Which COVID-19 consumer habits will stick?

Photo: Getty Images
Sep 09, 2020

Some consumers don’t expect many of the new habits they’ve picked up while adjusting to COVID-19 to continue after the crisis has eased, according to new data from Hub Research.

For instance, while 44 percent said they are shopping more online since the pandemic arrived, only 21 percent expect to continue doing so once restrictions are lifted.

Among other activities comparing COVID-19 actions versus post-pandemic expectations:

  • Ordering takeout from restaurants: 46 percent doing it more, 15 percent expect to continue; 
  • Getting outdoors: 37 percent doing it more, 24 percent expect to continue;
  • Being part of group video chats: 32 percent doing it more, eight percent expect to continue;
  • Watching streaming TV: 40 percent doing it more, 19 percent expect to continue.

Some of the findings of the online survey of just over 3,000 U.S. consumers taken in early July run counter to other research. A survey from Top Data taken in early August, for instance, found 73.5 percent of U.S. consumers shopping online more than prior to the spread of COVID-19 and that 88 percent planned to continue doing more even after a cure or vaccine is discovered.

Post-COVID-19 predictions also face the hypothetical bias that finds people don’t always do what they say they will do in surveys.

Other predictions around behavioral changes post-pandemic:

  • A McKinsey survey from mid-June found 79 percent of U.S. consumers intend to continue or increase their usage of self-checkout in retail;
  • An IBM survey taken in August found 67 percent of Americans wanting to continue to work remotely at least occasionally, with half wanting remote to be their primary way of working;
  • A Groupon-sponsored survey from May found 75 percent of Americans plan to support small businesses as much as possible once restrictions on non-essential businesses are lifted in their areas;
  • A CIT-sponsored survey conducted in mid-June found 76 percent of U.S. consumers somewhat or very likely to save more than they usually do each month in the future. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should retailers parse the many predictions of post-COVID-19 behavior? Which behavioral changes taking place amid the pandemic do you think are most or least likely to continue post-COVID-19?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Those activities that shoppers have discovered that will make their lives easier and more convenient will stick."
"Consumer behaviors are constantly changing but as per consumer psychologists there is an emotional element in every purchase decision irrespective of the environment."
"One thing seems sure, that consumers will patronize brands that identify with their values and they perceive stuck with them during a time of crisis."

Join the Discussion!

31 Comments on "Which COVID-19 consumer habits will stick?"

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Neil Saunders

It is quite hard for consumers to predict future behavior when in the middle of a pandemic. I suspect that once a vaccine is found and once people feel safer, many things will start to normalize. However some disruptions will linger. If more of us work from home, the changes in where and when should remain. The use of services like collect from curbside and store have risen rather than shrunk as shops have reopened in-person trade, so there’s another trend that will likely stick.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
1 year 1 month ago

The most significant behavioral changes that will continue after the pandemic are those things that make shopping more convenient, such as online shopping and mobile ordering for almost anything. Curbside pickup and delivery for grocery is another service that will endure post-pandemic, especially for the elderly and busy parents.

Suresh Chaganti

From personal experience: Curbside pickup is big win. Restaurant ordering from delivery apps has been great. I used to call individual restaurants before COVID-19.

Outdoor activities, grocery delivery and spending on specific categories because of increased staying at home will revert to mean once COVID-19 eases.

Art Suriano
I see many changes post COVID-19 pandemic. For starters we will have lost many businesses, including retailers and restaurants. That may not be as bad as some may think because I believe it will create the need for new companies and, because they are new, most of them will be businesses of the times, meaning with state of the art technology and services. Secondly, when the virus is behind us many consumers will continue the practices they started during the pandemic, such as online grocery shopping and more shopping online if they were not already frequent users of that opportunity. In the beginning, when we finally get to the point that masks are no longer required, I would expect us to see many individuals continuing to wear them for a very long time out of fear that the virus could return or that they could still be infected. COVID-19 has disrupted our usual way of life, and in addition to the daily requirements we must all adhere to, there has been a robust mental effect… Read more »
Lee Peterson

This all reminds me so much of 9/11 in that now, we look back and say, “remember when you just walked through security and ran to the plane?” — you get the feeling post-COVID-19 will be the same. “Remember when we didn’t even wear masks in public spaces?” Anyway, re: the question at hand, I believe working from home will drop off the most. It’ll still be incredibly more pervasive than it was in 2019, but I think we’re all starting to realize the benefits of team work, live meetings and social interaction as a whole. Will we have masks on for the new WFO environment? Like post 9/11, I think we’ll be reminiscing about the good old maskless days at work for quite some time.

Dick Seesel

Consumer behavior has changed so radically in the past six months that it would be foolhardy to predict six months or a year ahead, especially without widespread vaccine usage. But a couple of trends were already on the upswing before COVID-19 and I feel like they’re here to stay.

