Pandemic Inspires ‘Ethical Consumption’

Consumers now are focusing on self-care, limiting food waste and sustainability.

May 07, 2020

CHICAGO—The COVID-19 pandemic will likely alter consumer behavior permanently, and that means retailers must be agile enough to re-focus and remain relevant in the future, reports

Between April 2-6, Accenture, the professional services company, surveyed more than 3,000 consumers in 15 countries after many countries had implemented stay-at-home orders. They found that consumers have already begun shifting their purchasing priorities. Overall, survey respondents reported buying more personal hygiene and cleaning products, as well as canned and fresh foods than they did two weeks prior, and they were purchasing fewer fashion, beauty and consumer electronics items.

According to Accenture, the findings indicate that many of the changes in consumer behavior are likely to continue long after the pandemic. The survey found that consumers are more seriously considering the health and environmental impacts of their shopping choices:

  • 60% of respondents are spending more time on self-care and mental well-being, with 57% reporting that they have started exercising more at home
  • 64% said they are focusing more on limiting food waste and will likely continue to do so going forward
  • 50% said they are more health conscious when shopping and that is likely to continue
  • 45% said they are making more sustainable choices when shopping and will likely continue to do so.

“The scale of the changes identified in our findings clearly suggests that this is a long-term shift,” said Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global Consumer Goods practice. “While we have been seeing these trends for some time, what’s surprising is the scale and pace—compressing into a matter of weeks changes that would likely have taken years. The new consumer behavior and consumption is expected to outlast the pandemic, stretching far beyond 18 months and possibly for much of the current decade.”

It's no surprise that the survey also found that more people are shopping for groceries online. In fact, one in five respondents who said their most-recent grocery purchase was online were first-time online grocery shoppers. For older consumers, this was one in three. And while 32% of consumers’ current purchases of all products and services have been online, that figure is expected to rise to 37% going forward.

“The realignment of purchasing priorities, personal lifestyles and working practices is mandating significant changes to retail and commerce,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global Retail practice. “Groceries were, until recently, one area in which many people were reluctant to shop online, but COVID-19 has quickly changed that. The findings show how people who haven’t been as comfortable with ecommerce and other digital technology have been pushed to overcome their hesitancy—and this shift is huge. As organizations adapt, their watchwords must be trust, relevance and convenience.”

Researchers believe the current pandemic will inspire a more sustainable and healthier era of consumption in coming years, making consumers think more about balancing what they buy with global issues of sustainability.

“It’s a wake-up call for companies to ensure they have the agility and capability to be relevant to consumers and customers—with a portfolio of products and services that match shifting purchasing patterns,” said Wright. “Not just today, but post-pandemic as well.”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.