Consumer behaviour in crisis situations,
Back to basics and value

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the world as we know it. We are forced into a new way of living and working. While new trends emerge, behaviours are shifted and consumers across the globe are looking at products and brands differently. On one hand humanity thinks we are immortal and God-like, but in reality, when a global pandemic reminds us of our fragility, we are no more valuable than trees. In the midst of the crisis people started to buy a bunch of toilet paper. What was causing this behaviour? And how will this new normal affect our decisions?


The new consumer

Just to remind you, a consumer is you and me constantly making decisions based on different factors, this decision-making process is called consumer behaviour. That being said, in this new world we live in today, there is also a new consumer making different decisions.
People are not the same and not all people have the same perception about a situation with negative effects like a crisis. According to the US department of health and human services; stress, fear and anxiety are affecting our decisions. How you respond to these feelings, during the Covid-19 pandemic can depend on different factors like your background, social support, financial situation, health and your emotional background.

Woman at home staring out of the window, Becker. J. M.

Crisis: a reminder of our mortality

To understand shifts in consumer behaviour in a crisis situation, it is important to know what a crisis does to our conscious and subconscious mind. You probably won’t be surprised when i tell you, that we’re all going to die some day. For the ones who didn’t know, yes humans are mortal. Humans are species that are aware of their mortality. This awareness creates fear of death and an unique ever-present potential for experiencing terror. According to The terror management theory people manage this fear by striving for meaning and value. Besides coping this fear with seeking for a meaningful life, we often categorize death as something unfortunate that happens to other people and not to us. Before you leave this somewhat depressing article consisting of deadly facts, this is actually a very important element to consider. A crisis like an economic crisis, terrorism, war and pandemics reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality, in other words, crisis situations are raising our fears of death. There’s nothing like a worldwide pandemic and its continual media coverage to remind us of the fragility of life. Okay, so because I think I’m going to die I started to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizers?

Young Man shopping in a supermarket,  RealPeopleGroup.

Buying behaviour

There are different responses to these death reminders according to Sheldon Solomon, a social psychologist and professor at Skidmore College; an urge to make yourself feel safe, complete denial or distraction. Like mentioned before, humans manage fear of death by striving for meaning and value, during times of crisis these urges will increase, resulting in different buying behaviour. Consumer priorities have become centered on the most basic needs, sending demand for essential products like paper and hand sanitizers, while
non-essential categories slump. In the Business of Fashion podcast, Lidewij Edelkoort, trendwatcher en futurist says; “We will reset society on what is essential and reflect on what really matters. We can’t cope with nonsense anymore.”

Back to the basics

Like Lidewij Edelkoort says, being stuck at home during the covid-19 pandemic has forced people to reevaluate their lives, leading some to embrace a simpler way of living. Some people started with a great pandemic declutter and reorganized their homes.
I personally noticed that I’m being less influenced by people and trends around me. Maybe it is restrictions, not having plenty and limited choices that makes me connect to a more simplified life, but I realised that I’m capable of more than I thought. I can cut my own hair, make my own coffee, do at-home workouts and overall spend less. I don’t require excessive consumption to live a satisfied life. I’m actually calmer and happier with less. According to ‘Het statistiek bureau’, people spend less on apparel, travel, events and sports.
Yay for saving money! But, knowing me, you never know when my compulsive shopping mood will come back.

Temporary trend or new normal

Will this ‘back to basics and value’ trend remain in the future?
There is a well-documented theory that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or adjust to a new way of living, although that still doesn’t apply for my failing workout routine, with 8 months of ‘living with Covid’ consumers are pushed out of their normal routines. Consumers are adapting new habits and behaviors that will continue in the long term. I don’t know which trend will remain in the  post-pandemic world, but I do know that these shifts will have huge implications for the future of brands and businesses.
In the future we’ll talk about ‘BC’, before Covid and ‘AC’, after Covid. Who knows what is going to happen, maybe this year will end with the roaring 2020’s.


More from Rosa-Milly Mugabe

Brands and Innovation         Amsterdam Fashion Institute