goPuff Data shows COVID-19 as key emotional driver to purchases

goPuff data offers key insights on how pandemic-induced emotional drivers are dictating how we behave

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Consumers today find themselves in a world of choice. Choice of what they want, when they want it, and where they can get it. In an increasingly digital society that has recently entered overdrive, shoppers are able to act on their emotions with an unparalleled quickness. By studying trends in consumer behavior since the beginning of the pandemic, goPuff Insights has seen shoppers feeling and acting. Simply put, our pandemic-induced emotional drivers are dictating how we behave.

Emotions vs. Need States

At its core, a need state is an action-driven picture of why a consumer seeks out a certain product or service. While emotions underlie need states, they often do not have an action associated with them. How many times have you felt bored but didn’t do anything about it? Since the beginning of March, goPuff has witnessed shoppers forgo their traditional need state-based shopping and instead act on their emotions. Essentially, the pandemic has allowed shoppers to flip on the action switch for how they feel.

Convenience is often cited as a primary reason why shoppers turn to goPuff. Where else can you get La Colombe Cold Brew delivered before your next Zoom meeting? But what does convenience really mean? Consumer data leads us to believe that convenience is just a surface-level exhibition of deeper emotions. In the words of one goPuff customer from Phoenix:

“To put it plainly, ever since I’ve discovered this service, it has become an everyday staple in my household. Everything from little essentials to satisfying a late night craving is covered by this service.”

Which emotions are behind this customer’s needs? Perhaps a variety of latent feelings like empowerment, determination, boredom, desperation, and contentment? Convenience can’t be distilled into one distinct need. Rather, it is the collection of emotions that culminate in a desire for action. Whereas emotions such as boredom and contentment may not have traditionally created a true need with a resulting action, services like goPuff allow shoppers to fill virtually any desire instantly, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.

The Digital Domain

Outside of “new normal,” “Tik Tok,” and “sourdough starter,” there are two words that find themselves more prevalent now than in the pre-pandemic period: screen time. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has accelerated an existing trend of increased screen time among kids and adults alike. A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that nearly 3 in 10 American adults are “almost constantly” online, peaking at nearly 50% of respondents age 18-29. With the recent lockdowns compounding these figures, it’s no secret that our world has somehow become even more digital over the past few months. This phenomenon has spread to goPuff, as average session length jumped 19% in March. Given the mobile-first nature of goPuff, brands can organically capitalize on this increased attention via the direct purchase opportunities before them.

This digital renaissance has put the spotlight on another important word pairing: instant gratification. In the 21st century, this has primarily come via social media through retweets, Instagram likes, Tik Tok views, and even Strava kudos. With reportedly 3.8 billion active social media users in the world, instant gratification surrounds us and encourages us to look for immediate fulfillment wherever we can find it.

As the nation’s foremost solution for fulfilling instant needs, goPuff provides users with a much-craved instant gratification by taking them from discovery (read: emotion) to immediate consumption (read: emotional fulfillment) faster than any service in the market. By providing rapid access to disposable face masks, the Beyond burger, Cinnamon Toast Crunch ice cream, and everything in between, goPuff has seen a nearly 400% increase in orders from 2019 to 2020. What’s more, goPuff saw a nearly 90% increase in customers ordering at least once per week (vs. March 2019). In short, as gratification becomes more instantaneous for shoppers, they seek it out more often.

But haven’t shoppers been able to obtain instant gratification since the dawn of eCommerce? Yes and no. While online shopping has allowed consumers to place an order after feeling an emotion, it takes days or even weeks for that order to fill the once-present emotional need (The Notebook comes on after you’ve gotten over that breakup). Conversely, goPuff allows its customers to feel an emotion, act on that emotion, and have that emotion met in a matter of minutes. And while this all happens, the brands being ordered become tied to immediate satisfaction and relief in the mind of the consumer. When shoppers get what they crave instantly, everybody wins.

Emotion-Driven Behavior

Because the digital world has enabled us to fulfill our emotions as quickly as possible, it has also reinforced our desire to act on these impulses and emotional drivers amidst the pandemic. Anxious about visiting big box stores when they reopen? Get groceries and pet food delivered to your door. Cautiously excited about re-openings and want to get out into the world? Buy a box of face masks. Essentially, the intersection of a digitally-minded world and a global pandemic has made it even more acceptable for shoppers to “indulge” in the immediate delivery of instant needs.

