Survey: Supply chain issues, COVID-19 affect consumer behavior

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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The supply chain and pandemic are impacting shopping patterns.

Continuing supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting consumers in how they shop for the holidays, among other areas.

According to a new survey of U.S. consumers from L.E.K. Consulting, 70% of respondents report they are adjusting their buying behavior this holiday season, driven by supply chain disruptions that may impact holiday gift availability. Eighty-six percent of respondents are aware of supply chain issues.

Respondents expect to purchase 50-60% of holiday gifts online in 2021. In a 2019 L.E.K. Consulting survey of U.S. consumers, respondents expected to purchase 50-60% of holiday gifts in-store. This marks a significant 10 to 20 percentage point shift online for holiday shopping in the past two years, which were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as supply chain disruptions.

Respondents who are shifting their holiday gift buying behaviors also reported they were planning to order gifts earlier than usual, purchase fewer gifts, buy more gift cards instead of physical gifts, and/or purchase more locally made products. Just over half of respondents expect to spend about the same amount of money on holiday gifts in 2021 as they did in 2019, although about one-third expect to spend less for reasons including having less money and the anticipation of seeing fewer friends and family.

The survey also revealed a number of interesting findings about how the pandemic is affecting consumer attitudes and behavior:

  • Almost nine in 10 (88%) respondents do not believe the pandemic is fully contained, but only 17% say they are very concerned about it and that it influences their day-to-day behavior significantly — down from 26% in July 2021.
  • Slightly more than half (52%) of respondents report they will permanently increase their spending on home goods in the next three years, and 26% expect to increase spending in multiple areas of the home, like home decor, media electronics, linens, large appliances, and backyard recreation.
  • Fifty-one percent of respondents who have traditionally office-based jobs report their employer currently has a full-time in-office policy, 17% are under a hybrid model and 17% are fully remote. Nine percent say the location is up to the employee, and 6% say there is no formal policy right now.

A recent survey from Intercom also indicates a large number of consumers are concerned about supply chain issues disrupting their holiday shopping this year. According to the survey, 77% of consumers said they worry they will have issues buying gifts online this year. The biggest online shopping concerns reported by surveyed consumers were gifts not arriving on time (45%) being more expensive this year than expected (42%), or not being available at all (33%).

“Interestingly, recent consumer spending data suggest that consumer sentiment may not be the best predictor of holiday sales: The Census Bureau and other secondary sources have reported a positive trend in monthly sales, with September's retail sales up 14% over the same month last year and up around 25% over September 2019," said Maria Steingoltz, L.E.K. managing director and report co-author. "This disconnect between consumer sentiment and actual spend has been observed frequently this year — consumers are pessimistic about the economy, even though it is arguably doing well overall.”

L.E.K. Consulting surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers in November 2021.