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Shifting sands: A view into changing shopper behavior

October 11, 2021
By: Barbara Connors, VP, Commercial Insights

A full year and a half since the arrival of COVID-19 shook the world, and the grocery industry with it, the shopper landscape remains in flux. Every week, it seems, brings new developments on the pandemic front—whether it’s the emergence of the delta variant or the approval of 3rd doses of the Pfizer vaccine (with boosters likely soon to follow)—with shoppers’ confidence and comfort levels falling and rising accordingly.

Through all the twists and turns of the past 20 months, what has become clear is that the hybrid shopper, on the ascendance even before the pandemic, is here to stay. But the behavior of that omnichannel consumer, and the relative mix of their online and in-store shopping trips, has become increasingly regionalized in keeping with current COVID risk in their area.

Here’s what we see when we juxtapose 84.51° consumer research against state vaccination and positivity rates:

• States with low vaccination rates are increasing their relative rate of e-commerce usage when indexed against the average. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee all saw lower relative use of pickup going into early 2021 but increasing use more recently as COVID cases rose. Only six states saw an increase in their rate of e-commerce usage between June and July 2021; at the time, all six—Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and Nevada—also ranked in the bottom half of states in terms of vaccination rates.

• States with high vaccination adoption, on the other hand, have experienced a decrease in online grocery shopping. Prime examples are California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

• In all regions, health-oriented shoppers skewed towards pickup throughout 2020, avoiding shopping in store to safeguard their health. That trend continues to over-index significantly in states that are experiencing caseload spikes, it is has declined across states with fewer COVID cases.

These insights reveal a direct correlation between the perceived risk of in-store shopping and e-commerce usage. That said, even as e-commerce growth has begun to slow compared to the early days of the pandemic, consumers still shop for groceries online at far higher rates than they did pre-COVID, and they will continue to keep it in their toolkit out of convenience once the threat has passed.

You can delve into other COVID-19 behaviors in WARC’s article, The US bread-baking fad is over, but other COVID-induced consumer behaviors remain.

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