COVID-19 will reshape the shopper mindset for years to come

Alastair Lockhart

Tue 24th Mar 2020

Predicting shopper behaviour is tricky even during times of relative certainty, often requiring us to draw on many sources of research and trend analysis. So, in light of the unfolding events surrounding the outbreak of Covid 19, it can seem like a near impossible task to predict how shoppers will behave next week, never mind in a few months’ time when, hopefully, the peak of the epidemic will have passed.

Furthermore, it might seem irrelevant at the moment to be thinking about the shopper mindset in a few months’ time, when all attention is currently focused on the days ahead.

However, it does make sense to consider the future now, as the way brands and retailers behave during this time of crisis will have a long-lasting effect on the way they are perceived for potentially many years ahead. Retailers and brands need to ask themselves how they want to be remembered when shoppers look back at how they handled the crisis.

Traditional research has a role to play. However the majority of the key insights that will help us understand the changing shopper mindset can be derived from behavioural psychology, since most of the behaviours we see at the moment, and those we expect to emerge over the coming months, are the result not of marketing and product trends, but of deeply rooted human instinct.

What we have seen during the past couple of weeks is shoppers fundamentally reframing all their priorities and purchase decisions. Shoppers are currently thinking at the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – where a survival instinct kicks in, and safety and food become the priorities for individuals, families and communities.

Consider how supermarkets – taken for granted a couple of weeks ago – have been elevated to one of the emergency services, with their colleagues classified not only as key workers, but as heroes. And consider how the acts and gestures of support and kindness of retailers and brands now will shape shoppers’ perceptions deeply, potentially for years to come.

Already during the past week or so we have seen how many brands and retailers have worked to prioritise those who need help, whether it be allocating specific hours for hard-worked NHS workers and the vulnerable, providing donations to food banks or even helping create and share good news stories during very difficult times.

Over the coming days and weeks, Savvy will be sharing its observations on emerging events, often drawing on human psychology, to help understand changing behaviours and what the implications of these changes will be in the months and years ahead. We’ll be looking at a variety of topics, from range rationalisation and the role of brands, to the rise of virtual gatherings, online shopping and broader changes in shopper attitudes and behaviours.

Make no mistake, while we don’t know how the next few weeks will play out, we can be sure that the shopper and consumer mindset, their priorities and behaviours will change fundamentally. Insight will be crucial to navigate through the crisis itself and beyond.