among their preferred brands to save money.

This includes a renewed interest in ‘home’ brands.

Read more: Best shopping apps

A Facebook Business report says the pandemic has forced “a seismic shift in shopping behaviour across the globe”.

“Countrywide lockdowns, non-essential retail restrictions and the risk of contracting the virus have accelerated ecommerce adoption by up to five years, according to IBM estimates,” the report states.

One of its authors contends that “2020 has shouldered a decade’s worth of behaviour change”.

An example?

“Mobile ecommerce sales are projected to grow by 19 per cent worldwide in 2020, accounting for 65 per cent of total ecommerce revenue,” the report concluded.

It says safety and reliability are now vital for instore shopping, with 71 per cent of consumers saying it’s important that a retailer creates a safe environment to shop, and 68 per cent saying it’s crucial for retailers to always have products they’re interested in buying in stock. Convenience and a good shopping experience will become “key differentiators” for brick and mortar retailers, says Facebook Business.

For online shopping, consumers now demand reliability due to challenges they’ve experienced during the pandemic with out-of-stock items and inventory shortages. Shoppers will expect convenience and options for deliveries, while higher priority is being placed on factors such as reputation, corporate social responsibility and customer service.

Read more: Best shopping apps

In the United States, where the pandemic still rages, changes forged by the contagion are expected to stick. Consumer news site cnet.com says online shopping, grocery and restaurant delivery, shopping memberships and TV and movie streaming services flourished in the pandemic “but they could become our new way of life – even in a post-vaccine world”.

Online grocery shopping rose from 57 per cent before to the pandemic to 79 per cent during the outbreak and 12 per cent of shoppers tried out grocery delivery or grocery shipments for the first time. 

For those stuck at home, TV was their only form of entertainment escape and streaming became a ‘common language’ as programs were discussed through social media and video conferencing. By August 2020, streaming videos accounted for a quarter of total US TV viewing time. In five months, Disney+ built a subscription base that took Netflix seven years to achieve. The weekly time spent streaming content rose 75 per cent from 2019.

Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School, sees these habits sticking.

“I don’t think we’re going to revert back to what we were doing a year-and-a-half ago,” Mr Cohen said. “The changes we’re living with are going to be lasting. Retail was in a consequential disruption before the pandemic. The pandemic has caused an incredible step-up for that disruption to continue.”

The polarisation of the haves and have-nots will also continue says marketwatch.com. In the US, rises in the sales of special cheeses and kidney beans exposed that wealthy people had disposable income and the poor were seeking cheaper forms of protein.

An international survey from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development confirms that the pandemic has “forever changed online shopping behaviours” all around the world.

Following the pandemic, more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently and rely on the internet more for news, health-related information, and digital entertainment.

Consumers in both emerging and developed economies have postponed larger expenditures.

Most respondents, especially those in China and Turkey, said they’d continue shopping online and focusing on essential products in the future.

They’d also continue to travel more locally, suggesting a lasting impact on international tourism.

How has the pandemic changed your shopping habits? What will you buy online now that you didn’t before the pandemic?

Read more: Best shopping apps

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Written by Will Brodie



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