As referenced in our most recent white paper, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that people will first seek solutions to the most fundamental survival-driven needs before satisfying any other needs before them. Emotionally, this behavior may express itself through feelings of anxiety, fear, or discomfort. These emotions then translate into behaviors such as stocking, panic buying, or camping outside of the nearest grocery store, turning into emotional drivers. 

During the week of March 9th, while these behaviors were at their peak, goPuff served as the much needed outlet for shoppers’ emotions. Consumers were stocking up amidst growing fear of store closures, supply chain failures, and an imminent disease outbreak. Whereas grocery delivery services might have delivered 20-80% of what you ordered 3-10 days after you ordered it, goPuff’s average delivery time remained under 30 minutes. Especially as goPuff sales for Charmin increased over 200% overnight, “Water” became the most-searched product, and digital thermometer sales jumped 500% in Seattle, it’s evident that consumers had a sense of emotion-fueled urgency behind their purchases. 

As many cities slowly began to reopen in late April, goPuff shoppers leaned into different product classes to fit the prevailing emotions. Feeling uneasy about the uncertainty of going back out into the world, shoppers in early-to-reopen states sought out indulgent products as a source of comfort. In Columbia, South Carolina for example, Ice Cream (51% week-over-week growth) and Chocolate (34%) were two of the fastest growing product classes the week the city began easing lockdown restrictions. Additionally, amidst Atlanta’s highly-publicized reopening, consumer fears surrounding a re-emergence of the virus led to spikes in Bathroom, Cleaning, and OTC products the following day. While the emotions underlying these purchases may have differed, it’s clear that these shoppers wanted them filled instantly, at scale, and with minimal impediment into their lives.

The Road Ahead

While our communities have begun to reopen and shoppers are entering stores at limited capacity, it’s clear that our lives won’t return to “normal” anytime soon. Consumers are increasingly facing a choice of how to deal with the emotions that come along with the looming uncertainty of living through a pandemic. Will shoppers revisit past behaviors and stock up on toilet paper and canned food? Or, jaded by the experience of March and April, will they continue to buy their normal shopping list, knowing that one way or another they’ll be able to make ends meet? While early goPuff data indicates that shoppers are not falling back into their early-pandemic ways, only time will tell how the American consumer chooses to act on their emotions.

What’s Next?

The confluence of factors described throughout this paper has created a unique situation for retailers and brands in the current phase of the digital age. With strong emotional drivers like coronavirus-induced stress guiding consumers who have been empowered to take action, speed is of the essence in maintaining brand salience and loyalty. Platforms such as goPuff will be key for brands as they race to fulfill customers’ instant needs. While the future remains to be seen, the events of 2020 have left us with three key visions for what lies ahead:

The Digital Renaissance

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated retail’s digital revolution. With the general public becoming increasingly wary of spending time in crowded stores and trying on frequently-touched clothing, retailers must optimize their digital experience to maintain brand loyalty in the months (and perhaps years) ahead. While brick and mortar is by no means dead, it is quickly giving way to tech-powered alternatives that marry the physical and digital worlds. Retailers will need to adapt in order to survive.

Instant Needs are Coming

In the past, consumers didn’t think twice about seeing delivery times of 4-6 or even 6-8 weeks. Over time however, that window narrowed to 2-4 weeks, then 7-10 days, and is now down to 1-3 days (and in some cases, same-day). As consumers have come to expect their deliveries to arrive in the bounds of one business week, the natural next step is for same day and same hour delivery to eventually become the norm. As consumers have been amazed by the magic of goPuff since 2013, it’s no wonder why staying ahead of the curve has earned us a spot on CNBC’s Disruptor Top 50

Plan Ahead

To remain relevant, it is imperative that brands provide the right content at the right time. Digital-first platforms will seek to predict what consumers are feeling and deploy an appropriate content mix accordingly. For example, knowing that subscribers will likely experience a resurgence in pandemic-induced anxieties ahead of a potential “second wave” of the coronavirus, Netflix may plan to release uplifting original content to drive traffic and give viewers what they crave. By always looking to where the ball is going, brands can create messaging, content, and products that tell the story that consumers need to hear.

Contact goPuff’s Integrated Data & Consumer Research practice at consumerinsights@gopuff.com to learn more about how you can leverage deep behavioral insight & take your brand to the next level.

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