The psychology of shopping during a crisis

Universal lockdown and social distancing has been having a huge impact on all aspects of daily life all around the globe for the last 10 weeks. We’ve changed the way we exercise, the way we communicate and also the way we shop.

Driven by huge economic and emotional impact, consumers have had to quickly adapt to changes in habitual practices and everyday routines and this has also had an effect on the way they engage with brands. Green Room Design explains the impact of the recent shift in consumer behaviour and how the psychology of shopping may have changed.

Decision-making and consumer behaviour

A consumer’s decision-making and shopping psychology can change and adapt based on a range of individual and contextual characteristics. With established traditions and routines, we create a world of certainty around ourselves that allows us to simplify decision-making. These predetermined decisions based on previous experiences make our lives much easier.

You know when you go to a restaurant that you love and you know exactly what you’re going to order before even looking at the menu, because it’s the same meal you choose every time? This is called a heuristic impulse and it is designed to make our lives much simpler.

However, we’re currently going through a pandemic – something completely new and alien to our society. Which mental shortcuts of our decision making process do we rely on now? Consumers everywhere have been left feeling increasingly unstable and uncertain in their own environments.

Contextualising human behaviour

So, how have consumers been reacting and behaving during this time? The first thing that comes to mind is the hoarding of toilet roll. This stemmed from Social Contagion – a natural, herd mentality style survival mechanism. People in America see footage of people in Australia buying all of the toilet roll and begin to do the same, setting off a domino effect.

These types of behavioural responses during times of high anxiety and uncertainty are both short and fleeting. Once more information is obtained and we have time to fully digest and process the situation, the panic and irrational decision making tends to fade.

Since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen a shift in consumer psychology away from panic buying and more towards considered shopping that support a more comfortable and self-indulgent existence. UK consumers are spending less across the board aside from grocery and home entertainment, as lockdown for many means spending more time connecting digitally.

What does this mean for brands?

Within these unstable times, brands can play their part. New consumer behaviours and habits have arisen from lockdown that provide clear opportunity for brands and retailers. Events in history such as the Great Recession and 9/11 provide evidence that brands can – and will – grow during times of crisis.

The Great Recession in particular provides several examples of this, with brands like Netflix, Lego, Amazon and Domino’s courageously expanding their horizons through investment, transparency, innovation, customer focus, alternative experience and pricing models. While competitors chose to bed-down and weather the storm, these brands pursued consumers in the correct way and delivered value in a time of uncertainty and behavioural change.

Whilst it may feel like the right thing to do to go into containment mode in times of distress and wait for the storm to pass, COVID-19 provides a unique window where brands can earn trust by maintaining presence and delivering relevant value. Brands who are willing to be actively present and can adapt products and services that enrich people’s lives today stand the best chance of emerging from this challenging period of change with stronger businesses and a more committed and trusting customer base.

Look to these behavioural changes to understand why and how these shifts will impact future decision making. By understanding the strength of habits being formed during the pandemic and better yet focusing on the triggers that surround the habits, you can inform strategy and work to influence the ways that consumers interact with your brand both now and in the future.