COVID-19 Already Causing Shifts In Consumer Buying Behavior

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published July 16, 2020

Results of two sets of surveys from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) show that COVID-19 has already had some major effects on consumer buying behavior.

A news release from RPI’s Center for Infrastructure, Transportation and the Environment reports that “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered how people shop, how much they buy, the trips they take outside their homes, and the number of tele-activities like work, medicine and education…”

RPI conducted two surveys.  One generated data from the United States and the other produced data from respondents in more than 20 countries.

With regards to the emergency measures to combat the pandemic, Cara Wang, an RPI associate professor said: “These emergency measures boosted tele-activities, which are now performed at a level unforeseen by even the most optimistic forecasters months ago. People work remotely from home, attend online school from home, and engage in leisure activities that are also confined to their homes. Meanwhile, shopping patterns have been transformed, and an entirely new ecosystem of freight and service providers is emerging.”

COVID-19 Already Causing Shift In Consumer Buying Behavior

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The RPI researchers question implications beyond COVID-19. Their research revealed that a number of “mandatory” trips could decrease, and employers may continue to allow tele-work beyond the pandemic. The surveys showed that e-commerce will probably sustain its pandemic uptick, particularly with groceries.  Researchers found a 21% increase in grocery delivery frequency per person surveyed.

Similar results were found in an IBM Institute for Business Value survey that polled 25,000 U.S. adults in April, 2020. This study showed that U.S. consumers surveyed plan to make significant changes in how they run their lives and work during the pandemic.  Many consumers, according to the IBM study, indicated they plan to do away with ride-sharing and public transportation.  They indicated they are less likely to attend large events once the crisis abates, but they did indicate a willingness to attend sporting events.

The IBM study showed that many respondents will change how they show and spend money, including an increased willingness to use contactless payment technologies. New car purchases are likely to take a dip based on personal concerns about the economy.

The pandemic has also created a priority for consumers regarding shopping local, according to the IBM study. Some 25% of respondents indicated they are now shopping more often at locally owned stores and buying more local made, grown or sourced products.

FORBES Magazine also reported on findings revealed in its annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index. This index is published annually and surveys 1,000 consumers to gauge their appetite for conscious consumerism and charitable giving. With respect to COVID-19, here are some noteworthy findings:

  • COVID exposure leads to more social responsibility.
  • There are greater expectations for companies to step up.
  • More than three-quarters of Americans say that how a company treats employees and customers during the pandemic will be an important factor when determining whether to support them in a post-COVID world.
  • When asked which companies were doing a good job of being socially responsible during the pandemic, the top two cited were Walmart and Amazon. And the top two companies NOT being socially responsible? Amazon and Walmart.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.