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COVID-19 and the Effect on Online Behaviour


COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2 or the Coronavirus) is raging across the globe and no one has been left unaffected by it. With millions of people staying home, either voluntarily or by government mandate, it’s safe to say that online businesses, in particular, have experienced major changes as a result of this widespread illness.

If you run an online business, there’s a good chance you’re struggling to keep up with increased demand. If you don’t, or if the online arm of your business isn’t very well-developed yet, you might also be wondering how you can take your company online and keep your figurative doors open.

Read on to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting online behaviour. This information will allow you to make smart changes to your business so it can adapt and thrive in response to this pandemic.

Panic Buying

First of all, we can’t talk about online shopping behaviour without first talking about panic buying. Plenty of people took to the grocery stores when the spread of COVID-19 first began and cleared them out of toilet paper, bottled water, and other essentials. Many others took to the internet, though, and started ordering supplies in bulk from behind their computer screens.

From a psychological perspective, panic buying gave consumers an opportunity to assuage their fears. They were able to feel a bit more in-control as uncertainty whirled around them.

However, it also made life very difficult for business owners. This includes the owners of certain eCommerce brands, which struggled to restock and maintain a sufficient supply to meet the growing demand.

Differences in Purchasing Habits

Not everyone has been making panic purchases (online or in-person) in the wake of COVID-19. Different age groups have responded differently to the pandemic.

Millennials and Gen-Zers vs Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers

In many news stories, Millennials and members of Generation Z have been chided for not taking COVID-19 seriously enough. There have definitely been members of these generations who don’t seem concerned. However, the majority (96 percent of those in the US and UK, according to one survey) have expressed fears about the pandemic and the effect it’ll have on the economy.

These fears, in turn, have encouraged them to make dramatic changes to their buying behaviours. They’ve reduced spending, are stocking up on essential items, and are spending less money on experiences (such as travel).

Members of Generation X, as well as Baby Boomers, actually seem less concerned about the effects of COVID-19 and how it’ll impact the economy. A mere 24 percent of Baby Boomers and 34 percent of Gen-Xers said that the pandemic was influencing their shopping. For comparison, almost 50 percent of Millennials have changed their shopping habits.

Men vs Women

There are also significant differences in shopping behaviour among men and women. In general, women are much more likely than men to have concerns about the effects of COVID-19. At the same time, men are more likely to let their concerns impact their shopping behaviour.

One-third of men, for example, have changed their shopping behaviours in response to the pandemic. The same is true for only 25 percent of women.

As for online shopping behaviour, specifically, men are more likely to shop online and stay out of the store. They’re also taking advantage of buy-online/pick-up in-store options. The same goes for curbside pickup and subscription models.

Revenue Differences for Different Business Models

Certain business models have seen different results from changes in online shopping behaviour. The following businesses, in particular, and experienced dramatic changes over the last few months:

Omnichannel Businesses

Those who run omnichannel businesses (businesses with a presence online as well as a physical store) have seen decreases in revenue and conversion rates.

This is surprising to some. However, it may have to do with the type of goods they sell (many omnichannel businesses are clothing and department stores, for example). A lack of supply could contribute as well.

Pure-Play Ecommerce Businesses

Pure-play eCommerce businesses such as Amazon are, expectedly, doing alright in the wake of COVID-19. Consumers holding onto their dollars more tightly, and there has been a decrease in revenue and conversions.

There’s plenty of potential for recovery, though. This is especially true as folks begin to grapple with the idea that they’re going to be stuck inside for quite a while.

Subscription Services

The eCommerce businesses that are performing the best right now are subscription services. The fact that they provide increased convenience and may also offer small savings for customers makes them a popular option.

People are investing in subscriptions for all kinds of goods and services. This includes streaming television as well as regular deliveries of groceries and household goods like toilet paper.

Most Popular Purchases

As is to be expected, there’s been an increase in online purchases of some items compared to others. The following are some of the most popular items for which people are shopping online:

Health and Safety Products

Of course, the products that are hardest to keep on the shelves these days are health and safety products. This includes things like thermometers, hand sanitizer, and medical masks.

Shelf-Stable Products

Consumers across the globe are clamouring for shelf-stable products, too. They’re doing this, in part, to limit the amount of time they have to spend outside shopping for supplies. Shelf-stable milk products (including plant-based milk), in particular, have been especially popular lately.

Streaming Services

Of course, folks are also not limiting their investments in streaming services. As they and their kids hunker down at home, they’re relying more on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ to get them through and keep them entertained.

Least Popular Purchases

At the same time, folks are less concerned about buying other products online, including these:

Luxury Goods

Not surprisingly, luxury goods are not at the top of most people’s minds. Luxury brands like Louis Vitton and Gucci are struggling at this time as folks direct their spending to other, more practical items.


