COVID and Consumers: How COVID-19 May Have Changed the Market

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It should not come as news that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed all aspects of society. One aspect that warrants careful analysis is the pandemic’s effect on consumer behavior. Since the inception of the pandemic in March, consumer trends in the United States have shifted radically. In the beginning, products deemed “essential” flew off the shelves. Everyone remembers the infamous toilet paper shortages. Sanitation products were impossible to find; items such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, and aerosol sprays were being bought in massive numbers. Grocery stores were overwhelmed with panicked shoppers who believed that they needed to stock their pantries for the apocalypse. People emptied the shelves as though they would never be refilled. Of course, the shelves were always restocked; eventually, consumer trends shifted radically once again.

After a period of panic, consumers began tackling the first major challenge of the pandemic: remote working. For several months, families were isolated in their homes; children and young adults were home from school and employees were home from work. The remote learning and working environment was hectic. Many consumers shifted their priorities toward products that allowed them to maximize productivity at home. Individuals and families invested in home improvements and additions to their homes to create extra space. Purchases into home office products increased exponentially. The demand for computers, desks, chairs, and other products to conduct remote work was significantly higher than the preceding period. Services that allowed consumers to have products delivered, such as and , also rose to prominence in the early months of the pandemic.

These trends in consumer purchases are well documented, the major question that remains is whether these trends are temporary or permanent. Undoubtedly, as vaccinations rise and the risk of COVID-19 begins to dissipate, consumers should shift demand toward products and services outside of the household. Vacation packages, restaurants, and sporting venues should see significant increases in demand due to the so-called “pandemic fatigue.” Will this trend signal a return to the status quo, or merely a temporary shift in a new, post-pandemic economic society? While many despise remote learning, many companies have experienced success in remote working environments. If such success continues, will companies return to physical office spaces? Why would companies continue to pay for expensive leases on property, when they could achieve the same work product remotely, with no property costs? Employees may also enjoy the increased flexibility of working from home and could resist returns to the pre-pandemic norms.

Indeed, the pandemic may have created a new normal in more ways than one. Brick and mortar establishments and experiences that require physical congregation, such as sit-down restaurants and movie theaters, are being phased out at a much faster rate than during the pre-pandemic period. These establishments are being replaced by streaming services, delivery companies, and online infrastructure tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Even if consumer preferences indicate a desire to return to pre-pandemic norms, the establishments that created such an environment may no longer be present. Alternatively, consumers may not wish to return to the past. The pandemic may have refocused consumer’s desires towards items that are considered “essential.” Product marketing teams, as many already have, will have to shift their marketing campaigns accordingly. For instance, instead of products that focus on sustainability, product marketing will shift to answering how that product is “essential” to personal well-being or how it is “necessary” for any household.

In any event, the international pandemic has sent consumer preferences on a roller coaster ride for at least the time being. The questions surrounding whether this tumultuous shift will continue indefinitely or when it will end remain as uncertain as this pandemic. Perhaps home gyms, home offices, home life is here to stay. Perhaps a new, post-pandemic normal will be established which looks drastically different from anything before or during the pandemic. However, if anyone is holding out hope that the pre-pandemic normal will return, it appears as though such a society does not exist anymore.

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Tony Hemphill

Tony Hemphill

Ceaseless thinker | sports & fitness enthusiast | political science and financial markets researcher.