It has been nearly six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then, life has never been the same.
Physical stores, companies, and businesses have been forced to close until further notice, and the retail industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of society.
As anxiety over the virus increases, everyone is taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones as social distancing becomes the new normal. With cases still on the rise in 41 countries, we can only expect even more radical changes in purchasing habits in the coming weeks and months.
In particular, one of the most significant changes has come in the form of consumer buying behavior, which has all but shifted online.
Consumer buying behavior: A closer look
The current crisis has led to several consumer trends to rise to the surface. One of the most notable trends is the sudden shift in buying behavior as consumers adjust to the new landscape of digital commerce.
As business after business close shop and move their operations online, consumers are looking at products and services through an entirely new lens. People now live, work, shop, and behave in ways that they never did before.
A survey from Numerator Intelligence shows that July 2020 marked a drastic change in shopping behavior and consumer sentiments regarding COVID-19. From panic buying to online shopping, consumers have changed how they buy products by prioritizing essential items over luxury items. They also see health and fitness in a brand new light.
Understanding how consumer sentiments have changed starts with assessing where people stand with COVID-19 still in full swing.
1. Rising fear and uncertainty
When news about COVID-19 broke out, most people responded by panic buying and stocking up on food, household items, and other necessities. This purchasing habit is driven by fear and uncertainty as people come to terms with the pandemic’s impact on society at large.
At the end of the day, the rising fears and uncertainties all boil down to customers wanting to gain a semblance of control over the situation.
2. Crowd mentality
Henry David Thoreau once said, “The mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation.” Information overload about COVID-19 can affect consumer behavior and enforce crowd mentality—an attitude that describes how people adopt behaviors based on their circle of influence.
Adopting this way of thinking is wrong, however, because it entails getting influenced by peers from an emotional basis rather than a rational point of view.
Falling victim to herd mentality happens when people read information from multiple sources and listen to contrasting viewpoints, and develop a greater instinct to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Seeing other people clearing out grocery shelves only serves to add fuel to the fire.
If you really think about it, economic downtimes can urge customers to stay resourceful just so they won’t be left behind.
3. Mindful consumerism
Ever since the pandemic, consumers are shifting their priorities and becoming more mindful of their purchases.
The rise in conscious consumption during this crisis reveals how consumers strive to limit food waste, support sustainable products, and prioritize the necessities over non-essential goods. Data from Digital Commerce 360 supports the rising trend of mindful consumerism, as support for local businesses continues to grow.
E-commerce: The new normal?
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that consumers have gotten used to shopping from the comfort of their homes. As consumers conform to social distancing measures, brick-and-mortar stores have taken a hit.
A survey from Numerator Intelligence revealed that online shopping is at an all-time high thanks to COVID-19. The data shows that one in two shoppers prefer to shop online instead of in-store.
With the growing popularity of e-commerce, buying, and trading over the Internet has never been easier for customers and brands.
1. Embracing digital technology
In just a matter of weeks, the outbreak has pushed consumers out of their regular routines and convinced them to embrace e-commerce.
Research from Digital Commerce 360 shows that 55 percent of online shoppers have placed more orders online as a result of COVID-19. And these orders range from groceries to hygiene products.
As consumers adapt to a life spent indoors, they are looking for new ways to beat the boredom and stay entertained. As a result, digital technology has been thrust into the limelight as consumers embrace technology that makes working and studying much easier.
Experts predict that the growing reliance on tech will likely continue even after the pandemic has blown over.
2. A call for new marketing strategies
With the e-commerce business on the rise, brands need to understand the changing attitudes, behaviors, and purchasing habits of consumers. Only brands that are quick to adapt and can provide a fast, seamless, and informative shopping experience are poised to succeed during these uncertain times.
Given the fickle nature of consumer buying behavior, brands and retailers need to adapt their e-commerce presence and experience to adapt to these changes. The days of one-size-fits-all marketing are over, and the current situation calls for new marketing strategies designed for customer retention.
Since we are still a way away from developing a vaccine for COVID-19, we have to do our best to cope with the situation. Since visiting physical stores pose a high risk of acquiring the virus, online shopping provides a way for us to buy the things we need.
Why shop online during COVID-19?
1. It is convenient.
The biggest perk of shopping online is convenience. It saves you a lot of time and energy that you would have spent dressed up, driving, finding what you need, and waiting in line.
Online shopping lets you buy anything from anywhere. Moreover, online stores don’t have limitations when it comes to physical goods store, and buyers can shop for any type of product imaginable.
2. It is economical.
Prices of goods online tend to be lower than those in the mall. After all, setting up a physical entails higher costs, such as renting a space and hiring employees. Online shops, on the other hand, can easily be launched by creating a website, a Facebook page, or an Instagram account.
