3 ways the coronavirus is impacting consumers' shopping behavior

VP, Industry and Consumer Insights

At this point, nearly everyone in the United States has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. A recent survey from Prosper Insights & Analytics found that 71 percent of consumers say they are social distancing, and even more are adjusting their behavior — whether it is shopping less in physical stores, stocking up on groceries and household items, or moving their social lives online — to protect themselves and their families.

Even as steps are taken to reopen the economy, consumers are already anticipating the long-term implications of the pandemic. Three-quarters (74%) say they believe it will have some impact on their lifestyle over the next five years as they consider things like dining out, budgeting and vacations.

To understand how the pandemic is shifting consumers' outlook and shopping behavior, we looked at data from Prosper Insights & Analytics' April survey of more than 8,000 consumers and NRF’s own consumer polls  and identified three emerging trends.

The last mile has never been more important

With many consumers unable or unwilling to shop in stores right now, the focus on getting items into their homes, and hands, is more intense than ever. That’s particularly true for those who carry groceries. Home delivery service Instacart is looking to hire 300,000 more employees. Amazon, Giant and Kroger are converting some locations into full-time distribution centers. Lidl is repurposing food trucks to deliver groceries to seniors in retirement communities. Even Panera is getting involved, allowing consumers to "order from their pantry" and purchase items like milk and fresh produce for delivery or pick up.

Examples like these make it tempting to imagine a post-COVID world where consumers opt to have everything, even perishables, delivered. However, these delivery solutions might not be as widely adopted as we think they are.

While the percent of consumers who have used either buy online, pick up in store or home delivery to purchase groceries has grown significantly since the start of the year, the vast majority of shoppers still say they are buying their milk, eggs and other food items in person. That becomes more pronounced when comparing urban and rural counties.

As the data on delivery demonstrates, not all parts of the country are experiencing the pandemic in the same way or even on the same timeline. Although rural consumers have begun embracing BOPIS at roughly the same rate as those in more urban areas, they are less likely to have used home delivery. That doesn’t mean they aren't interested — regardless of where they live, 31 percent of shoppers are interested in using home delivery for groceries in the future. That may be the biggest takeaway for delivery: Consumers are learning about and are open to trying new ways of shopping.

There is a new set of household essentials

COVID-19 is not only impacting how consumers are shopping, but what they are buying as well. Forty-five percent of consumers say they are focusing on what they need versus what they want right now. At the same time, with consumers spending unprecedented amounts of time at home with family, their daily needs are evolving as well.

An April survey conducted by NRF found that 70% of consumers had made a purchase specifically as a result of social distancing, working from home or quarantining during the coronavirus. The top purchases? Alcohol or CBD products, followed by home organization. Consumers are also looking for items like books, games and craft or baking supplies to entertain themselves while at home, or workout gear to replace normal activities like going to the gym.

Consumers want to connect with their tribe

In the midst of all the anxiety, isolation and disruption to daily life caused by the coronavirus, consumers are seeking out opportunities to connect with loved ones and their broader communities. That is reflected in recent surveys around Easter and Mother's Day, which show that the pandemic is not discouraging consumers from embracing opportunities to celebrate, even if they can't gather in person.

Shoppers are also acutely aware of the impacts of the pandemic on their local community and are looking to give back where possible. NRF's April 15 poll found that half (49%) of consumers have made a purchase specifically to support a local small business during the pandemic. More than a third (36%) have donated or made a purchase to support individuals in their community who are furloughed or out of a job. Platforms like Instagram are helping facilitate some of these connections by allowing users to purchase gift cards or place orders directly from the profile pages or stories of small businesses. Other companies are donating portions of their proceeds to employee assistance funds or to provide supplies for first responders and health care workers.

Other impacts from the coronavirus are sure to emerge over the coming months as consumers and brands embrace a new “normal.” To follow the latest insights on the coronavirus and its impact for retail, visit NRF's COVID-19 resources page.

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