A Delta in consumer behavior

The new surge in COVID-19 cases is altering consumer behaviors—again—ahead of peak season

When we last asked consumers—just a few months ago in May—about changes in shopping behaviors, health and safety guidance was relaxing, the summer travel season was just beginning, and COVID-19 cases were on a steady decline. Now, travel season is ending, mask mandates are on the rise, as are new COVID cases resulting from the Delta variant—so we wanted to gauge whether and how much consumers were reverting to being cautious and wary about in-store shopping amid possible health risk.

How is delta variant changing shopping behaviours
  • 1 in 4 consumers say they will start shopping less in person (16% increase from May) and more than 1 in 3 will start shopping more online (19% increase from May).
  • 2 in 3 shoppers say they will shop in-person about the same level (down only 3% from May).
  • Millennials are the most cautious, with nearly 1 in 3 saying they would shop less in person and nearly 1 in 2 saying they will shop more online. In both cases it is near 20% increase over May and highest of any age group.
  • Urban dwellers will change their shopping habits more than those who live elsewhere. They are divided, though: 14% will increase their in-person shopping and 28% will decrease. When it comes to online shopping, 46% will shop more online (10% greater than the overall average).
  • 41% of higher income consumers (earning >$100k/year) will shop more online, while 28% will shop less in person. Both are significantly higher than the adult average.

The Delta variant’s impact on the office

The growing acceptance of remote work promises to have seismic impacts on shopping behaviors, as the near-universal closure of offices in 2020 and early 2021 pushed traditional office workers to entertain significant changes:

  • Even greater adoption of online shopping, as store shopping trips must become more intentional without a commute or lunch break.
  • Greater interest enrolling in subscription box services.
  • Greater likelihood of moving out of cities and into ‘exurbs,’ thanks to Dispersion.

Given many of these changes also are likely to impact logistics strategy—after all, consumers who are further dispersed require longer-zone deliveries, more remote warehouses, more capable last mile carriers, and even more diverse returns options. So, given the Delta variant surge, we went back to consumers on the topic of remote work.

  • 1 in 3 adults (the largest proportion of employed consumers) expect to work remotely most often. Remarkably, there is a negligible difference between age groups.
  • Gen Z, with their track record of being less concerned in general about the pandemic, expects to work in an office most often.
  • 1 in 4 Baby Boomer and 1 in 5 GenXers hold a job where remote work is not possible, which puts a slightly lower ceiling on shopping behavior impacts among these generations.
  • As a validation of Dispersion drawing cultural lines between urban and ex-urban consumers, only 21% of urbanites expect to work most often at home (12% lower than the overall average).

Consumers reverting to peak-pandemic behaviors

With all the latest changes around health and safety policies as well as the shifts in returning to remote work, we asked consumers whether they expect to return to some of the shopping behaviors that were hallmarks at the height of the pandemic:

  • In good news for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, more than half (55%) of shoppers expect to discover new brands online.
  • In almost-as-good news for store-based retailers, nearly half (43%) of consumers expect to use curbside pickup more often.
  • 1 in 3 will enroll in new subscriptions, return online purchases more often and expect to be waiting in lines more often at stores.
  • In response to a question asked by our contestants at Subsummit, 1 in 4 plan to use libraries more often despite the virus surge. 
  • For nearly all of these behaviors, high-income and urban consumers agreed at a significantly higher percentages than other groups. (+10% difference from overall average in most cases).

Finally, with an eye towards peak behaviors, consumers are expecting their preference for online shopping to become even more pronounced compared to just a couple of months ago and how they feel today (see above). A whopping 41% of consumers (compared to 36% now, and 17% in mid-summer) expect to be shopping more online this holiday. So, buckle your seat belts…

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed August 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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