NATIONAL REPORT — One out of two consumers say their buying habits have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by international consulting firm AlixPartners.
The study also found that internationally, consumer concerns about health (both mental and physical) and finances are key drivers of these permanently changed purchasing habits.
"Even though two-thirds of consumers across the globe are optimistic about the vaccines, half of them say their buying habits have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic," said David Garfield, global leader of the consumer products practice and leader of the Americas business unit at AlixPartners.
During a virtual press conference, Garfield pointed out that when it comes to post-pandemic behaviors, consumers are not easily characterized by traditional demographics that look at age, income and location. So, AlixPartners developed a unique approach to consumer segmentation that, he said, brings added clarity to these changed behaviors.
The consulting firm breaks out consumers by those who are:
- Health Concerned: More likely to have self-isolated during the pandemic and faced minimal employment disruption (such as job or wage loss);
- Most Anxious: More likely to have worked remotely and self-isolated, have children at home who are distance-learning, and faced job or wage loss;
- Budget Constrained: More likely to have worked on-site during COVID-19, such as essential workers; and
- Least Disrupted: Those with no children at home, not self-isolated, and not faced with employment disruption.
The Most Anxious group represents 34 percent of the population, while Health Concerned comprises 17 percent, and Budget Constrained comprises 10 percent. Nearly 40 percent of consumers reside in the Least Disrupted segment.
The Most Anxious and Health Concerned are the groupings most likely to say their shopping habits have changed permanently.
Garfield went on to note that the pandemic accelerated existing trends, such as digitization and channel-shifting, but it also has led to new habits, such as more local travel by consumers.
In addition, environmental concerns have grown and are increasingly impacting buying decisions. He said companies should "double-down" on the better-for-you trend, and "do it in a holistic way, meaning not just focusing on food ingredients but also on total transparency, packaging, methods of distribution, and anything else that impacts the planet."
The Most Anxious group of consumers are also the most likely to have their purchasing influenced by social media, while the Health Concerned group puts more focus on quality and services offered when deciding what to buy and where to shop.
Garfield advised that while some online purchasing habits developed during the pandemic will remain very strong — such as online shopping for beauty products, clothing and footwear — AlixPartners' research shows that some are likely to "snap back to store," such as grocery shopping.