Consumer Preferences Shift Online During COVID-19 – Temporary or Lasting Change?

As quickly as bars, restaurants, and gyms closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, consumer preferences shifted online. Under these extraordinary circumstances, certain technology categories are seeing accelerated growth and adoption that may have otherwise taken years. Whole Foods, for example, has had to adjust operations to meet a surge in demand for online delivery - hiring employees, limiting new delivery customers, and more. The big question is, once concern around COVID-19 subsides, will consumers return to the activities they've been deprived of for weeks? Or will new online behaviors turn into lasting preferences?

Consumer Preferences Have Shifted Online

We conducted a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults and found that people have overwhelmingly moved online during this crisis. In fact, 82% of consumers are visiting online businesses during COVID-19 and 34% are visiting more than before the crisis. In contrast, only 45% of consumers are visiting brick and mortar businesses. Of those that are visiting, more than half say they are visiting less frequently than before COVID-19. Consumer are limiting visits to "essential" brick-and-mortar businesses

While the government has allowed brick-and-mortar businesses deemed "essential" to remain open, consumers are visiting these businesses less frequently than before COVID-19.

COVID-19 Study - Consumer Preferences Shift Online

Consumer Limiting Visits to “Essential” Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

While the government has allowed brick-and-mortar businesses deemed “essential” to remain open, consumers are visiting these businesses less frequently than before COVID-19.

Grocery stores are getting the most traffic, with 82% of consumers still frequenting businesses in this category. The majority of survey respondents, 55%, are limiting their grocery store visits, but it's fair to assume they spend more money per visit with home-cooked meals up 30% since COVID-19.

Sixty-six percent of consumers report visiting convenient stores during this time and 62% said they visit banks. Half of all survey respondents report they are still visiting quick-serve restaurants, while only 35% said they are visiting dine-in restaurants.

COVID-19 Study - Visits by Industry

Post-COVID-19, Consumers Expect to Visit Both Online and Offline Business More

The good news for brick-and-mortar businesses is that consumers do plan to visit offline businesses more often than before COVID-19, however, they also plan to visit online businesses more as well. This indicates that some COVID-19 behaviors may become lasting preferences. Brick-and-mortar businesses would be wise to slowly transition to the "new normal," keeping some online options in place. Don't just expect to flip a switch back to the way things were prior to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Study - Online and Offline Support

Consumers Intend to Increase their Support Across Industries Post-COVID-19

Diving deeper into the data, we find that consumer support is fairly equal across brick-and-mortar industries. Across all industries - with the exception of gyms - consumers expect to visit brick-and-mortar businesses more often rather than less often when compared to pre-COVID-19 behavior.

Dine-in restaurants, one of the hardest hit industries during COVID-19, will likely see a quick resurgence of traffic back to their businesses, with 39% of respondents saying they plan to visit restaurants more than before COVID-19.

Grocery stores will also see a resurgence, with 35% of respondents reporting they will visit more frequently than before COVID-19, followed by entertainment (theaters, arcades, etc.) and retailers, both at 33%.

Gyms on the other hand, might see fewer unique visitors than before COVID-19, but survey respondents were more likely to say they will visit “more often than ever before” when compared to other industries.

COVID-19 Study - Support for all Industries

Consumer expectations have shifted. Get access to our latest COVID-19 study.

The New Normal

This will all end at some point, and when it does, our survey indicates consumers will return to the activities they loved before COVID-19 - dining out, going to the movies, visiting bars and clubs, etc. That said, such an extraordinary event that has dramatically altered our daily routines over a prolonged period of time, will undoubtedly leave its mark and create lasting change.

So while normalcy will return, it will be different, and no industry will be immune. Brick-and-mortar businesses should prepare for a slow transition back to the "new normal," using every tool available to them to listen to their customers and anticipate what services and products they need and want. Adapting quickly, acting locally, and being visible when customers have a need is what will separate the winners from the losers. Now is the time to prepare.

This blog is a part of our COVID-19 Insights series. Visit our COVID-19 Resource Library for more in-depth analysis on the overall state of consumer behavior, preferences, and expectations before, during, and after COVID-19. As your marketing team prepares for the reopening of the economy, make sure you have the tools to succeed.

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