Home at centre of Covid lifestyle changes, survey shows

Research reveals considerable shift in consumer behaviour since pandemic began

According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic.

Covid has been an unwelcome guest in all our lives for more than 370 days, so it seems likely that some of the habits and behaviours that have been forced upon us by restrictions could be here for the long haul.

Exactly how consumers have changed and how enduring those changes might be has been playing on the minds of retailers, service providers and analysts. Almost since the start of the pandemic, Ernst and Young has been charting our habits with a view to establishing how it has impacted the lives of people at home and abroad.

It has also had a sharp eye on the ways Covid might reshape all our consuming habits into the future. Its latest raft of research makes for interesting and gloomy reading in equal measure. The pandemic has “ changed consumer behaviour” and not just by increasing home consumption of products ordered online – although that shift has been major.

The research, the sixth under the Future Consumer Index banner, points to people who are “building their whole lifestyles around their homes as centres of gravity where they work, play and stay healthy”.

More than half of respondents told researchers they plan to stay fit at home beyond the pandemic, with about a third saying they will invest more in where they live with a view to working more from there.

While spending more on garden furniture and furnishings and looking forward to a shortened commute might suggest that consumers have found their happy place as a result of the crisis, a deeper dive into the research paints a less cheery picture.

More worried

The Future Consumer Index suggests that we are more worried about our health, our families and our futures than we were four months ago. When shopping and spending we now prioritise affordability and health over the planet, the impact our purchases have on society and the purchasing experience.

The research was carried out amongst 14,500 consumers across 20 countries, including Ireland, in January and February. It finds that the share of people who think they will live in fear of the Covid-19 pandemic for at least another year has risen from 37 per cent in October to 40 per cent, despite vaccines being rolled out.

While one in four people have reservations about vaccines, more than 90 per cent say they will take them when they get the chance with 9 per cent saying they don’t intend to be vaccinated.

The research suggests that 56 per cent of people will be more likely to shop with retailers who require employees to take vaccines, while 48 per cent believe those who refuse to take the vaccine are acting selfishly.

Accelerated change

"One year into the pandemic we can see sustainable shifts in consumer behaviour, with a real focus on end-to-end experiences rather than just the end product or service," says Yvonne Kiely of EY Ireland

“Poor experiences are less likely to be tolerated and consumers have repeatedly cited ease of effort as key to manifesting loyalty and advocacy.”

She reckons the pandemic “has arguably accelerated consumer behaviour changes that were already under way”. She points to people moving out of cities, shopping online and prioritising health, affordability and sustainability.

She notes that early in the pandemic, there were minor investments in home and gardens for example, with home décor improvements rising. “Now we see how completely consumption has transitioned into consumers building their whole lifestyles around their homes.”

She adds that organisations that “are primed to benefit from this change are the ones that are focused on ecommerce discoverability through search and content management, that have a good handle on logistics and stock management, and importantly, that are obsessed with fulfilment and last mile delivery as a point of pride and differentiation”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast