Panicked shopping

Coronavirus has set in train a number of challenges for brands and policy makers. As consumers take protective measures against the virus, their health/financial concerns and their subsequent behaviours have had (and will have) an enormous social and economic impact.

All across the world we are observing drastic changes in consumer behaviour from (continued) bulk-buying to (now) crowd avoidance/social distancing.

Consumer behaviour is interesting to watch at the best of times, however it has social scientists currently in observational heaven. We generally fall into some demographic based on our habits so it will be instructive to see what camps people will grace to as time moves on. Bulbshare, a customer collaboration tech platform, has gone some way to establishing three – will we be in the ‘pandemic of fear’, the ‘focus on hygiene’ or the ‘don’t panic’ sceptic categories?

Bulbshare looked at how Covid-19 is making consumers behave and affecting how they shop. Nearly 40% of respondents say the coronavirus has affected the way they shop – with 36% saying they will be avoiding supermarkets and shopping online and 37% avoiding produce from overseas (the words ‘China’ and imports’ loomed large in Bulbshare’s word cloud). 34% of its community will be stocking up on non-perishable products, while 27% will be avoiding meat.

The main things mentioned by the community are cleaning products and non-perishable foods such as canned goods, pasta and rice and frozen vegetables. Motivations behind stockpiling are a mix of fear of supermarket shelves running low on essential items (some report already seeing this), plus concerns around having to stay in isolation for extended periods with no access to shops.

Pandemic of fear

75% is either worried, or very worried about coronavirus. Contagious and with no vaccine, Covid-19 has created a fear of contact with other people – and it’s left people with feelings of fear and isolation. When asked directly how coronavirus has made them feel, Bulbshare said it saw a prevalence of words like ‘anxiety’, ‘negative’, and ‘worried’ – and a community living in fear of contact with their fellow humans.

Hygiene focus

These collective feelings of anxiety and fear are having a very real impact on behaviour. 39% of the respondents plan to avoid large groups of people over the coming weeks, while 34% will avoid public transport, and 25% will postpone or change travel plans.

Unsurprisingly, hygiene is front of mind. Washing hands more than ever, avoiding contact with others, wearing plastic gloves when in public and self-isolating at the first sign of illness are all top of the agenda – and hand sanitiser is the product of choice when it comes to shopping.

‘Don’t panic’ sceptics

While the majority are concerned about the coronavirus and changing their behaviour accordingly, there is a notable contingent who are going about their business as usual and feel that many are panicking unnecessarily. These people may be washing their hands more, but are not changing the way they shop, and are certainly not stockpiling. And there are some who feel that over-reporting of the virus has led to feelings of unneeded nervousness and overly drastic behaviour.

Where do I fall? I’m a ‘don’t panic’ at present. That could change. With each passing day, headlines surrounding the coronavirus appear more and more alarming. The last week’s news has meant coronavirus is reshaping reality all over the world.

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