76% of Consumers Say Pandemic Fears Driving Changes in Shopping Behavior

Consumers focusing on essential products, in-store safety
Social distancing in a supermarket

As the rapid spread of the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the daily routines of consumers, many are changing the way they shop due to health and safety concerns.

Shopping rewards app Shopkick set out to gauge how the spread of the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus is impacting shoppers’ choices and their behavior. It surveyed 24,400 consumers between March 16-18 and found that shoppers are not only changing what they buy, but also the way they go about making their purchases.

For most consumers, restocking the house has not been business as usual. Some have even veered away from their average household food spending habits. More than three-fourths — 76% — said their fears about the pandemic have led to changes to their shopping behaviors.

Focusing on the essentials

Nearly half of respondents (47%) said essential items have been one of their focal points of concern.

Essential items include:

  • Food and water (93%)
  • Toiletries (74%)
  • Cleaning supplies (58%)
  • Medicine and medical items (45%)
  • Pet supplies (41%)

Interestingly, 43% said their spending habits on non-essential items have not changed with 5% even admitting to spending more on non-essential purchases as they stock their houses up for the long-haul.

Among those who are filling their carts with essential items, 78% said having those items on hand makes them feel safer. Consumers are also sticking to the basics when it comes to brands, as 85% of respondents said brand names aren’t important to them in this crisis.

With consumers focusing on essential items, many continue to see shortages of products they want. For example, 97% have seen their stores sold out of toilet paper, 93% have seen a shortage in hand sanitizer and 69% have seen shortages in bottled water. Canned goods have also been seen in short supply by more than half — 54% — of respondents. More than three-fourths — 78% — of shoppers have even seen stores restricting the number of certain products consumers can buy.

Shoppers worried about their safety

As consumers struggle to find some of the products they need, nearly 60% of respondents said they are worried about shopping in stores and 85% said they were taking extra precautions. Of those taking precautions:

  • 92% said they were disinfecting their hands and shopping carts
  • 66% reported shopping at times when fewer people were likely to be shopping
  • 63% said they used debit or credit cards to avoid dealing with cash
  • 59% said they were using self-checkout

Despite shoppers’ concerns about the safety of physical stores, many have not taken their business away from brick-and-mortar retailers. Most — 76% — said they have not started shopping online more frequently. However, of those who already shop online, 60% said they would likely shop online more frequently moving forward.

As consumers focus more on grocery shopping than other types of spending, some may benefit from using grocery credit cards to accumulate rewards during the pandemic. Some may even find that the shift to spending primarily on essentials could lead to decreases in their spending over time.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.