Watercooler: Things Have Changed

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In Melina Marchetta’s novel Saving Francesca, the main character’s cousin, Angelina, tells her, “It’ll never go back to the way it was, Frankie. But you have to make sure it goes forward.” And so it goes in the aftermath of the current pandemic.

The effects of coronavirus continue to influence consumer behavior as the world adjusts to the new “normal,” and that includes changes to lifestyles and shopping habits. Only 16 percent of consumers, or fewer than two in 10 people, expect to “immediately go back to the way things were,” and most consumers are experiencing mixed feelings about the return to “normalcy,” which includes both feelings of hesitation and nervousness, and of relief and freedom.

“COVID-19 Shopper and Retail Pulse Survey,” a study by international experiential advertising agency Momentum Worldwide of 1,600 consumers in the U.S., UK, Canada, Europe, Middle East and Asia—designed to gauge the long-term effects of coronavirus on consumer behavior—also found that consumers feel more comfortable returning to some public spaces over others. The majority feel most comfortable returning to grocery stores (78 percent), parks (73 percent), home improvement stores (68 percent), government buildings (61 percent) and shopping malls (56 percent); but less than half said they feel the same about hotels (49 percent), theme parks (44 percent), gyms (38 percent), and arenas or stadiums (34 percent), or taking a bus, train or airplane (39 percent).

Because consumers have been spending more time at home—61 percent said they are planning to cook at home more often compared to just 40 percent who are planning to dine out—they’ve also adapted their shopping habits to fit their new lifestyles, and 84 percent said they have been shopping online since the start of the pandemic. This surge in ecommerce touches on many industries, with more than half expecting to buy more food and groceries (62 percent), home goods (59 percent), clothes (55 percent), and books, music, movies and games (51 percent) online even after the pandemic, compared to last year.

Despite the convenience offered by ecommerce, consumers still miss face-to-face interactions and experiences. Eighty-three percent said they miss being able to spend time with friends and family, while 79 percent miss “being able to touch and feel products,” 77 percent miss casually browsing at stores and 77 percent miss “hunting for a great deal.” And when consumers do go out now, they are more particular, planned and pragmatic about their approach compared to the pre-pandemic days. Forty-three percent are making shopping lists beforehand, 40 percent are researching products online, 36 percent are price-comparing products from multiple retailers, 36 percent are looking for items on sale, 30 percent are looking for coupons and 30 percent are looking at the retailer’s website or app.

Most consumers also anticipate the changes brought forth by coronavirus to have a lasting positive effect, with 64 percent who believe that stores will “change for the better.” Some of the changes that consumers anticipate retailers to provide include hand-sanitizer stations at the door (63 percent), sanitizing wipes for shopping carts (50 percent) and enforcing a six-foot social distancing protocol for guests who are shopping or waiting in line (49 percent).

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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