How Remote Work Is Reshaping Americans’ Purchases

People are spending less on travel and services; ‘they buy stuff instead.’

November 13, 2023

With more people working at home, buying behaviors have shifted from items like gym memberships, dining out and commuting to goods like office chairs and spin bikes. As The Wall Street Journal put it: “Americans are still spending more of their money on stuff than they did before the pandemic." 

As noted in the Journal, “People who work from home more don’t avail themselves of some services as much as they used to. They don’t spend as much money taking public transportation to work, for example, or at downtown lunch spots and after-work watering holes. If they used to have a gym membership near their office, maybe now they don’t. They buy stuff instead.”

According to the Journal, “Figures from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis show that U.S. consumers devoted a seasonally adjusted 33.3% of their spending to goods in September compared with an average of 31.4% in 2019. With goods prices moderating lately while services prices continue to climb, inflation doesn’t play much of a role in that. Indeed, adjusted for inflation spending on goods was 20.4% higher in September than the 2019 average, while services spending was just 7.6% higher.”

Home Depot chief executive Edward Decker told the Journal that in the home improvement sector, people are still buying at rates consistent with peak pandemic levels since they are still spending a lot of time at home.

Other retailers are witnessing growth post-pandemic as well, “Both Williams-Sonoma, which owns Pottery Barn, and online furniture seller Wayfair are expected to make about a third more in revenue this fiscal year than they did pre-pandemic. Dick’s Sporting Goods’ revenue for the current fiscal year is on track to be 46% higher than 2019 levels if its third- and fourth-quarter results line up with Wall Street analyst estimates,” noted the Journal.

An article from Insights in Marketing acknowledged the shift in consumer behavior: “Consumer spending is expected to fluctuate through 2024, even though consumer confidence is rising and savings spiked nearly 20 percent during 2020. Many consumers feel uncertain about future employment and income levels, and people who work from home simply have different wants and needs.”

The article goes on to note, “People who work remotely often focus on work earlier in the day and later in the evening and tend to fluidly transition between personal tasks and work activities throughout the day. Convenience is driving four new consumer behaviors among the remote workforce,” which are:

  • Online grocery shopping
  • Virtual health care
  • Home fitness
  • Home delivery