As pandemic restrictions ease around the world and stores open so customers can flood inside, will buying habits revert to pre-pandemic times? Or will the newly-formed online buying habits over the past few months continue?

Yes, things have changed. We get it. The news media continues reminding us every day how the world has changed. Have things changed because the media keeps saying so? That’s a topic for another conversation.

As for in-store purchases, Kate Morris, Founder and CEO of Adore Beauty said, “There’s going to be that extra level of anxiety over in-store experiences. The ‘Did I touch something? Did I sanitise? Did that person breathe on me?’ I don’t think people are going to forget about that.”

Some are boycotting stores, such as Costco, who require shoppers to wears masks. In some localities a mask is required for all stores, in others, it’s up to the stores to dictate whether a shopper is required to wear a mask.

Has Consumer Buying Behavior Changed?          

Before the Coronavirus took over the world, eMarketer estimated that, “85.9% of Millennials in the US will be digital buyers this year. Among 25- to 29-year-olds, 50% said at least half of their shopping occurs online, including 27% who said that’s where ‘all or almost all’ of their shopping takes place. The figures were similar for those ages 30 to 34.”

eMarketer projected that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers would slightly increase their digital shopping this year. All that changed when stores shut-down and more generations became comfortable buying online. 

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Some believe mature customers will become more comfortable with digital activities even after the pandemic and that online commerce will become a more valuable part of forging company-customer relationships.

“Right now, there’s a huge potential for brand owners to increase online sales in 2020. The change in consumer behaviour that many expected to take three to four years is instead happening in a few months.”

Joakim Gavelin, founder of Detail Online

Research by the Kantar Group shows that consumers may continue purchasing as they did during the pandemic.

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Sabrina Helm, associate professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona, said, “Among all age groups, there is a large segment of consumers who tried online grocery buying for the first time in March, and many will likely continue to buy groceries online, at least as long as the pandemic continues. Of course, it is impossible to foresee whether a large share of consumers will remain loyal to online shopping or go back to the brick-and-mortar store experience once we feel safe to do so. Most of us have missed the social experience of shopping for many weeks now, and the convenience of the online channel may not make up for this.”

Customer buying has shifted online… for now. What happens when new habits form? Will consumers break their new habits and reverse course, buying in-store vs online?

New Habits and Humans               

On average it takes 66 days to form a new habit. In many countries, the pandemic lasted longer than 66 days. New habits are now cemented into our minds.

We are creatures of habit. These new habits, once formed, are difficult to break. Habits such as online purchases, not visiting a gym, and avoiding supermarket crowds are all new habits we may have established.

“People are getting used to doing things differently and some of the changes will be persistent.”

Dr. Andrew Charlton      

Final Thoughts

More people will venture forth in stores as countries and localities lift restrictions for retailers. It’s happening and e-commerce has dipped.

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This chart illustrates the year-over-year trend of e-commerce in select sub-sector and across key regions since January 2020.

Is this temporary? Will customers once again return to making online purchases after the novelty of buying in-store wears off?

One thing is for certain: using a real-time e-commerce platform to connect with and forge new customer relationships is exactly how savvy brands are boosting sales during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.