Understanding consumers’ responses to threats

This special collection put together by the Journal of Consumer Research, contains several open access academic articles focusing on consumer behaviour in times of crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, other disease outbreaks, and economic recessions. Insights provided in these papers, therefore, can help to generate better understandings of consumer behaviour during the Covid-19 crisis, which can help to inform recovery strategies.

Date added 24 November 2020
Last updated 24 November 2020

This special collection put together by the Journal of Consumer Research, contains several open access academic articles focusing on consumer behaviour in times of crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. This crisis has significantly impacted consumers’ emotions, behaviours, and experiences, in potentially lasting ways, from financial insecurity, to health anxieties. As noted in the introduction to the collection:

“The world is experiencing health, economic, social, and information disruption and unrest that few of us have seen in our lifetimes. These threat-induced disruptions have ricocheted around the structure of consumers’ lives, creating shifts in consumers’ marketplace and socio-cultural behaviour”.

The papers in this special collection, therefore, can shed some light on the consumer behaviour changes brought about by the pandemic, to inform place recovery strategies. The articles cover several key themes, including consumers’ health concerns, consumers’ responses to feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and loss of control, and consumers’ responses to other threats and crises, such as terrorist attacks. The article introducing the collection is summarised below, and can be a starting point for accessing the collection.  

"In Times of Trouble: A Framework for Understanding Consumers’ Responses to Threats”, by Margaret Campbell, Jeffrey Inman, Amna Kirmani, and Linda Price.

This introductory article to the special collection on consumer threats, begins by summarising the key ways the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped consumer behaviour, such as financial insecurities from the economy being closed down, and less in-person social interactions owing to physical distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders. Based on academic research in the area, including the articles in the collection, it then introduces a framework for understanding consumers’ responses to threats such as the Covid-19 crisis. The framework is structured around seven key factors, which impact upon one another to influence the behaviour of consumers and businesses, as below:

  1. Actual and potential threats - whether it is an actual threat being experienced, or potential threat anticipated by the consumer. Common threats to consumers are economic, health, social, informational, and environmental.
  2. Extent of threat - the extent of the threat impacts how disrupted a consumer feels. Extent is based on the threat’s severity, scope (e.g. individual, local, national, global; long-term or short-term), the consumer’s psychological distance from it, and how many types of threats are happening at once (e.g. as well as health concerns, the Covid-19 pandemic also brought about economic disruptions).
  3. Disruption - threats can disrupt many aspects of consumers’ lives, including work, spending/saving, social lives, sense of identity, rituals, norms and beliefs.
  4. Ontological (in)security - disruption to consumers’ daily routines can, in turn, negatively impact their sense of ‘ontological security’ – or belief that the world is ordered, predictable, and safe.
  5. Consumer adaptive responses - to cope with disrupted circumstances, and the strong emotions that can accompany this, consumers might change their behaviour. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers might have avoided busy crowds, engaged in stockpiling, or tried out new creative activities at home.
  6. Market adaptive responses - based on consumer responses, markets and businesses also have to adapt to survive, such as switching to online platforms. Threats can also expose vulnerabilities in certain sectors and market systems.
  7. Moderators - consumers will respond in different ways to threats and crises depending on a number of background factors, such as digital access, socio-economic position and demographic factors like race and class.