COVID-19 and the shift in consumer behavior

COVID-19 and the shift in online purchasing trends

Consumer behavior is likely to be permanently affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with lasting structural changes to both the consumer goods and retail industries. This had been identified by a survey conducted by Accenture, of over 3,000 consumers in 15 countries across give continents.

The survey was first conducted between April 2nd and April 6th, following the implementation of stay-at-home orders from many countries. It found that consumers had already started to shift their purchasing priorities. As an example, more consumers confirmed they were buying more personal hygiene and cleaning products, as well as canned and fresh foods than they had been in the previous two weeks. Fashion, beauty and consumer electronics had also been purchased less.

Perhaps more importantly, the findings indicate that many of the changes in consumer behavior are likely to continue after the pandemic. Additionally the crisis is also making more consumers aware of the health and environmental impact of the shopping choices. For example:

  • 60% of respondents are spending more time on self-care and mental well-being, with about six in 10 consumers (57%) saying they have started exercising more at home;
  • 64% of consumers said they’re focusing more on limiting food waste and will likely continue to do so going forward;
  • 50% of consumers said they’re shopping more health-consciously and will likely continue to do;
  • 45% of consumers said they’re making more sustainable choices when shopping and will likely continue to do so.

The scale of the changes identified in our findings clearly suggest that this is a long-term shift,” said Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global Consumer Goods practice. “While we have been seeing these trends for some time, what’s surprising is the scale and pace — compressing into a matter of weeks changes that would likely have taken years. The new consumer behavior and consumption is expected to outlast the pandemic, stretching far beyond 18 months and possibly for much of the current decade.”

Unsurprisingly, the survey indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more people to shop for groceries online.  One in five respondents who said their most-recent grocery purchase was done online were first-time online grocery shoppers — for older consumers, this was one in three. While 32% of consumers’ current purchases of all products and services have been online, this number is predicted to increase to 37% in the very near future.

The realignment of purchasing priorities, personal lifestyles, and working practices is mandating significant changes to retail and commerce,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global Retail practice.

 “Groceries were, until recently, one area in which many people were reluctant to shop online, but COVID-19 has quickly changed that. The findings show how people who haven’t been as comfortable with ecommerce and other digital technology have been pushed to overcome their hesitancy — and this shift is huge. As organizations adapt, their watchwords must be trust, relevance and convenience.”

COVID-19 is also fast-tracking digital adoption more broadly. As an example, the number of consumers who said they are interested in buying or increasing their use of technology has substantially increased. More than half of respondents said they are likely to increase their usage of voice-enabled digital assistants, online recommendation apps, self-service apps, intelligent home devices and wearables.

The pandemic is likely to produce a more sustainable, healthier era of consumption over the next 10 years, making consumers think more about balancing what they buy and how they spend their time with global issues of sustainability — suggesting a healthier human habitation of the planet,” Wright said. “At the same time, it’s a wake-up call for companies to ensure they have the agility and capability to be relevant to consumers and customers — with a portfolio of products and services that match shifting purchasing patterns — not just today, but post-pandemic as well.”

About the Research

Accenture commissioned a survey to explore how global consumer priorities, purchasing decisions and behavioral patterns are shifting in the wake of COVID-19. The survey of 3,074 consumers in 15 markets — Australia, Brazil, China, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the U.S. — was conducted online between April 2 and April 6. Accenture plans to conduct follow-up surveys in the coming weeks and months.