COVID-19 generation: A conceptual framework of the consumer behaviour to be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

This academic article explores what impacts the Covid-19 pandemic will likely have on consumer behaviour, and if this will vary by age, with a ‘Covid-19 generation’ potentially emerging. It covers topics such as stockpiling, online shopping, consumer experience, localism, consuming/working from home, and changing beliefs. It is useful for thinking about how a high street or town centre might transform to satisfy local communities and visitors in light of changing consumer behaviours - whether a retailer or place manager.

Date added 10 November 2020
Last updated 10 November 2020

Consumers have long been segmented in marketing strategies, in order for companies and places to effectively target and position offerings to them, including through placing consumers into generational groups (e.g. Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials etc.) It is thought that, having been born within the same timeframe, the behaviour of such generational consumer groups will have been shaped by experiencing similar external events and crises, at the crucial ‘coming of age’ stage of life (late adolescence and early adulthood), such as wars, economic crises, and political movements. This academic article offers a framework to explore what impacts the Covid-19 pandemic will likely have on consumer behaviour, and if this will vary by age, with a ‘Covid-19 generation’ possibly emerging. The aspects of consumer behaviour explored are summarised below.

Covid-19 and consumer behaviour changes

Stockpiling mentality

Echoing the ‘stock-up mentality’ seen by the cohorts living through World War I and II, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed supply short-falls not commonly experienced in today’s ‘developed’ countries. Despite previously seeming ‘old-fashioned’ by the Millennial generation, the authors suggest that we might now see a return to this stockpiling mentality due to the inventory issues experienced during the pandemic. 

Online shopping and virtual reality

We have seen a rise in online shopping during the pandemic, and these higher levels could persist beyond the crisis, especially for products and services involving high touch or close proximity to others. The article also observes how we have seen the online environment used for new purposes, such as education and medical diagnoses, which could persist in some form, as well as virtual reality being used by some, to replace experiences previously engaged in offline, like travel and tourism experiences.

Return to experience (with a caveat...)

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought along a whole range of stressors to many consumers around the world, whether through health concerns, bereavement, or job insecurity. The article, therefore, suggests that we could see consumers seeking out a sense of experience to buffer against negative emotions, and a hedonistic return to ‘you only live once’ mentalities. However, this will likely remain in small social circles for some time, as concerns about germs and health could persist, or, alternatively, sought in online environments.

Localism and supply chains

The authors contend that crises, such as Covid-19, reveal the vulnerabilities of global capitalism. They suggest that governments have been evaluating which global supply chains are most vital to national security, such as medical supplies. The article, therefore, predicts that we will see consumers who have lived through the pandemic sticking closer to home, as we have been seeing with the rediscovery of local centres and shopping local.

Working and consuming from home

The article advises that the increased levels of homeworking seen during the pandemic will likely continue with more hybrid working approaches (e.g. a mix of working from home and the office). This shift can also lead to more consumption at home, such as home cooking; although the authors argue that, as restrictions ease, we will likely see people wanting to return to places like restaurants again, whilst larger events may take longer to recover.

Belief systems

During the pandemic, consumers have noticed cleaner air and water as a result of less travel and lockdown restrictions. The authors suggest that consumers will continue to desire such environmental benefits, with a continued enjoyment of the outdoors, parks, and public spaces. The article also explores whether we might see a return to some form of spirituality in the face of the crisis, with consumers potentially becoming more reflective about life.