How Is COVID-19 Affecting Shopping Behaviors?

Acosta releases new research tracking recent changes due to the coronavirus crisis
Photograph courtesy of Acosta

With the novel coronavirus dramatically affecting industries across the U.S. and the world, Acosta released a new research initiative to track evolving consumer shopping habits and provide guidance to help retailers and brands keep shelves stocked.

The initial research was conducted March 6-11, in the run-up to the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. President Donald Trump first declared the outbreak a national emergency on March 13, so much of Acosta's data speaks to consumer buying behaviors before many began panic buying. Additional research will continue to be conducted and shared so retailers and manufacturers can meet consumers’ needs as the situation develops. Highlights of the first round of research provides an overview of shoppers' priorities and changing habits, as well as rules of engagement for retailers and brands, including:

Priority Items for Shoppers

U.S. shoppers indicated purchasing the following items specifically because of the coronavirus.

  • Hand sanitizer: 30% of total U.S. shoppers
  • Disinfecting wipes: 28%
  • Household cleaners/disinfectants: 25%
  • Antibacterial hand soap: 24%
  • Paper products: 24%
  • Bottled water: 22%
  • Canned foods: 20%

Changing Habits: Online Grocery Shopping on the Rise

In the four weeks leading up to March 12:

  • 34%  of shoppers ordered grocery items online for pickup at the store.
  • 25% made more online grocery orders for store pickup. 
  • 58% of Gen Z/millennial shoppers (ages 18-39) ordered grocery items online for store pickup.
  • 30% made more online grocery orders for store pickup.

Rules of Engagement for Retailers and Manufacturers

  • Retailers should consider shopper purchase limits for the most in-demand preventative/pantry-loading items.
  • Retailers should consider offering special store hours for at-risk shoppers (seniors, ages 65 and older); or control store count to help shoppers and staff maintain social distance.
  • Retailers need to ramp up online purchasing and order fulfillment capacity, as demand is expected to grow in the near term.
  • Retailers can modify store hours to accommodate restocking and sanitizing and look for creative approaches to staffing, such as reassignment to store support.
  • Manufacturers can consider postponing product promotions until later in the year so inventory issues aren't exacerbated.
  • Manufacturers should focus production on core items and consider adding seasonal staff to support incremental production needs.
  • Manufacturers should provide solutions to help stores maintain inventory of key preventative and pantry-loading items with pallet quantities/store direct ship.

“The coronavirus has put many industries in a state of flux,” said Darian Pickett, CEO of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta, a CPG sales and marketing agency. “We are sharing our initial insights into shoppers’ perspectives and how they are impacting retailers. We are well aware that these habits and their impact will fluctuate and evolve rapidly in the coming days, weeks and months, and as such, we are continuing to monitor the situation. We will offer updated insights as they become available, so we can best guide the industry on the path forward.”


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