The Biggest Changes to Our Consumer Habits as a Result of COVID-19

Young beautiful Caucasian woman with shopping cart in grocery store.
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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the average consumer has contended with supply shortages, fear of safety and extended shipping times on even domestic orders. If you thought this would put a pause on consumer spending, you were wrong. E-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart weren’t about to let a little virus slow their profits.

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But, in order to keep cash flowing, drastic changes needed to be made to how consumers purchased and received goods. Here’s a look at how the coronavirus has transformed U.S. consumer habits — and why they’ll likely stay that way.

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Online Shopping Leads the Way

Retail shopping was leaving malls long before COVID-19. But, the virus did expedite the process. With many nonessential brick-and-mortar stores forced to close, American consumers shopped online more than ever before.

In the second quarter of 2020, consumers spent $211.5 billion online–up 31.8% from the first quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This trend would continue; and between March and December 2020, around 87% of shoppers placed orders for online delivery, Numerator reported.

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For In-Person Shopping, Convenience Is Key

Although curbside pickup existed before the pandemic, it was marketed by restaurants and stores across the country as the solution to the safety issue when shopping. This hybrid model of shopping–combining an online order and an in-person pickup–may be preferable to consumers, even outside of the pandemic. It avoids all the hassle of shopping by yourself, as well as the wait time and price of shipping.

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“Shopping used to be largely reserved for physical outlets, with e-commerce serving more of a transactional role in the consumer’s shopping journey,” Michelle Evans, senior head of digital consumer at Euromonitor International, told Retail TouchPoints. “In a digital-first era, retailers will be challenged to increasingly replicate the unique elements of the in-person experience into the online shopping experience.”

What We Buy Changed, Too

Aside from the method of shopping, what consumers purchase looks a bit different, as well. According to JPMorgan, some of the most popular items have been household cleaners and soap, vitamins and supplements, hair color products and coffee. Health and wellness being the driving factors behind those first products, and salon closures leading many consumers to take their hair into their own hands.

Even with drive-thru coffee options available, there was an unmistakable spike in sales for at-home coffee products. Starbucks (at-home products), Nescafé and Coffee-Mate experienced double-digit growth rates in the first half of 2020.

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There have also been products consumers are decidedly less interested in. Makeup and SPF sales experienced double-digit declines in 2020, reported JPMorgan, with consumers cooped up in their homes and without events to primp for.

“I think right now categories that are less relevant are color cosmetics – people are not wearing make up when working from home. Sun care has also taken a hit because consumers don’t know whether they will be able to travel. Some categories will find it very hard short term. They should come back, but discretionary products more closely linked to the economic cycle will be more impacted because they are generally not must-haves,” said Celine Pannuti, head of the European food, home and personal care research at JPMorgan.

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Some Pandemic Trends Are Here To Stay

Given the enormous success restaurants and retailers have experienced with contactless delivery, it’s unlikely to go away after the country fully reopens. In the same vein, e-commerce will stay popular; with 22% of consumers expecting to maintain a higher frequency of online shopping, according to Numerator.

Although on a smaller scale, many consumers have prioritized sustainable shopping. In other words: buying from environmentally and socially conscious brands. This trend will grow in the future and be matched by legislative efforts to fight climate change. In fact, according to Euromonitor, 73% of professionals believe sustainability efforts are key to success.

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About the Author

Levi joined GOBankingRates in 2019. He's found success in financial, political and military lifestyle writing, with work appearing on MSN, Yahoo Finance, and more. With a background in narrative writing, he enjoys turning interesting conversations into impactful content.

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