COVID-19 and Consumer Purchasing Behavior: How has the pandemic changed the way we shop?

Two years have passed since COVID-19 became a pandemic that proceeded to change our lives, routines, habits, and behaviors forever. As this virus spread all across the globe, affecting every single person’s life in some way or another, we were all forced to change our ways and adapt to the so-called “new normal”. Lockdown, quarantine, vaccines, masks, working from home, and more have become a part of our lives. These lifestyle changes are bound to shift our priorities, and that includes shopping. 

How has the pandemic changed our shopping behavior? Are we buying more or less since lockdown? How has this behavioral shift impacted the fashion industry? Has the pandemic changed us forever, or will we go back to the way we used to live once enough time has passed? We will be delving into consumer purchasing behavior, how lockdown affected our shopping habits, ways brands have changed in order to keep consumers interested, and finally, how the fashion industry was impacted by all of this. 

What is Consumer Purchasing Behavior?

To understand how our behavior has changed throughout the pandemic, let’s start by defining Consumer Purchasing Behavior (CPB). Consumer Purchasing Behavior refers to the decision-making process in which one chooses from multiple products and varieties available in order to meet their needs, minimize costs, and maximize satisfaction. CPB reflects a consumer’s preferences, nature, and budget. Naturally, as people are faced with danger and fear during a crisis, they will prioritize buying necessities such as groceries, household items, medicine, etc. and focus less on fashion and keeping up with the latest trends. 

“Consumers tended to concentrate their purchases on basic goods, rather than luxury ones. Likewise, consumers tended to adjust their considerations of luxury products, switching to more economical products, and favoring products oriented towards covering their basic needs.”

Ulpiano J. Vázquez-Martínez, Javier Morales-Mediano, Antonio L. Leal-Rodríguez, The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on consumer purchasing motivation and behavior


During the pandemic, and especially during lockdown, consumers became more selective about what they buy and why they are buying it. As people started to spend more time at home, they began buying more groceries for home cooking, stocking up on cleaning supplies (ie. hand sanitizer, toilet paper), and purchasing more comfortable clothes, which would explain the rise in athleisure wear, sustainable and longer-lasting clothes, minimal styles for a capsule wardrobe, and less mindless shopping of fast fashion brands. Workplace attire will also gradually become more casual in some markets as people adjust to new patterns of working at the office and working from home. 

Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic tend to modify Consumer Purchasing Behavior and create new shopping habits as well as preferences. With people spending more time at home, comes an increase in online shopping for food, clothes, necessities, and more. Globally, 49% of consumers engage in online shopping more than they did pre-COVID-19. According to Adobe Analytics, the number of online orders made and picked up at stores increased by 208% between April 1 and April 20, 2020 compared to the previous year. An average growth of 30% in online shopping for food and household items can be seen across countries since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, 40% of U.S. consumers claim they are now more mindful of where and how they spend their money.

This change in consumer behavior can also be seen in the fashion sector. Shane Co., an American jewelry brand, surveyed 1,843 Americans to get an insight into the ways COVID-19 lockdown has affected their relationship with fashion trends and shopping. Based on the survey, about 1 out of 3 Americans did not buy new clothing or jewelry during lockdown. However, clothing businesses have recorded a 115.4% increase in sales since March 2020. People reached for more comfortable clothing such as sweats, yoga pants, athleisure wear, etc. during lockdown, and 61.3% said they will continue to wear comfortable clothes as opposed to formal attire post-lockdown. While 70% of people surveyed said they didn’t keep up with fashion trends during this time, 56.4% plan to buy new clothes, keep up with trends, and update their wardrobe once the world starts to open up again.

In terms of consumer decision regarding specific brands to buy from, 21% of U.S. consumers are doing their research on brands and products before purchasing them. 25% of consumers have tried new private-label brands, and 73% intend to continue buying from said brands. Other factors that have affected consumer’s purchasing decisions during this time include how brands respond to/during crises, whether they source their materials locally and ethically, and how sustainable and environmentally friendly they are.

“More than ever, sustainability is dominating consumer priorities and the fashion agenda. Consumers want to know where materials come from, how products are made, and whether the people involved are treated fairly.”

McKinsey & Company, State of Fashion 2022: An uneven recovery and new frontiers


Shifts in Priorities and Motivations

With this shift in Consumer Purchasing Behavior—more online shopping as opposed to shopping at physical stores, increased screen time, and greater awareness on the impacts of fast fashion—brands and businesses are adjusting their marketing strategies as well as upping their sustainability efforts to keep up with these changes. 

Retailers are focusing more on digital marketing, communicating with their audience, and creating an emotional connection in order to set their online presence and capture the attention of consumers who are now spending more time online than ever. Consumers are showing more interest in sustainability and ways brands are helping the planet; people are more likely to trust brands that are transparent about their services, values, production processes, ethics, and environmental efforts such as recycling, reduced packaging, decarbonization, circularity, and more. 

Consumer spending declined drastically at the start of the pandemic as people stayed home due to lockdown and regulations. As a result, businesses of all kinds suffered great losses. The fashion industry faced an
overall decline of around 30% worldwide in 2020. People were less focused on keeping up with fashion trends and shopping for events. Instead, they prioritized buying groceries, medicine, household goods, and everyday necessities. 

Furthermore, the growing awareness of the environmental issues and the impact fast fashion has on the planet resulted in consumers choosing where they shop and what they buy more consciously. Sustainability, eco-consciousness, and ethical supply chains have all become crucial points that influence and ultimately motivate consumers to make their final purchasing decision. 

What’s ahead for consumers and the fashion industry?

Although the fashion industry suffered a tremendous loss in sales at the start of the pandemic, spending is rising again as the world opens back up. People are buying new clothes for specific events, keeping up with the latest trends, and freshening up their wardrobes. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, U.S. retail sales increased by 23% in April 2021 compared to the previous year, and online sales grew by almost 20%. U.S. department store sales grew more than 200%, and online shopping for clothing increased by more than 61% in April.

“The coronavirus also presents the fashion industry with a chance to reset and reshape the industry’s value chain completely—and an opportunity to reassess the values by which it measures actions.”

McKinsey & Company, State of Fashion 2022: An uneven recovery and new frontiers


Global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic push us to change our ways, whether it is from a consumer or business standpoint. In order to adapt to—or create—the “new normal”, we must make the necessary changes in our lives, our habits, and our patterns to move along with the changing times. Awareness is the first step to making changes. Once we become aware of the issues people and the planet are facing, we can then gain knowledge to make educated decisions on how to solve these problems that affect every single one of us. Consumers Purchasing Behavior has changed due to the pandemic, and for the clothing brands to survive and keep their customers, or gain new ones, they must act fast and make adjustments. Whether it be to focus more on digital marketing to capture online shoppers’ interest or to implement more sustainable means of production, brands have to take action if they want to gain consumer’s trust.

How have your shopping behavior changed because of the pandemic? Do you shop for clothing more or less now? How has your style changed in the past few years? Are you more aware of sustainability in the fashion industry?

Let us know your thoughts! 




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