Crystal ball filled with graphs and title overlay How will the pandemic change consumer behaviors in 2021?

How will the Pandemic Change Consumer Behaviors in 2021?

By Troy Alfke

Throughout 2020, we have published a number of articles about COVID-19 and its implications across industries and specialties. After closing out a year that so many hope to soon forget, we look back on the changes that occurred and how this past crazy year will shape consumer behavior in a post-COVID world—one that we hope to see very soon. What will make the post-COVID consumer different? We broke down 5 key consumer behavior predictions for a post-COVID-19 world and how these changes impact marketers.


Prediction 1: Higher education should expect multiple sources of disruption

The pandemic shook a number of industries to their core, leaving potential users to wonder whether we should go back to the way things were. Education is one area that has carried forward pretty consistently for centuries. And, while there is still great value in the on-campus college experience, the pandemic and the ever-expanding sharing economy could really disrupt the education sector:

  • Look for many institutions increasing and expanding their online offerings as a means to boost top-line revenues without increasing overhead costs significantly.
  • There will be growing pressure on colleges and universities to allow credits from the growing number of free and lower-cost online courses to transfer as prerequisites for four-year degree programs.
  • Enterprising employers and educational institutions will look to partner on job training programs. Similar to the way nursing school students participate in clinicals at local hospitals, loosely defined “internships” may give way for much more structured programs that become requirements to obtaining a degree.


Prediction 2: Consumers will shop online more than they did pre-pandemic

With more growth in 8 months than in the previous 10 years, online shopping increased dramatically in 2020. It quickly became the easiest and safest way for consumers to make purchases while storefronts were closed due to the pandemic. This changing face of retail will be here to stay post-COVID. While some may prefer in-person shopping, many shoppers have made it past the neophobia and realize how simple the online process can be. Most tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Z-ers were already online shopping pros. But, during the pandemic, Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers got on board (or, in this case, online). According to SalesForce, 68% of all U.S. consumers plan to continue buying essential goods online post-COVID. Of this, 73% are classified as Gen Z or Millennials, 69% are Gen X and 57% are Baby Boomers. Previously, many Baby Boomers have been reluctant to shop online. Now, 45% say they are shopping online more, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). To keep up with the surge, marketers should focus on an eCommerce experience that allows their brand to sell direct. In 2021, eCommerce and digital experiences should be a major priority. Growth in online shopping has catapulted forward. And, though total online sales may dip slightly in 2021, this space should continue to grow at a more rapid pace than it had been prior to 2020.


Prediction 3: Traveling will resume, but will look different for the Interim 

People are dreaming of the ability to travel safely again. From planning future (like, way future) vacations, researching destinations and nostalgically reviewing old Instagram posts, consumers want to travel. They want to travel so badly, but they also want to do so safely. Post-COVID, travel is going to boom at record-setting levels. During the pandemic, there was a focus on more socially distanced locations like beaches or national parks. This trend will continue while people’s desire to venture back into high density, urban areas will return more slowly. Research from Destination Analyst suggests most travelers aren’t ready to visit cities yet with only 34% of travelers desiring a visit to a city or metropolitan area in the next year.


Prediction 4: “Vacations” will transition to extended periods of “work remotely elsewhere”

As remote working continues to cement its place in the workforce, the very idea of “vacations” will change. We may see more long, sprawling vacations arise as people don’t necessarily go “on vacation.” Instead, we’ll increasingly see people elect to “work elsewhere” for a week, a month or more. In some cases, travelers may book a vacation rental (like Airbnb or VRBO) for upwards of four weeks, choosing to continue to work while shifting hours to accommodate travel. The potential for these travelers may disrupt the model for hotels as vacation rentals have the flexibility to quickly negotiate weekly or monthly rates as they have lower overhead costs. Research from Airbnb shows that 60% of those booking a long-term rental were studying and/or working during their stay. Many cited the freedom to work from wherever as a factor in their choice. Significant interest in longer trips and the continuous expansion of the sharing economy could lead to the emergence of a low cost “house swap” option, in which individuals may offer their residence to a traveler from their destination – a sort of travel accommodation reciprocity.


Prediction 5: Remote work will coexist with regular office work, meaning home renovations will soar

Many employers let their staff work from home during the dawn of the pandemic. Many are still working from home. Some have closed offices all together in support of fully remote staff. New research shows that 67% of business decision-makers plan to keep work-from-home policies permanent, even after the pandemic subsides.

Because of this, many have saved money on business clothing, costs of commuting and the sandwich shop next to the office. These consumers will invest a portion of these saved funds into their homes. Post-COVID, we will continue to see a boom in home renovations, both from a do-it-yourself (DIY) and contractor perspective. As working from home is here to stay for so many, so is investing more into our homes to make them function as both an office and a residence. The temporary home office space at the kitchen or dining room table will give way to a more permanent home office set-up. Retailers will need to pivot quickly to take advantage of this opportunity. Expect to see Home Depot and Office Depot competing with very similar “home-office-to-go” bundles or conversion kits.

Hoffman York has experience working with clients to make the most strategic decisions on their overall marketing plans during times of hardship and beyond. Email [email protected] to discuss how HY can help your brand succeed in a post-COVID world. Click here to see a gallery of our past work.


About the Author:

Troy Alfke, V. P. and Account Director at Hoffman YorkTroy Alfke, V. P. and Account Director leads business development and helps drive strategy for current and prospective Hoffman York clients. He has a passion for solving new and interesting business challenges with strategic and creative thinking. With over 15 years of experience, Troy has led efforts across a variety of B2C and B2B accounts including outdoor lifestyle, distilled spirits, retail, men’s grooming, pet, home appliances, home building products and office supplies.

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