A woman wears a protection mask in downtown Lisbon, Portugal, 06 March 2020. Portugal has reportedly 13 citizens tested positive for coronavirus. The COVID-19 epidemic continues to spread globally in at least 100 countries.Coronavirus in Portugal, Lisboa - 06 Mar 2020

As coronavirus continues to drive consumers to behave in new ways, studies have found surges in online shopping, shifts in popular purchased items, fear-driven actions and increased periods of time spent online.

“It’s not all bad,” said Patrick Fagan, cofounder and chief science officer at Capuchin. “This episode will force a huge amount of technological innovation — look at live-streamed events — and a massive business opportunity for people looking in the right place.”

“The main trend I’ve seen come to life is the ‘behavioral immune system,’” Fagan said. “When people feel threatened they show predictable behavioral responses, including becoming more conservative, more risk-averse, more insular, and do more stereotypical thinking. A similar trend is ‘mortality salience’ — when people are worried about death, they cling to tradition and authority more.”

Certainly, fear has been a strong driver as behaviors shift during the coronavirus pandemic. As reported by WWD, Harris Poll found that most Americans are concerned about harm to health and the economy, with 85 percent of Millennials, specifically, reporting worry.

Further, Fagan told WWD that, “the virus has been a boon to ‘transhumanism’ — that is, the merging of humans and technology. For example, socializing and entertainment has become an almost entirely digital thing, now.”

“With the viral contagion has also come more ‘meme contagion’ as people spend more time online and are more insulated from the outside world,” Fagan said. “Trust in the media has fallen, and theories like 5G spreading the virus are propagating. There is a stronger sense of local community, particularly spending time with family.”

Consumers are spending more time shopping while online as well, as evidenced by recent data from Quantum Metric, which found online orders to have surged 108 percent year-over-year in February due in part because of nervous shoppers.

Consequently, Fagan said, “spending on fashion and beauty will likely have increased due to the ‘Lipstick Effect’ [which finds] during times of economic uncertainty, women spend more on these categories, believed to be an evolutionary instinct.”

This point has been illustrated as at-home treatments have gone through a recent surge and online apparel sales begin to bounce back.

“These behaviors, [including] distrust, conservatism, technological innovation and distrust in media, will continue in the long-term,” Fagan said. “It takes about two months to form a habit. And with lockdown going on indefinitely, these behaviors seem to be here to stay, even when it’s lifted.”

With “uncertainty” at the top of many consumers’ minds and a rise in unemployment, behavioral shifts are also linked to mental health.

“Unemployment is a major predictor of suicide and drug and alcohol abuse,” explained Fagan. “Not only that, but the psychological evidence is extremely consistent that social isolation or confinement has very negative effects, including depression, lack of curiosity, lethargy, disturbed sleep, hallucinations, and even a compromised immune system.”

These changes in mental health will cause changes in consumer behavior as well. “The main thing will be a depression,” Fagan said. “Psychological depression reduces all activity, including shopping. [We can] expect expenditure on coping mechanisms, like drugs, alcohol and food, to increase.”

For More WWD Business News:

Coronavirus Crisis and the Hispanic Consumer

Crisis Management and the Coronavirus: Changes in Shopping Behavior

Crisis Management and the Coronavirus: Supply Chain, Technology and Infrastructure

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