December 21, 2020
When the COVID-19 pandemic first enveloped the American consciousness in early spring, goPuff was among the first to monitor and identify the disruptions in consumer behavior that would come to define our new reality. Since then, our teams have leveraged a deep customer understanding to guide decisions amid uncertainty and reach the ever-changing consumer as effectively as possible.
After nine months of collecting additional transactional, behavioral and attitudinal data in real time, we are better able to understand how those early behaviors settled into longer term habits, routines and emotions.
Pandemic Exhaustion: Early Attempts at a Return to Normal
For many Americans, the novelty of the pandemic wore off by mid-spring. Things once considered new and foreign became normalized and regular. And as cities and states began to reopen in May and June, shoppers began exhibiting a more normal state than the generalized anxiety of early spring, even though the pandemic never went away. This behavior highlighted a key insight that continues to be true today: consumers are hastening their return to normal due to emotional exhaustion.
A Tale of Two Searches
goPuff’s search terms shed light on this story. Popular searches in March and April such as “Toilet Paper,” “Cleaning,” “Water” and “Corona” gave way to “Ice Cream,” “Chips” and “Candy” by mid-May, almost as if the pandemic never happened.
Just weeks after the nation went into lockdown, goPuff witnessed a return to some of the most popular searches from the pre-pandemic period.
Balancing the Basket
We simultaneously witnessed the stabilization of product preferences at the order level. Whereas orders for cleaning supplies were up 416% from February to March, the subsequent months brought a gradual return to more sustainable purchase levels.
Instead of focusing solely on hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, customers were more willing to purchase Dunkaroos, Talenti and BBQ essentials: Products associated with good times that could take them away to a different emotional place.
It’s difficult for consumers to go to a different emotional place when their physical environment prevents them from doing so. Physical retailers may be unable to provide this for their customers as long as the shopping experience is characterized by plexiglass, hand sanitizer, and waiting to be allowed in the store. As such, digital shopping has effectively become the fastest path to normalcy.
Continued Pandemic Effects: Consumer Emotional State
While consumers may be attempting to shop, eat and live as “normally” as possible, awareness of the pandemic and its ongoing effects is still very much present in the United States. But with a light beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel, goPuff’s Business Insights practice surveyed goPuff customers to understand their emotional states looking ahead to the new year. Three key themes emerged:
- Stress and anxiety prevailed in 2020
- Many expect to feel more positive emotions in 2021
- Most are still turned off by the prospects of large crowds and in-person shopping
When we look at this emotional state compared to that of the pre-pandemic period, we see that behaviors are becoming increasingly grounded in digital-first thinking.
- 71% of customers have shopped online more
- 68% of customers have ordered takeout or delivery food more
- 57% of customers have binge watched a TV show(s) or movie(s) more
- 57% of customers have kept up with current events more
In 2020, we saw that customers had to actively work to carve out moments of joy in their days. In the absence of activities like socializing and in-person shopping, small acts of digital self-care—from spontaneous delivery orders to binge worthy shows—took on new significance. Customers gained a new appreciation for these micro mood-boosters, one piece of a larger trend in perception shifts that we observed.Lizz Niemeyer, Executive Creative & Brand Director
Retailers must now confront a shopper who is more digitally-minded, plugged in, reflective and optimistic than this time last year. However, in order to connect with these consumers, it is necessary to first understand their new mindset and intentions. We know how they feel, but how will they act?
Looking past the Pandemic: Behavioral Trends
Consumer sentiment suggests a desire to break free of 2020 and the baggage that came with it. Based on our real time research and first-hand observations, we believe this reset will bring two key behavioral shifts as consumers enter a new world with a new mindset:
- A renewed emphasis on wellness and self-care
- Digital solutions to real-world problems
Together, these shifts paint a reborn consumer who is focused on optimizing time and well-being. Separately, they each show a different facet of the year’s impact on how we interact with the world around us.
Wise and well
When asked what they’re most looking forward to in the year ahead, one goPuff customer in St. Louis, Missouri, said, “Getting healthy and getting to be with friends and family.”
We find this simple quote to be quite fitting because it highlights the dual nature of wellness: looking after our physical and emotional well-being. The transactional, behavioral and attitudinal data collected by goPuff’s Business Insights practice all suggest movement in this direction.