Consumers are also spending less on clothing in general right now. Even mid-range apparel brands have seen decreases in sales. People are unable to leave their houses for anything other than essential tasks. As a result, they’re less worried about what they’re wearing and aren’t investing in new clothes.

How Can Businesses Adapt to New Online Behaviour?

If businesses want to survive during this difficult time, they need to learn to adapt to changes in consumers’ online behaviours. The following strategies, specifically, can help them to start meeting or continue to meet their customers’ needs to ensure they remain loyal long-term:

Keep People in the Loop

Right now, people are scared and dealing with a lot of uncertainty. One thing eCommerce businesses (and businesses that are making the switch to online offerings) can do to help customers through this time is to keep them in the loop about the measures they’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

This includes sharing regular updates on inventory. Keeping people informed about when their products will ship and arrive can also be reassuring.

Appoint Workers to Handle COVID-19 Response

For businesses that are already struggling to keep up with increased demand and a higher volume of customers, the idea of taking time to send messages to customers and keep them in the loop might seem laughable.

This is an important part of helping these customers to remain loyal to the business, though. Appointing specific workers to handle the COVID-19 response and stay on top of customer and supplier communications can help businesses ensure they’re keeping people in the loop. It also allows them to do so without sacrificing too much manpower for day-to-day operations.

Manage Financials

Now, more than ever, eCommerce businesses need to make sure their financials are in order. If you haven’t already done this, sitting down with a financial advisor or accountant can help you get a handle on your finances and ensure you have enough to keep the business afloat (and keep up with increased demand).

Some businesses might also want to consider contacting lenders to talk about short-term relief. For example, lenders might be willing to defer loan payments for a few months so that business owners have more capital to use for buying additional supplies or paying workers for extra hours.

Balance Stock

This is a great challenge for many businesses these days, but taking steps to keep stock balanced will pay off in the long run. Maintain careful watch over the supply and stay in touch with suppliers.

This helps to ensure regular deliveries will help businesses keep up with higher purchase rates. It will also guarantee customers’ needs get met as quickly as possible.

Consider Offering Discounts

When the business is struggling to keep up, it might seem like the worst time to offer a discount. For certain companies, though, discounts make perfect sense.

Customers might be more inclined to make purchases (especially non-essential purchases) if they know that a discount is available to them. Offering them a discount when their own finances are likely tight will also endear you to them. It’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll be loyal to you later, too.

Focus on Cleanliness

It ought to go without saying, but businesses of all kinds should be taking extra precautions right now when it comes to cleanliness. Keeping warehouses clean and regularly sanitizing them will go a long way toward flattening the curve. It also reassures customers that the products they’ve ordered will keep them safe.

Practice Social Responsibility

Now is a good time to practice social responsibility, too. Businesses that are taking steps to protect their workers are looked upon more favourably. They will be seen in a positive light long after the fear of COVID-19 subsides.

Companies that are giving back are also more likely to see increases in purchases and more customer loyalty. Consider donating a portion of the proceeds from certain items to a charitable foundation. This allows you to show consumers you care and want to do your part during this difficult time.

Predictions for the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Certain types of eCommerce businesses are likely going to continue experiencing significant growth in the future. This includes those that sell the most popular items outlined above (health and safety supplies, nonperishable food, etc.). As long as the can keep their stock up and their customers happy, these businesses shouldn’t have to fear too much about closing their doors.

It’s also not too late for businesses that don’t have a strong online presence (or no online presence at all). If you own such a business and act quickly, you may be able to save your company and help it perform better once COVID-19’s spread has been slowed down.

There’s a good chance that many people’s shopping habits and behaviours are going to change permanently. Even after they’re able to go back to work and school, they might find that they’re more inclined to shop online for essentials because of the increased convenience. Making a pivot to the digital realm as soon as possible could save your business and open you up to new streams of revenue later on.

A good example of this is businesses in the fitness industry. If a fitness studio enters the eCommerce world and starts offering classes online now, they might be able to earn enough money to survive once the COVID-19 panic starts to subside. They can continue offering these online classes even after their physical doors open once again. This will provide them with an additional stream of revenue and other opportunities to attract clientele.

Level Up Your Ecommerce Business Today

As you can see, COVID-19 has had a significant effect on online behaviour for consumers of all ages and genders. Some eCommerce businesses are thriving while others are struggling to stay afloat.

If your business has had a difficult time dealing with new buying behaviours, be sure to keep the tips outlined above in mind. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, after all. The companies that are able to weather the storm (and continue thriving long-term) are those that start making changes sooner rather than later.