With more people staying indoors to curb the spread of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that this new reality might change how and where people shop. Although only time will tell if these changes will be temporary or permanent, we can start to observe how the pandemic is affecting demographic shopping behavior.
As a group, millennials are often characterized as careful with their money, meaning they watch how, why, when and where they spend it. For instance, they currently spend $20 less than their age group counterparts did 10 years ago.1 There are several theories that attempt to explain why millennials are this cautious, but the most accepted is that they were shaped by the realities of the 2007 Great Recession. Nonetheless, this group still holds the greatest shopping potential for decades to come, and this is why businesses have been scrambling to understand their shopping behavior to cater to their needs and meet their expectations.
So, how is this pandemic affecting their shopping behavior? In a survey conducted at the start of the outbreak, 54% of millennials said that COVID-19 is significantly or somewhat impacting their purchase decisions – the highest among the generational demographic – compared to 33% of baby boomers, 42% of Gen X, and 49% of Gen Z.2 Furthermore, 39% percent of respondents said they are shopping less frequently in stores with 30% of millennials shopping more often online2.
The millennials’ cautious approach to spending is being reflected by how they have reacted to news about COVID-19 in their communities:3
- 39% say that news about the coronavirus is impacting where and how they shop
- 36% say news about the coronavirus impacts how much they are spending on products
- 40% cut back on spending in preparation for impacts of the coronavirus
- 34% buy more products in anticipation of the spread of the coronavirus
Despite being the age group with the highest risk for COVID-19 complications, boomers show the least concern about contracting the novel coronavirus.5 In fact, only 43% expressed being worried as opposed to 53% of millennials, consequently reflecting how much they will shift their buying behavior in response to the pandemic. For example, only 20% of boomers said they have adopted grocery shopping behavior changes in response to the coronavirus outbreak4.
Typically, older generations tend to be laggards in the adoption of new technologies. This has been the case with boomers and e-commerce, specifically on categories such as groceries or fashion. Despite current increases in adoption of online grocery shopping due to the outbreak, only 22% of boomers are shopping less in-store and just 8% are shopping more frequently online. Even though these numbers are noticeably lower in comparison with other generations, it’s important to note that these changes in behavior may be permanent. Therefore, boomers that try online grocery shopping, for instance, during the pandemic, are likely to continue do so again in the long term.6
Difference across genders
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only affecting consumer behavior across generational lines. Stark contrasts can also be seen between genders, as the coronavirus affects men's and women’s shopping habits differently. If women, in general, express higher concerns about the effect of the outbreak, it is men who are more likely to alter their shopping behavior:7
- 33% of men, compared to 25% of women report the pandemic affects how much they spend on products
- 24% percent of men versus 18% of women report higher online shopping
It must be noted that most of the research was conducted at the start of the pandemic. Therefore, it is likely that figures will change as more communities move towards more restrictive quarantine measures.
However, retailers and D2C manufacturers need to continue to monitor these behavioral changes closely. Understanding how consumers change will be critical for them to succeed once things return to normal. It’s highly likely that consumers will emerge from this crisis with changed perceptions, unusual shopping habits or leveraging different technological tools.