Beginning with physical wellness, we’ve witnessed a yearlong trend toward food and drink that promotes a healthier lifestyle. From CNN’s COVID-19 tracker and weekly updates from local officials to social distancing signs and hand sanitizer stations, we’ve spent our year surrounded by reminders of our health and the many threats to it.
So in addition to wearing masks and washing their hands, consumers have also turned to products like Health-Ade Kombucha, Soylent Cacao, Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar and Emergen-C for perceived protection.
This loosely follows the precepts of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s loss aversion theory. A loss of our health is felt more negatively than an improvement to our health of an equal magnitude. Simply put, we are primarily fearful of getting sick, so we buy the products that we think will keep that from happening.
The heightened awareness of actions I can take to stay healthy is a defining factor of 2020, playing out in both the kitchen and the home gym.
- 96% of surveyed customers plan to exercise as much or more in 2021 than they did in 2020
- Emotional wellness and mental health are similarly top of mind, as 97% of customers plan to find opportunities to “unplug” or de-stress in 2021
It’s true that hope springs eternal and New Year’s resolutions often lose steam. But given the unique and deeply visceral motivations behind these behaviors, we believe they are here to stay.
Increasing our Digital Dependence
The second behavioral shift we’ve observed this year is consumers turning to digital outlets to deal with real world situations. 2020 has allowed us to find great value in the digital domain, as evidenced by each of the following:
- A desire to use online shopping to create a sense of normalcy
- A newfound willingness to use digital self-care as both a reward and a respite from anxiety
- Having a single place to turn before taking action in a pandemic-affected world
The cascading effects of the pandemic have encouraged us to go online for all of our needs. Everything from social interactions and high school classes to grocery shopping and decompressing all begin with a click. The ubiquity of digital solutions has thus accelerated an environment in which doing anything offline is inefficient.
We expect the comforts of this environment to not only extend past the pandemic, but also reshape the way we approach the world around us. Our screens have become a centralized hub that facilitate the various things we do, feel, get, and experience on a daily basis.
Because the pandemic both reinforced and accelerated this centrality, it’s become clear that the digital-first mindset is more than just a blip on the radar of consumer behavior. It’s here to stay.
What It Means: goPuff Conclusions
As seen in the data presented throughout this consumer insights white paper, goPuff customers experienced an early pandemic fatigue which led to a quicker return to pre-pandemic purchasing behavior than seen in other shoppers. However, this did not happen as a solitary event. The lessons learned from consumers’ time in quarantine created a reshaped mindset that may guide them for years to come.
The effects of the pandemic on consumption will long outlast the pandemic itself.
In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do.” From grabbing an extra roll of toilet paper to opting for pick up or delivery instead of in-person shopping, we have repeatedly trained ourselves in a pandemic-first mindset.
Consequently, our new realities have become ingrained in our psyche. Unlearning these behaviors will be a very gradual process, in which certain actions or preferences will assimilate into our new normal for years to come.
Find ways to transport the consumer out of their reality
As the brick-and-mortar store visit has been altered for the foreseeable future, brands must find ways to create an environment that makes the shopper feel free of the constraints placed on their shopping experience.
With many shoppers expressing wariness over traveling and eating out in the year ahead, brands must focus on ways to bring the outside world to the target audience. In a digitally fatigued world, they must place an even greater emphasis on how to make customers feel what they can’t see or touch.
Contact goPuff’s Business Insights practice at email@example.com to learn more about how you can leverage deep behavioral insight and take your brand to the next level.
To download a copy of this whitepaper, click here.
goPuff is the go-to solution for immediate everyday needs, fulfilling customer orders of cleaning and home products, over-the-counter medications, baby and pet products, food and drinks, and in some markets, alcohol— in just minutes. With micro-fulfillment centers in every market it serves, the company delivers thousands of products quickly for a flat $1.95 delivery charge. goPuff is open 24/7 in many markets and late night everywhere else to bring customers what they need, when they need it most.
Founded in 2013 by co-founders and co-CEOs Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola, goPuff is headquartered in Philadelphia and currently operates more than 200 micro-fulfillment centers servicing over 500 U.S. cities.