Coronavirus Will Change Consumer Shopping Habits Permanently

Consumer activity may never return to normal once coronavirus passes. The grocery-shopping experience could be the most impacted. | Image: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

  • Consumers don’t shop the same way as they use to since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Online shopping has surged the past few weeks.
  • Consumers will likely keep shopping online after the pandemic, so retailers must be ready.

Consumers are changing their shopping habits as they grapple with uncertainty about the impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is impacting shopping behavior in many ways. | Source: Numerator

Retailers will likely feel the impact of coronavirus long after lockdowns, store closings and social distancing rules end. They need to be prepared for permanent shifts in consumer shopping behavior.

More Consumers Use Online Grocery Services

Online sales are increasing as buyers stay home during the crisis, but grocery sales are where the longest-term impact could occur.

Forrest Collier, eMeals’ CEO, said:

Shopping and cooking habits have clearly been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Short supplies at grocery stores, restaurant closings, and the need to reduce the number of shopping trips to limit exposure are changing behavior, including prompting more consumers to use online grocery services for curbside pickup or home delivery.

Grocery delivery platforms like Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt are experiencing dramatic sales spikes from customers — many of whom are likely trying online grocery shopping for the first time.

These first-time buyers have a high probability of converting to this way of shopping permanently as they get used to it. After buying groceries only a couple of times, it becomes a routine.

According to a survey of more than 3,000 consumers by meal planning service eMeals, 97% of respondents who order grocery products online plan to continue doing so in the future.

Shelley Kohan, founder of retail consultancy Shelmark Consulting, said of consumers who are staying home:

Once they start doing buy-online-and-pick-it-up at the grocery store and they start doing home delivery, that behavior is going to change going forward. They’re going to say, ‘Wow that was pretty easy to get online groceries delivered to my front door. Why am I not doing this all the time?’

In general, the elderly are the least likely demographic to adopt online shopping. They are used to shopping by going to brick-and-mortar stores. However, many of them are self-isolating, prompting them to try online shopping.

Online Shopping Growth Will Accelerate

As history has shown, innovation is most likely to thrive in times of crisis. Many businesses are likely to try to find new ways to encourage home-bound consumers to buy their products. For instance, many restaurants that had to close now offer take-out and delivery services. The fast-food chain Leon has even turned some of its stores into mini-supermarkets.

Retailers that don’t offer online shopping will likely start doing so and regret not establishing it sooner.

The increase in online shopping in the coming weeks will likely accelerate the growth of e-commerce activity beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andy Mulcahy, IMRG’ s strategy and insight director, says he expects to see very concentrated growth in online shopping:

As the stores are shut, the demand will almost certainly have to shift online. As people get used to this new reality, you might expect their shopping habits to extend past focusing so heavily on grocery and essentials, although we have to consider the economic environment.

The coronavirus is a dramatic reminder that retailers must remain agile. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has experienced a significant shortage of toilet paper and other essentials due to customers stockpiling. To answer the increased demand, retailers need to evolve quickly to manage peak orders.

The COVID-19 experience could lead to a much faster expansion of automation, so retailers can sell and deliver products efficiently during a crisis. This could potentially range from using drone delivery to automated warehouse processes.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.

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Last modified: April 10, 2020 4:14 PM UTC

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