BOPIS stands out — whether the pickup is curbside or in-store — as an essential part of stores’ omnichannel strategies. (And the retailers like Target and Walmart, with a big BOPIS head-start, have been big winners during the pandemic.) And restaurant delivery (via Doordash, Grubhub and others) is here to stay even if not at its recent peak.

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
President, Spieckerman Retail
1 year 1 month ago

The term “post-pandemic” is beside the point for now. The focus should be on the transition between active COVID-19 spread (where we are now), any tapering off of infection rates, the development and deployment of an effective vaccine and, finally, potential eradication of the virus. When you look at it that way, the timeframe stretches out considerably, and variables shift along the way. In the meantime, in the absence of a clear national (and global) strategy, polarized habits will become more ingrained. The studies track sensible shifts but may not account for active resistance to sensible actions/habits.

Adrian Weidmann

The two behaviors that will endure beyond the pandemic will be working remotely and curbside/drive-thru food service. While restaurant dining will certainly return, the adaptation and convenience of “grab-n-go” food service will remain. Burger King will be testing a new design that eliminates any in-store dining and is exclusively focused on drive-thru and delivery services.

Rodger Buyvoets

Retailers should keep tracking trends in order to stay on top of these predictions. Everything is subject to change, be that dependent on geography or government response and, in order to survive, retailers should remain vigilant and flexible. People’s spending habits will also change in the coming decade. These are uncertain economic conditions, and consumers are very aware of this. Something that I think will stick post-COVID-19 are online shopping habits. Most brands are catering to the influx of digital shoppers and able to emulate that in-store experience. Which means people are getting used to purchasing products online without having to go in-store.

Gene Detroyer

My colleagues have covered and will cover the effect on retail. I agree. Those activities that shoppers have discovered that will make their lives easier and more convenient will stick. (No matter what they say in surveys).

On the list in the instant poll there is the question of if remote working habits will change. Netflix’s chairman, Reed Hastings, has said working from home has no positive effects and makes debating ideas harder — “it’s a pure negative.” While recent surveys of the 200 largest companies indicated that 85 percent of workers want to work from home, the same percent of companies want them back in the office.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
1 year 1 month ago
Generally speaking, people do not like admitting to behavioral changes, so it’s hard to take action based on these surveys that ask consumers to predict their future behaviors when they may feel like current behaviors were “forced” on to them by the pandemic. Retailers should look at their own customer data as an indicator for what consumer behaviors will stick but most importantly they should be prepared to adapt as agile as possible knowing that anything is possible once there is a vaccine and people feel safe venturing out again. Restaurants are likely to see the biggest shift in behavior with a return to dine-in activity. While everyone certainly loves to get takeout from their favorite restaurant, the dine-in experience is hard to replicate in your own home! For retailers, curbside pickup, BOPIS, and online purchasing are here to stay. All of these services speak to increased customer convenience and consumers have been favoring convenience trends for years now pre-pandemic. That isn’t likely to change – the pandemic only accelerated the adoption of these services.… Read more »
Bindu Gupta

Consumer behaviors are constantly changing but as per consumer psychologists there is an emotional element in every purchase decision irrespective of the environment. Given that information, retailers should focus on building that emotional bond with their customers. That means ensuring seamless and personalized experiences. I predict that retailers who are able to successfully achieve this will be able to retain their customers post-COVID-19 as well.

Ken Morris

The genie is out of the bottle with e-commerce and what we refer to as digital engagement. Even if you don’t sell the product directly to a customer online and ship it to their home, the journey has been changed forever. I’m not sure who Hub Research polled or actually when they had consumers take the survey, we know they released it in early July so they must have started it in June. We aren’t even through the first wave yet! This pandemic will have a similar impact on all the generations experiencing it that the Great Depression had on our grandparents — hoarding food, lost jobs, etc. I see BOPIS and BOPAC increasing across all segments of retail. Ghost kitchens and robotic MFCs (Micro Fulfillment Centers) will be the norm in grocery and restaurants. It will soon be cold in the north and eating outside will be in an igloo (seriously) if we are lucky.

Jeff Sward

I am hoping that “shop local” is a behavior and thought process that stays with us. There is still something about shopping in physical stores that is not only fun, but a process of discovery and learning. That’s now a well established strength and advantage that brick-and-mortar holds over e-commerce. And when retailers figure out that cash draining “free” delivery and returns are just not sustainable, they will figure out how to draw customers back into the stores. Buying knowns — replenishment and replacement purchases — over the internet is here to stay. But buying unknowns is still make brick-and-mortar shopping worth it. I’d like to have my five senses engaged beyond the tip of my scrolling finger as I peer into six square inches of screen.

