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COVID-19 Consumer Behavior Contributions: June 2020 – July 2021 Summary

July 26, 2021 | Letters

man struggling to carry a large supply of groceries and toilet paperAuthor: Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics

Consumer behavior has been reshaped multiple times now during the COVID-19 pandemic-era, just as it has during past societal crises … recall how Victory Gardens (aka War Gardens) during WWII and the (still persistent in those who lived through it or witnessed its effect) Great Depression instigated consumer behaviors. Forbes has questioned how consumer behavior changed in response to the pandemic (online shopping!) in January 2021 and how changes may persist in light of the COVID-19 recession back in April 2020, arguably before we knew just how long we were in for these discussions. We’ve wondered since back in September 2020 when conversations were going to move those centered around hoarding toilet paper to those considering how the pandemic will impact us as decision makers for years to come with Consumer Spending is Today’s Statistic; Consumer Behavior is Far Longer Lasting.

Changes in consuming, shopping, saving, reusing, keeping and hoarding can all be folded into what is commonly called consumer behavior. Although, upon reflection, it might be more accurate to relabel these actions as ‘changes in household economics decision making’ or ‘changes in home economics’, as not all changes are surrounding consumption — in fact, some are aptly devoted to the lack thereof.

We have been living in the COVID-19 era for a long … long … long time now, and we’ve seemingly discussed all pandemic behavioral changes at this point here on Consumer Corner. Presenting these writings from oldest to newest now reads as a timeline of pressing concerns as we moved from worrying about paper goods to meat to masking to vaccination to changes in how much alcohol we consumed between June 2020 and January 2021:

We’ve talked about heavily pandemic-inspired livestock market outlooks:

We’ve studied pandemic holidays in real-time using online media to understand societal perceptions and responses:

We’ve attempted self-reflection and professional growth by reviewing adaptations and soliciting stakeholder feedback on how we did:

We also covered topics less obviously COVID-19-related but personal still favorites regarding how pandemic worry inspired pleas for societal progress and a reminder from Mr. Rogers to look for the helpers:

Oh, and the not-to-be-forgotten time I wanted to redefine what looking awful meant so that I could feel better about my 2020 work-while-parenting and living in pandemic uncertainty attire.

The U.S. seems to be coalescing around the idea that we are now in a post-pandemic recovery period, evidenced by rolling back of precautionary practices, the reopening of even the most previously cautious states, and the media (seemingly, based only on personal anecdotal observation) talking more about crowding at popular vacation destinations than healthcare facilities. However, in most parts of the world, the acute medical pain of the pandemic is far from over, and in every area of the globe, the multi-year market adjustments and potentially generation-long human behavior implications are only just beginning.

Regardless of which path to recovery you believe is likely, changes in how we behave as individual human beings will exist. We are all products of our collective experiences, and we’re riddled with biases, fears and other problematic ‘human’ characteristics that regularly wreak havoc on our decision making. The experiences of the past nearly 20 months will shape behaviors of individuals, households, societies and economies … We just don’t exactly know how yet. All eyes are on key economic markets during this time period — ours included.