The psychology of online consumption in a post-Pandemic market

May 17th, 2023

While the Pandemic is now but a distant nightmare… we hope… the very real anxiety that Covid-19 brought with it seems to have stuck with us which has impacted the way people buy.

Consumer psychology examines consumers’ perceptions, beliefs, feelings and thoughts and considers all of them when examining purchasing behaviour. It also accounts for social persuasion and motivation from third parties to purchasing decisions, such as commercials or advertising.

This insight will look into the psychological impact that Covid-19 has had on consumers; what’s changed, what’s the same, and the possible future implications of the pandemic on the consumption of products and services in a B2C market.

A study that recruited over 4000 people looked at pre and post pandemic consumer behaviour, and how the Covid-19 crisis directly changed the way we buy. The results:

Indicated a 61% increase in spending levels during the first week of the lockdown, compared to the average expenses before the health crisis. Furthermore, spending levels were differently increased for buying products framed as necessities (91%) and non-necessities (36%)

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, global retail eCommerce sales rose to nearly $4.28 trillion and statista (image left) saw an increase in eCommerce site visits of 6 billion, from 16 billion in January 2020 reported 16 billion and June of the same year.

Even at the end of lockdown, 40% of people in the UK chose to shop online and from home rather than go to a physical store.

In Q2 2021, Shopify (right) revealed it reached its first $1 billion in a quarter on record with its Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV), up 57% year-on-year.

What’s also interesting is the age demographic of pre-pandemic spending, with those over 55 years of age seeing higher spending growth in recent months. In 2021, market data (below) showed that over 95% of over 55s shopped online, however would usually shop the brands they were used to buying in store.

We’re spending more than before the Coronavirus restrictions and in May 2022, seasonally adjusted internet sales accounted for 26.6% of all official retail sales, compared with 19.7% in February 2020.

The term “panic buying” refers to the excessive purchasing of groceries and other essential supplies by a large number of people in response to a threatened or actual disaster (Taylor, 2021).

During the Covid-19 lockdown(s), ‘panic buying’ became prevalent in the UK (and other parts of the world), if I recall, pasta and toilet roll were the two main panic purchases. The media stories during the pandemic were (to say the least) sensationalist and self-fulfilling – inasmuch as the news reported it before stock levels dropped, people listened to the news and panic bought, thus stock levels plummeted.

Media can shape human attitudes both explicitly and implicitly (Berlin and Malin, 1991; Stryker, 2003) and this can lead to desirable changes in behavior.

The surge in demand left room for some merchants to take advantage of the hysterical masses. With products such as facemasks having markups as high as 582%.

Experts say that panic buying helps people feel in control of the situation… which brings us to our next point, what’s the same?

In Control

While panic buying may have brought out the worst in people’s purchasing decisions, it highlighted the very real necessity of feeling in control of different habits. A psychological belief that our perception of control differs every day from rational to emotional thinking, affects our ability to buy.

It is widely thought that impulse buying online tends to occur in the evening, after the hard knocks of the day erode our powers of control.

You may know the early 2000s romcom trope that in order to feel better the female protagonist has to go shopping (aka retail therapy) with her girlfriends, shrieking like banshees all the way to the stores. This has some foundation within the psychological grounds of control – the protagonist in question has lost all control over her love-life, but hey! At least she can control what she buys.

Perhaps, without acknowledging or being aware of it, your customers are undertaking keyword research to find out what they want to buy, and where from. Keeping on top of search trends through our bespoke SEO keyword research and optimisation service will enable you to align your online retail platform with your customers.

Seasonal peaks

We’ve talked about seasonal searches and purchases before, as consumers begin preparations for different weathers and seasons, they start making different purchases. Understanding why your customers are buying certain products at certain times of the year will help you to sell to them.

Retailers can create their own unique opportunities and promotions outside of peak sales times (such as summer and Christmas) to push different products outside of the standard retail calendar to peak interest in new (and returning) customers.

Retailers must monitor old trends to fuel new ones and act in a timely manner to put the right products or features in front of their consumers.

Retailers must differentiate their offerings by delivering unique offerings that are built around how a customer interacts with their brand.

Social proof

Similarly to panic buying amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, people followed people. This is essentially what social proof is.

Social proof is a phenomenon where people follow and copy the actions of others in order to display accepted or correct behavior, based on the idea of normative social influence.

With the introduction of social media, it’s potentially easier to take advantage of the capabilities of social proof than ever before; our social media strategies will help you look at trending data, and really pack a punch in regards to social proof.

I believe we will see substantial growth in social commerce, thus solidifying the ‘normal’ perception of social proof.

Social commerce is a subset of eCommerce and refers to shoppers making their purchases within social media platforms – everything from product research to checkout happens within the social media platform. This substantiates the case for consumers wanting to be in control of their purchasing decisions and habits.

The future of the psychology of consumption isn’t really going to differ from what we already experience. While Covid-19 greatly altered the way in which we shop, and for good, I don’t envision much else drastically changing (I’m ready to eat my words though).

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