ATLANTA — More than a year after the coronavirus was introduced to the United States, the pandemic's impact on the retail industry is more apparent.
The Coca-Cola Co. recently aggregated insights from a variety of studies to compose Coca-Cola Refreshing Insights: The State of the Consumer, Retail & FSOP, which identifies five major trends that have largely defined pandemic-era consumer behavior. They are:
1. Focus on health
As the pandemic continued to evolve in 2020, so did consumers' opinions regarding their health and the corresponding impact on their purchasing behavior. In March 2020, 42 percent of consumers disagreed with the following statement: "Even if I end up getting COVID-19, I won't worry because I am very healthy." In October 2020, this increased to 66 percent of consumers.
Consumers began looking to hygiene to protect their health, which impacted purchasing behavior, especially when it came to food. According to The Coca-Cola Co, purchase consideration rises when retailers and restaurants enact specific safety measures to protect consumers:
- Pre-wrapped items — 40 percent
- Clean and well-maintained food and beverage areas — 38 percent
- Disinfecting wipes made available — 37 percent
- Minimize touching handles and other surfaces — 33 percent
- Products behind a transparent barrier — 29 percent
- Items served by an employee — 21 percent
2. At-home moments
Home became the centralized hub to live, work and play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer trends that Coca-Cola predicts to stay in the long-term include:
- Work from home: 17 percent of consumers expect they will never resume working in an office
- Meals at home: 55 percent of adults want to prepare meals at home instead of eating at restaurants even after COVID-19 is not a factor
- Exercising at home: 213 percent increase in sales of exercise and fitness equipment
- Home improvement: 42 percent of consumers are currently doing or planning to do a home improvement project
- Focus on community: 49 percent of consumers stated they are buying from local businesses more than normal as a result of the coronavirus and 32 percent said they are more likely to choose a local/independent restaurant
3. Comfort & indulgence
Indulgence has not only become a social norm but also a perceived necessity as a way to cope and/or escape. Sixty percent of consumers are currently buying/interested in buying self-care items, while 56 percent of consumers are currently buying/interested in buying special treats for themselves or family members.
Consumers have also looked to food as a means to indulge and seek comfort through the pandemic. Many categories have experienced increased sales because of this sentiment, like snack foods (39 percent), ready-to-eat meals (30 percent), soft drinks (27 percent) and alcohol (20 percent).
Although the pre-pandemic world was largely defined by e-commerce, the coronavirus accelerated the digital platform from a convenience to a norm in 2020. According to Coca-Cola's research, 68 percent of consumers have ordered groceries online for home delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 39 percent used online grocery for the first time. Eighteen percent reported buying at least half of their groceries online — up from 8 percent in 2019.
The pandemic fast-tracked the digital buying transformation that was underway well before 2020 by offering consumers a way to purchase the products and meals they need while avoiding increased exposure to the virus, according to Coca-Cola. Survey data shows that this trend will continue into a post-pandemic life: 90 percent of consumers will continue to buy food online once the pandemic is over and 77 percent of Americans enjoy the experience of shopping online.
5. Value redefined
The COVID-19 pandemic and the events of 2020 have brought on an increase of mindful spending, supporting impacted works and social justice issues. Research showed that 43 percent of Americans say they will tip servers more than before to help restaurants and workers recover from the coronavirus.