Making a quick trip to the store to pick up a product like wrapping paper, laundry detergent or toothpaste was a typical part of everyday life until the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Nonessential businesses were shut down to in-person visits for several months, and many residents did not want to risk exposure to the disease by leaving their homes.
Consumers had to alter their spending habits due to the restrictions with many turning to online shopping, contactless pay options and curbside pickup. Now 14 months into the pandemic, a growing portion of the population has received vaccinations and a majority of businesses are seeing sales rising.
“I am very optimistic about the outlook for recovery but, having said that, the pandemic has brought about profound change in consumer purchase behavior and therefore businesses need to be mindful and cognizant about those changes and be prepared to better cater to those changes, especially those that are going to stay for the long term,” said Jie Zhang, University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business marketing professor and consumer behavior expert.
Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, Maryland Chain Drug Store Association, Maryland Food Industry Council and Tri State Jewelers Association, understands consumer behavior has changed but notes the question is — are these changes permanent?
“All these things people used to pop into a nameless store and buy, they are not doing that anymore,” she said. “They realized you can get it online. It is going to show up at your house tomorrow and you didn’t have to go anywhere.”
Locklair said there are some items like groceries including meats, seafood and fresh produce that folks will want to pick out themselves. But in the other areas, there are questions about whether these purchasing behaviors are temporary or permanent.
“For many businesses to survive in the future, if they don’t have a website built out where people can look online and see what they have, order it and pick it up, (it will be hard),” Locklair said. “… (Click-and-pick is) the main way brick-and-mortar can compete with online. Even with Amazon, typically you cannot get things the same day. You have to wait at least one day if you are lucky and it is on Prime.