How the pandemic is affecting consumer behaviour

December 1, 2020 |
Contributed by Max Adams, Communications Intern

Consumer Decision-Making

Assistant Professor Chris Ling believes that COVID-19 has altered consumer behaviour. He says that it begins with the consumer decision-making process. When thinking about purchasing and using products, psychological, social, and situational factors inform how consumers make purchase decisions. The pandemic is another factor that impacts behaviour.

Individuals are concerned about the economic threats they face, such as losing one’s job. They are also worried about the risk to their health by contracting the virus. As well, people are anxious about social threats such as the loss of family connections. They also fear informational and environmental threats. These worries can be amplified by their level of severity, scope (e.g., the number of people impacted), and the psychological distance to the threat.

Initially, COVID-19 presented as a health threat, then rapidly became an economic, informational, and social threat as well.

Routines, Norms, and Beliefs

Humans typically rely on routines, norms, and beliefs that guide them in their daily lives. Generally, shoppers believe that a store will be well-stocked. Parents think they will be able to send their children to school. Employees assume they will be able to continue to work and stay employed. Families may have gathered, shook hands, kissed cheeks, and stayed in close contact. COVID-19 serves as a disruption to our familiar patterns.

When disruptions happen, consumers feel a sense of insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety.

Disruptions affect individuals’ confidence and their self-identity. It may feel like there is a lack of order, meaning, and continuity in life. Thus, they tend to be emotionally invested in re-establishing trust in their world. They are motivated to do whatever they can to bring back faith in their world by creating new and stable environments.

Black woman shopping online

A New Normal

Throughout the pandemic, disruptions to a person’s standard patterns led to varied psychological responses to reconcile with the new normal. Disruptions have left many with feelings of fear of the unknown, sadness, or grief resulting from losing a sense of understanding of how the world works. As a result, consumers look for ways to take control by seeking out brands that they trust and those that make them feel better. Brand loyalty will be more critical as people will avoid browsing crowded stores. Some will also re-evaluate what is essential to their well-being due to budget constraints.

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of consumer behaviour, including habits, norms, and beliefs, which tend to develop over time in stable environments.

Consumers’ behaviours will begin to convert to new patterns as pandemic restrictions continue and bring a new sense of normalcy. Over the next few years, Dr. Chris Ling believes that it will be worth investigating which industries will survive, how adolescents’ habits will be affected post-pandemic, and whether consumers experience tech-fatigue (leading to a return to more low-tech options).

Chris Ling

Chris Ling

Assistant Professor

Chris Ling holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration (Marketing) from the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, a M.Sc. in Management from the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University and a B.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Toronto. Dr. Ling is an expert in consumer behavior and most recently worked as a management consultant in Toronto. As a management consultant, he has helped companies with a variety of management and marketing problems such as optimizing their branding, redesigning menus, creating solutions to help with new customer acquisition and determining marketing strategy.

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