With social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place orders being implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the way consumers shop for their groceries is also changing. That is probably evident to every person who has tried to sign up for Peapod, or go to the grocery store. Many are finding it almost impossible to get a delivery slot for groceries without signing up for a two-week wait.
And for those brave enough to risk a trip to their local supermarket, many are reporting a change in shopping habits. A survey carried out by C+R Research in late March - before the US outbreak roared to its recent peak - found that grocery-store paranoia has already set in. A whopping 73% of the more than 2,000 consumers surveyed said that they were either ordering groceries online for delivery more frequently, or were at least making fewer trips to the store.
More consumers are also shopping at odd hours when they believe stores might be less crowded.
Despite warnings from governors against hoarding, nearly half of consumers (46%) say they're buying more items in bulk. Interestingly, though many survey respondents said they do buy stuff like toilet paper in bulk, 89% of respondents also agreed that stores should impose limits on the number of items a customer can take.
Keep in mind, this survey was taken back in March. At the time, an overwhelming majority of shoppers said they had troubling finding all the items they needed as the county was in the middle of massive supply shortages involving toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other items.
These shortages were supposed to clear up, but in many places, toilet paper remains difficult to come by, and the prices of proteins like meat and eggs are climbing as a shortage looms on the horizon.
Among the many unique qualities of the coronavirus is that it seems to have brought out the worst qualities in humanity, whether you're a hard-core denialist who believes the virus is a hoax or a hysteric who irrationally insist the economy should remained shuttered until a vaccine is discovered, damn the costs (in lives or in damage to the economy).
Half of the survey respondents said they had witnessed price gouging, and 48% said they had personally experienced it.
And during an era where brand preferences are impressed on shoppers at a near-unconscious level, the survey found that not only did brand loyalty evaporate, but shoppers have become so desperate and afraid of the shortages that might be waiting around the next aisle, that they've been buying whatever is available, regardless of price.
To sum up, American consumers have gotten much more cautious about shopping since the beginning of the crisis. We would be curious to see what, if anything, has changed should a follow-up survey ever emerge.