Retail Therapy

Buying Behaviours in a Changed World
Written by Allison Dempsey

Along with health and safety procedures, vaccine awareness, supply chain issues, and travel advisories, the COVID pandemic has also affected more basic practices, including how consumers are behaving, shopping, and, in many ways, thinking about how and where they spend money.

While some of these changes came about directly because of the pandemic, many of these altered attitudes and purchase patterns are expected to endure for years to come. Shoppers aren’t only thinking differently about the purchases themselves due to the cost of living; they are also becoming more conscious about supporting local businesses and embracing online shopping.

According to Accenture, consumers were and are more concerned about the economic effects of COVID than about their own health, which has driven the redefinition of why, what, and how customers purchase. Preferences have shifted to prioritize the most fundamental requirements, driving up demand for hygiene, cleaning, and staple products and driving down demand for non-essential categories.

As the “buy local” trend gains traction, other factors that affect brand choices are also shifting. As more people shop for groceries online, digital commerce has also experienced growth, a trend that’s expected to continue after the pandemic eventually ends.

In fact, shoppers are increasingly keeping their shopping local, even while doing it online, according to TFO Canada. When COVID was at its height with lockdowns and work-from-home mandates, turning to online shopping was a natural and required shift. “Hyperlocal delivery”—sending out packages from a nearby location—addresses the needs of efficiency, sustainability, and convenience in addition to helping out the community by incorporating a physical retailer that additionally provides local customers with delivery or omnichannel services—a huge benefit during times of economic duress.

Along with retailers having the potential to meet customer demand for convenience, with more consumers choosing to purchase only online, consumers are also willing to pay more for same-day shipment, according to 41 percent of TFO Canada’s respondents. In 2020, on-demand consumer spending was estimated to be over $57.6 billion, and this number is only projected to rise—in fact, it’s predicted that this year’s market for food delivery alone could total $161.74 billion.

Shopify—a complete commerce platform that allows users to start, grow, and manage a business—has found that over half of North American consumers polled in June 2020 stated that the pandemic has altered their future shopping habits with trends such as inflation-affected buyers looking for discounts, declining brand fidelity, social media marketing continuing to influence purchasing behaviour, and local connections affecting purchase decisions.

Because of rising competition and anticipated declines in consumer spending power, people are becoming more selective about where they spend their money, but cost isn’t the only factor contributing to declining loyalty. More and more consumers are choosing brands with sustainable business practices as their buying habits and ideals become more aligned. Additionally, customers want responsive, convenient, and customized purchasing experiences, and they’re prepared to browse elsewhere to obtain them. Shopify’s data reveals that between May 2021 and May 2022, more than 70 percent of consumers made purchases from a brand that competed with their preferred brand, and if convenience is key, that’s good news for local retailers.

As the pandemic wanes, customers are once again returning to in-store shopping, preferring in some cases to see the products firsthand before buying. In fact, despite being accustomed to online purchasing, half of Gen Z consumers—between ages nine and 24—prefer in-store buying, says Shopify, and more than a third of consumers claim they prefer to purchase in-store because of the atmosphere. So while online shopping is still a priority, the opportunity to do so in-person is always preferred for many.

Consumers’ concerns about sustainability have grown in importance in recent years, according to Brandwatch. And in a 2022 IBM study, 51 percent of participants felt sustainability is now even more crucial than it was a year before. Even with the continual rise of the cost of living, consumers are still paying attention to what brands are doing and this can determine whether a consumer becomes a devoted client.

To help combat high prices, says Brandwatch, buying used is one way to save money and the resale sector is seeing an increase in brand presence. In 2022, the luxury market alone was predicted to generate sales of 43 billion dollars, more than doubling the amount generated in 2017. Even with rising costs, consumers who are passionate about fashion won’t give up and will instead search for alternatives to purchasing brand-new things. Customers may still receive their favourite brands and trendy items by buying used goods, and they can help the environment while doing so. Even on a tight budget, shoppers can prioritize sustainability by purchasing used goods.

There has been a lot of bad press for the fashion business recently, with “fast fashion,” sustainability, and the treatment of overseas workers being of topmost concern, so buying used can help combat all of those issues.

But again, customers continue to value convenience. Alternative buying methods like same-day delivery and click-and-collect saw a rise during the pandemic. The availability of these and other options has increased recently, improving consumer convenience when purchasing, with customers praising anything that makes their life simpler, says Brandwatch.

While Millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—are more prone than other generations to factor in convenience, price makes up by far the majority of the purchase dialogue across all generations. But whereas Gen Z and Millennials are more inclined to discuss shipping and convenience, respectively, older generations like Gen X and baby boomers are more likely to discuss sustainability.

In short, consumers today are more concerned with sustainability and convenience overall than previously, in part due to both COVID’s effects and ever-present climate change issues. With these factors in mind, shopping locally helps. Local businesses help to reduce traffic and pollution by using less land, being closer to the community, and carrying more locally produced goods. By avoiding trips outside of town for shopping or ordering items from across the country, consumers save money on transportation and lower the overall consumption of fossil fuels.

There are other benefits as well: buying local can assist with social issues and local infrastructure. Shopping and spending locally encourages money to stay in the area and promotes the expansion of the regional economy, affording local businesses more chances to contribute to the community’s infrastructure, social activities, and events through participation and sponsorship. Additionally, supporting local businesses means taxes are invested in the local tax base and then used to pay for parks, roads, and other community enhancements from which everyone benefits.

For consumers today, it’s not just the thought, but where it’s bought that counts the most.

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