The evolution of the consumer in a crisis

A month ago, when the top of the evening news tailed off to a story of small instances of panic buying toilet paper, the future of today seemed movie-esque in its distance from the current reality.

Fast forward to the present and the way we consume; our buying habits and the logistical acrobatics being performed by the supply chain are now abiding by the ever-changing face of Covid-19.

Logistical and social changes

 The impact has not only evolved to shape increases and decreases in the types of products and food we buy, but also in the way we behave. 2 metre distancing is now the norm in most countries when venturing out from lockdown, especially when shopping. Card payments are almost mandatory as stores look to ensure the safety of both cashiers and customers. Emphasis is also being heavily put on a strained supply chain as buyers are encouraged to use delivery services over face-to-face.

With social distancing measures more than likely to outlast lockdowns, these more stringent protocols could well last into 2021.

Ecommerce shopping trends – What products are a ‘necessity’ under a lockdown?

Across the board we’re seeing a boost in purchasing of electronics, books and indoor games, amongst others. Metapack’s own year on year data indicates that sports retailers (up 71%) and health and beauty (up 95%) are seeing strong volume increases, whereas fashion retailers (-21%) and florists (-53%) are suffering the most under the current climate.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seems a relevant model for our changing buying behaviours and psychological needs. Everyone has clearly been prioritising food and water. More abstract needs such as belongingness is resulting in surges of Zoom subscribers and app downloads such as Houseparty. The exercise equipment and indoor games for stimulus should give more people a sense of accomplishment that is not derived from 5 continuous hours of Netflix. Although, perhaps you could argue that as an achievement?!

Maslow Hierarchy Needs

One thing that isn’t in doubt, is that we’re deprived in certain areas of life and the buying habits we’re witnessing are representing an overcompensation compared to our usual patterns of behaviour. Isolation is resulting in a search to fill the voids left by the normality of life with products that can be consumed from the home.

Temporary measures or permanent shift

As we alter our consumption habits for the current situation, brands and retailers are not only becoming reactive, but considering what strategic alterations they need to make long-term. The High Street is undoubtedly struggling, especially those without an online presence – along with small businesses and independently owned outlets.

As the virtues of working from home have become more apparent, employers could well review this practice, resulting in it becoming more of a norm. Subsequently this could reshape delivery and the options buyers want to utilise as their physical locations become more varied. Services such as PUDO (Pick Up/Drop Off) and Click and Collect could decrease as more consumers become available to receive goods directly.

Consumers might also not only be forced to review their consumption habits, but have alterations enforced on them in the near future.

Looking into the months ahead, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London suggests that tropical fruits will disappear from shelves and fruits will become seasonal once again due to hold-ups at borders and decreased freight flights [1]. Lang goes on to say about our relationship with food – “We need to be thinking very carefully about renationalising supply chains, out of resilience preparedness. We’ve developed, over 60 years, a culture that says, ‘I can eat what I like, when I like, and it’ll be cheap forever, and I’ll overeat as well.’ That culture has got to change.”

“Coronavirus is going to take a scythe through the normality of food.” And most probably; the way we shop forever.


To see keep tabs on weekly eCommerce volume trends, check out Metapack’s Delivery Index.


[1] Coronavirus Timeline: How The World Will Change Over The Next 18 Months