You can advertise your brand’s products or services for free but you also have a choice for paid advertising on social platforms such as Facebook. Moreover, you can easily compare prices and read reviews by previous customers to help you make more informed purchasing decisions.
3. It offers variety.
When it comes to online shopping, consumers will benefit from a greater variety of merchandise. From vintage finds to latest trends, local and international brands, or limited edition stuff, they are all within your reach without stepping outside your door.
By shopping online, you can save time, money, and a trip to the store. To top that off, you can also secure amazing bargains in an instant.
What are the disadvantages of online shopping during COVID-19?
1. Hidden charges and inaccurate transactions.
One downside of online shopping is that you can’t see the merchandise firsthand. Sometimes, this could lead to inaccurate transactions.
When you shop online, you rely solely on product photos, descriptions, and reviews, which could be misleading. Without a hands-on inspection, there is no way for you to test a product you are interested in.
Moreover, the prices of items in online shops don’t always include additional charges such as shipping fees and replacement costs. As a result, you’ll need to double-check with sellers for any additional expenses.
Other online shopping issues you could encounter include delayed deliveries, cashless transactions, lack of refunds, and void warranties.
2. Compulsive shopping habits.
The convenience of online shopping has turned some people into compulsive shoppers. With everyone stuck at home, people have more time to browse the net and shop for goods.
It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with ads every day that persuade us to buy things that we may not need.
3. Exposure to fraud and security breaches.
Shopping online entails sharing sensitive information such as your address, mobile number, online banking details, and other personal data.
Sharing this type of info could leave you vulnerable to fraud and online attacks. The worst part is that the majority of online shoppers are unaware of these security issues and phishing scams.
Despite warnings and claims of legitimacy, an online shop could easily scam customers to obtain their credit card and other bank details. Hackers may also steal sensitive info from unsuspecting shoppers.
Staying vigilant: Safe shopping during COVID-19
1. Always read consumer reviews.
Consumer reviews are your number one source of legitimacy and assurance. Whenever you plan on buying anything online, browse reviews from previous buyers to make more informed decisions. Doing so will guarantee safer transactions.
2. Shop on familiar platforms.
If you are new to online shopping, familiarize yourself with online platforms and their policies before adding items to your cart. Ask questions regarding pricing, materials, ingredients, warranty, shipping, and return or refund policies to avoid inconveniences.
For good measure, conduct research, seek advice and be extra careful before paying for your order. It also pays to conduct background checks to verify whether the site or seller can be trusted. That way, you’ll be less prone to scams.
3. Be skeptical of offers that are too good to be true.
Don’t fall victim to offers that are too good to be true. After all, these goods could be illegal or a cheap substitute. So if a seller seems dubious or refuses to provide legitimate information about a product or service, buy from somewhere else. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
4. Use a secure internet connection.
5. Verify site safety.
If you see a lock icon in your web browser window, you are browsing a safe site equipped with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology.
Another way to verify a secure connection is to check if the web address on the page begins with “https:” and not “HTTP:” The ’s’ denotes that a website is secure and encrypted to protect your information.
On a similar vein, stick to the sites that respect your privacy. Refrain from shopping from stores that require you to enter information like your bank account details, credit card number, and social security information, especially if you don’t plan to purchase anything yet.
6. Keep an eye out for coupons, rebates, and other discounts.
Online shopping should teach you how to shop smart and take advantage of great deals. This means being on the lookout for coupons, rebates, and discounts before making a purchase.
To stay updated, follow the social media accounts of the stores where you shop. Who knows, you could score a fantastic offer that could save you a lot of money.
The road ahead with e-commerce
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting consumer buying behavior in a way we’ve never seen before. In fact, it is reshaping various industries and changing the way we shop.
Even though 2020 isn’t over yet, one could say that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects even when a vaccine is already available.
After all, it is going to take time to rebuild confidence, safety, and security across the world. Balancing public health and economic stability will remain challenging, and that is why current buying habits will continue well into the future.
To adapt to the changing times, brands need to assess what kind of products and services will people continue to buy, and which categories will likely become less of a priority. There is no better time than now to monitor consumer buying behavior and sentiment to engage more customers and adjust to the new normal.
Even as the impact COVID-19 becomes more serious with each passing day, exploring the purchasing ways of people during a crisis is the best way for brands to survive.
After all, since e-commerce is the future of shopping, companies have the responsibility to know their customers and offer them the best experience possible.
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Stefanie Siclot is part of the SEO team at Growth Rocket, a digital marketing agency based in Los Angeles. She is responsible for increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic which means fun for her.