Surveys find major shift in consumer behavior amid pandemic

Shifts in consumer behavior caused by the coronavirus pandemic have come into sharper relief as companies and government agencies continue to gather economic and polling data.

A pair of McKinsey & Co. studies from June and July found evidence for a move to cheaper products and an increase in consumer research into brand options.

The surveys also found an increased mindfulness as consumers are now more focused on hygienic packaging and treatment of employees compared to pre-pandemic priorities.

Good. Must. Grow. survey from May found that more than three-quarters of Americans now consider company treatment of employees an “important factor” when deciding whether to patronize them. However, there seems to be deep disagreement or lack of knowledge among consumers about how companies perform on this issue. In the same survey, respondents cited Walmart and Amazon as both the two most responsible and least responsible companies.

An Accenture survey from April found similar indications of increased social responsibility. The majority of consumers said they are limiting food waste, making more health-conscious purchases, and shopping more sustainably. They also said they are likely to continue these behaviors after COVID-19 is under control.

“The past few years have seen a gradual erosion in the momentum of socially responsible choices,” Good. Must. Grow. CEO Heath Shackleford told Forbes. “To see that reverse in such a short time is a very positive sign. You typically don’t have that type of movement in a year, much less a span of six months.”

Food waste was reduced significantly according to an April NCBI study, which found 93 percent of consumers made efforts to cut down on their disposal of food. The study suggested this was due to economic changes resulting from the lockdown rather than an interest in being more ecofriendly.

The McKinsey study conducted from March to June focused on trends across 45 different countries and 32 consumer product categories.

Only groceries saw an expected increase in spending across all surveyed countries. All other categories either had mixed results or consumers universally expected to spend less.

U.S. consumers also expected to increase spending on home entertainment and household supplies, while travel services and apparel had the lowest net purchase intent.

Although the data indicated an overall decline in most categories, online shopping for all applicable goods increased in the U.S.  Online customer base increased in most categories by more than 10 percent as consumers try to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19.

McKinsey also found a strong trend of decreasing brand loyalty. Three-quarters of surveyed Americans tried new brands since the coronavirus outbreak, and 73 to 80 percent stated they intend to continue using those brands post-pandemic.

This change in behavior was likely caused in part by supply chain disruptions. According to the July McKinsey survey, 45 percent of American consumers reported choosing a new product because of availability, suggesting their usual purchases were out of stock.

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