Report details five major pandemic-era consumer trends impacting retail

Marianne Wilson
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More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic officially began in the United States, its impact on consumers and the retail industry has emerged.

A focus on health, at-home moments, comfort and indulgence, e-commerce and value are the five major themes that have largely defined pandemic-era consumer behavior, according to The Coco-Cola Co.’s Coca-Cola Refreshing Insights: The State of the Consumer, Retail & FSOP report. The report is based on aggregated insights from various studies.

Here are the five major trends in Coco-Cola report.

1.Focus on Health: As the pandemic continued to evolve in 2020, so did consumers’ opinions regarding their health and the corresponding impact on their purchasing behavior

In March 2020, 42% of consumers disagreed with the following statement: “Even if I end up getting COVID-19, I won’t worry because I am very healthy.” In October 2020, the number had increased to 66% of consumers.

Consumers began looking to hygiene to protect their health, which impacted purchasing behavior — especially when it came to food. According to the report, purchase consideration rises when retailers and restaurants enact specific safety measures to protect consumers, These include:

  • Pre-wrapped items – 40%;
  • Clean and well-maintained food and beverage areas – 38% ;
  • Disinfecting wipes made available – 37%;
  • Minimize touching handles and other surfaces – 33%;
  • Products behind a transparent barrier – 29%; and
  • Items served by an employee – 21%.

The report notes that as long as the pandemic remains — and likely even after— hygiene as a safety concern will continue to shape consumer behavior.

“To meet the needs of this new consumer, foodservice and retail leaders must put “clean” at the heart of the dining and shopping experience through cues like smell, sound and enhanced visuals,” said Diana Retter, senior manager, shopper & commercial insights, North America operating unit, The Coca-Cola Company.

2.At Home Moments: For many consumers, home became a hub to live, work and play in the past year. The related consumer trends expected to remain long-term include:

  • Work from home: 17% of consumers expect they will never resume working in an office;
  • Meals at home:55% of adults want to prepare meals at home instead of eating at restaurants even after COVID-19 is not a factor;
  • Exercising at home: 213% increase in sales of exercise and fitness equipment;
  • Home improvement: 42% of consumers are currently doing or planning to do a home improvement project; and
  • Focus on community: 49% of consumers stated they are buying from local businesses more than normal as a result of the coronavirus and 32% said they are more likely to choose a local/independent restaurant

3.Comfort and Indulgence: Indulgence has become a social norm — and also a perceived necessity as a way to cope and/or escape. Sixty-percent of consumers are currently buying/interested in buying self-care items, and 56% are currently buying/interested in buying special treats for themselves or family members.

In addition, consumers have looked to food as a means to indulge and seek comfort throughout the pandemic. This has caused an increase in sales across a number of categories, including:

  • Snack foods (39%);
  • Ready-to-eat meals (30%); 
  • Soft drinks (27%); and 27% more soft drinks  
  • Alcohol (20%).    

4. Digital Commerce: E-commerce moved from a convenience in 2020 to a norm, with many first-time users. Sixty-eight percent of consumers ordered groceries online for home delivery during the pandemic and 18% reported buying at least half of their groceries online, up from 8% in 2019.

Survey data shows that this trend will continue even in post-pandemic life, with 90% consumers saying they will continue to buy food online once the pandemic is over.

5. Value Redefined: The pandemic and its resulting economic pressures and other events of 2020 brought on an increase of mindful spending, supporting impacted workers and social justice issues