COVID-19 is creating a distinct divide when it comes to consumer shopping behaviours

PwC Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey

  • During the pandemic, consumers showed solidarity with local independent businesses.
  • Western-European consumers working from home generally spend more money than those primarily working away from home
  • 20% of Western-European consumers rank “increased health and safety measures” as their first or second most important attribute when shopping in-store
  • Only 48% of consumers in Western-Europe intentionally buy products with either environmentally-friendly packaging or less packaging, compared to 60% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region and 61% of consumers in Africa and the Middle East.

Thursday 22 April 2021 - The impact of COVID-19 has made consumers more conscientious about health and safety implications of their purchasing choices. And, despite the deep effects of COVID-19 in the retail experience, in-store shopping remains the top choice for 37% of Western-European consumers who shop daily or weekly for goods. These trends are revealing what customer behaviours are emerging out of the pandemic and which long-term patterns we can expect, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey. This will have a very high potential of significantly impacting what choices consumers make in shopping channels, products and brands.

Supporting local businesses

41% of respondents in the West-European region indicated that they have increased shopping at these businesses to support them. Nevertheless, there’s a noteworthy generation gap in this trend: 46% of millennial and generation Z shoppers indicated increased shopping at local independent businesses versus 37% for the rest of the respondents. According to our survey, younger generations are also more likely to spend more in the next six months than they’d spent before that. And this is true across product categories - including in more nonessential areas such as travel (20%), fashion (28%) and takeaway food (31%).

Our daily shopping habits have changed

Consumers in Western Europe are gradually diversifying their shopping channels: 8% shop on mobile devices or PCs daily, while another 8% visits physical stores on a daily basis. Globally, in-store daily shopping still beats online shopping through these most popular devices (11% vs 10%). When it comes to online grocery shopping, Western-European consumers are trailing behind their global peers: 42% indicate that they do not shop online for groceries at all, while this is only 32% globally. Noteworthy, those who work from home generally expect to spend more (24% vs 17%) and are shopping more online. 58% of those working at home prefer to shop for their groceries online versus 46% of those who work away from home.

However, brick-and-mortar is not dead: 29% of respondents indicate they still visit a store at least once a week. 35% of consumers reported no reduction in in-store shopping over the last six months. They indicated the convenience of in-store shopping (29%) over other channels as the primary reason for staying loyal to their local store. Respondents particularly like that you can walk past a wide range of products when shopping in a physical store (31%) and see and touch the items (34%).

Base: Western-European countries (2,080 respondents)
Base: Western-European countries (2,080 respondents)

Filip Lozie, Consumer Markets Lead at PwC Belgium: “If working from home continues, this could have significant implications as we expect to see physical shopping preferences continue to decline. This at-home cohort could therefore drive an even faster decline in physical shopping than we’re already seeing. And if those consumers primarily working at home do increase their spending, there might be a significant uptick in COVID-related at-home consumption. We do see a pathway for innovations and changes, such as subscription offers, enhanced e-commerce capabilities, and larger, bulk packages for consumers who are at home more and spending more. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of change and created or deepened forks in consumer behaviour. It will be key for businesses to reimagine how they build trust with their customers in this new reality.”

Health & safety concerns

Consumers who prioritise health and safety are shopping less frequently in-store than consumers who are not as safety-conscious. 20% of Western-European consumers rank “increased health and safety measures” as their first or second most important attribute when shopping in-store.

26% ​ of respondents in Western Europe indicate that health and safety concerns drive their preference for online shopping; this rises to 32% ​ when it comes to grocery shopping. Other factors driving consumers to online channels include convenience (36%) and more favourable pricing (30%). When shopping in-store, 32% mention health and safety measures to be the most important criteria when deciding which shop to visit. At a global level, increased health and safety standards are, by contrast, one of the most important reasons for consumers to avoid physical stores (32%).

Wallet versus sustainability

In the wake of the pandemic, survey respondents across the globe are focused on making more sustainable choices. When making buying decisions, consumers in Western-Europe indicate they consider things like environmentally friendly packaging (43%), local production (46%) and a company’s attitude towards sustainability (30%) an important factor. Still, only 30% of consumers willing to pay a premium for more ethically and sustainably produced grocery products, compared to 36% of consumers globally. In this sense, the region is lagging a bit behind compared to other regions across the globe: 48% of consumers in Western-Europe intentionally buy products with either environmentally-friendly packaging or less packaging - versus 60% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Base: Western-European countries (2,080 respondents)
Base: Western-European countries (2,080 respondents)

Marc Daelman, Sustainability Lead at PwC Belgium. “The survey demonstrates some positive trends and shifts in consumer behaviour. At the same time, we're seeing that many consumers today are not willing to pay a premium price for sustainable products. In fact, this also shows that there is still a discrepancy between consumers' stated shopping preferences and their actual purchasing decisions. ​ It will be key for companies to consider guiding consumers' options towards more sustainable alternatives to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable consumption pattern. As organisations transform their activities in the wake of the pandemic, it will be key to put sustainability at the heart of their efforts.” ​

Back to normal?

Consumers in the Western-European region have the following expectations about the return to ‘normal life’ in the next six months: they see themselves going back to the office (66%) or strolling around in shopping malls (59%), but do not expect to attend mass sports or entertainment events (15%) or travel on a domestic flight (15%).


Notes to editors

For the 2021 Global Consumer Insights Survey, PwC adopted a new pulse approach in order to remain agile to changes in the worldwide landscape and connected to the behaviours of the global consumer. With a pulse in late Autumn 2020 and a further pulse planned in Spring 2021, this bi-annual study seeks to keep a closer watch on changing consumer trends. For the first Pulse in the series, 8,738 consumers were polled across 22 territories (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Middle East, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, United States and Vietnam). The survey was translated into 16 languages and fielded in November 2021. The respondents were at least 18 years old and were required to have shopped online at least once in the previous year. This research was undertaken by PwC Research, our global centre of excellence for primary research and evidence-based consulting services.





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