Lisa Goller

Our lifestyles and retail habits have changed dramatically over the past six months.

Post-pandemic, we will continue to save time with tech for e-commerce, self-checkouts and remote work. More consumers may maintain value shopping and saving to feel secure and prepared for emergencies.

Most importantly, our retail decisions will no longer be fueled by fear.

Instead of hoarding essentials and limiting how many stores we enter, we’ll return to more social, active behaviors. Virtual schooling, board games, bingeing streaming TV and athleisure will make way for more in-person schooling and events, beauty products, classier clothing and visits to more physical stores.

Xavier Lederer

Will COVID-19 alone change behaviors over the long run, or will it simply accelerate pre-existing trends? Trends for increased authenticity, genuine customer experience, and convenience are not new, but may very well keep increasing after COVID-19. However other changes linked to COVID-19-specific needs may disappear with the disease: customers’ fundamental needs will be the same post-COVID-19 as they were last year – just like most habits that people had developed during the Spanish flu disappeared when the disease ceased to be a threat.

Peter Charness

Offerings that save shoppers time and increase convenience will continue to grow in popularity. This will have been going on long enough to change behaviors. So increased online shopping, curbside, and delivery all come to mind. Cash feels like an endangered method of payment as well.

Cathy Hotka

With so many white collar workers successfully doing business from home, I expect a continued move away from business clothing. We’ve all worn a snappy blazer over old painting shorts and have looked great on camera; it’s hard to imagine fresh demand for dress pants or heels that won’t be seen.

Ben Ball

Any time a significant aberration occurs, people will attempt to revert to the mean when it passes if they can. The obvious exceptions are when access to the previous behavior is physically eliminated (think airport security procedures) or when the new behavior has significant benefits over how things were done before. As we have discussed multiple times here on RetailWire, much of pandemic behavior change is an acceleration of preexisting trends. Online shopping, remote work and curbside pickup are all good examples of behaviors we can expect to continue under their own steam.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I see three behaviors enduring: Online shopping, contactless payments and personal protection (masks, hand washing and social distancing).

Gary Sankary

The pandemic accelerated adoption of omnichannel capabilities. Those that add value and make their lives easier will stick around. Curbside for sure. It is interesting to see Best Buy’s announcement last week that they’re converting one quarter of their stores to specifically handle online order fulfillment.

Cynthia Holcomb

Consumer behavior, like a pendulum, swings back and forth over time. After COVID, there will be a new dawn of consumer freedom, resulting in “out of nowhere” new visions, invisible for now, of what is old is new again!

Rachelle King

Predicting consumer behavior is always challenging; layer on new behaviors driven by a global pandemic and no one crystal ball is more clairvoyant than the other.

Still, retailers should make every effort to monitor shifts in consumer behavior through sales trends and loyalty data and trust that they actually know their customers best. The most important thing to do now is meet the current demand. If retailers can do this then there is good opportunity to build post-pandemic loyalty. If you can retain customers by meeting/exceeding needs now, then you’re in a much stronger position to hold on to those customers later.

While it’s true that consumer intent can be clear as mud in some studies, we do know that repetitive behavior builds habits. Retailers should look to see where there is the strongest repetition during the pandemic (eg. things we do daily/weekly like online grocery and home entertainment) and lean into expecting those behaviors to stick around, to some degree, when things return to normal.

John Karolefski

What shoppers “say” now and what they “do” after a vaccine and normal life returns can be entirely different. For example, a McKinsey survey from mid-June found 79 percent of U.S. consumers intend to continue or increase their usage of self-checkout in retail. That will not happen.

Let’s focus on self-checkout in supermarkets. Anecdotal evidence and some non-partisan surveys suggest that shoppers do not like self-checkout. Too often there are technical glitches and orders to “Please clear the bagging area” or “Help is on the way.” I cannot imagine that 8 of ten shoppers will use self-checkout for a $200 order of groceries. Retailers who believe the McKinsey survey and add more self-checkout units to their stores would be making a mistake, in my opinion.

1 year 1 month ago

Pretty much every grocery retailer and other retailers are adding more and more self checkouts to their stores. Walmart recently debuted a store with all self checkout (a test) in Arkansas. Also CVS has added them to many suburban stores (previously they had self checkout only in big city/tourist type locations). Even Rite Aid is putting self checkouts in now. Albertsons/Safeway has brought self checkouts back after removing them a few years ago and now is going through many the stores where they installed only 4 self checkouts and installing a few more self checkouts. IKEA has also brought self checkout back in the US after removing them about 5 years ago (different software vendor this time).

Self checkout will continue to grow and expand.

It should never be forced upon the customer, but there should be lots of self checkouts available for customers to use so nobody has to wait in line and congregate unnecessarily, unless they decide they want to wait in line (for one of the few human cashiers).