COVID-19 has permanently changed shopping behavior

A survey of 3,500+ consumers shows how COVID-19 will transform shopping for the long haul.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Every two weeks, Salesforce Research is surveying the general population to discover how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Research results and insights are publicly available via interactive Tableau dashboards. The data is updated every two weeks and can be segmented in multiple ways -- geography, industry, generation, income, gender, and more.  

Salesforce surveyed over 3,500 consumers across the globe to understand how their shopping behaviors, needs, and expectations have been reshaped over the past several months and their outlooks for the future. Here are some key takeaways from our analysis of respondents in the United States.  The survey shows how COVID-19 will transform shopping for the long haul. 

Customer expectations of an in-store experience will be higher than ever -- safety first

Sixty-two percent of US respondents to our May 14 to May 15 survey claimed to be conducting less in-store shopping than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


US Consumers requirements for returning to in-person store shopping

The survey shows that consumers have increased their usage of the following -- all point to a stronger preference for e-commerce versus in-store shopping experiences: 

  1. Contactless delivery
  2. Contactless payments
  3. Self-checkout
  4. Buy online and pickup in-store
  5. Subscription services 
  6. Automated retail stores
  7. Purchases over social media
  8. Vending machine and lockers 

Preferred shopping methods during COVID-19 pandemic 

E-Commerce adoption will continue to grow after safe store openings

Shoppers are increasingly turning to e-commerce. Forty-four percent of US respondents to our May 14 to May 15 survey said they are conducting more of their shopping online. Sixty-eight percent of US shoppers expect to buy essential goods online after the health threats of COVID-19 have subsided. 


The use on e-commerce will continue post-pandemic 

Millennials and Gen Z consumers are most likely to expect this trend to last, but a majority of older shoppers, including 57% of baby boomers, also foresee purchasing more online. 

The survey also revealed that 52% of shoppers are willing to pay for virtual versions of a product or service that is traditionally provided in person. Sixty-eight percent of consumers are likely to buy essential goods after the health threats of COVID-19 subside. 

Seventy-one percent of high-income earners foresee more online shopping in their future, as well as 68% of middle-income earners and 65% of low-income earners.


Virtual versus in-person shopping preferences, including essential goods 

Shoppers value safety and health as their top requirement for returning back to in-store shopping

The top eight personal requirements to return to normal in-store shopping are:

  1. Social distancing measures (60%)
  2. Required personal protective equipment for employees (54%)
  3. Required personal protective equipment for customers (45%)
  4. Availability of COVID-19 testing (33%)
  5. Availability of COVID-10 vaccine (35%)
  6. Availability of COVID-19 treatment (33%)
  7. Assurance from local government that shopping is safe (28%)
  8. Assurance from the national government that shopping is safe (26%)

Personal requirements to return to normal in-store shopping behaviors 

Stores must provide social distance, hand sanitizers, expanded cleaning, physical barriers, and disinfectant wipes with adjusted hours for vulnerable groups to see in-store shoppers.


Shopper expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic from stores 

Shopping methods are changing at lightning speeds 

Contactless delivery is seeing a particularly large uptick in use, with 37% of US consumers turning to it more than usual. Shoppers are now more comfortable buying online and either opt for delivery or in a pick-up in store. I expect to see curbside pick-up options to extend to brands that typically only deliver good in malls as well. 


Use of shopping methods among US consumers 

Contactless payments that pre-pandemic had low adoption in the US will see significantly increased adoption, including peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and PayPal. 

Expect less back-to-school and holiday shopping spending 

According to the survey, 44% of US shoppers in our most recent survey say they've decreased their discretionary spending, and the implications for the busy back-to-school and winter holiday shopping seasons are big. The softer projections are based on a lack of clarity on when -- or whether -- school districts will reopen. 


Expected future shopping behaviors for upcoming holidays as compared to pre-pandemic shopping behaviors 

You can use the Tableau interactive dashboards for commerce, sales, services, marketing, and small business analysis and research that is updated every two weeks here

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