How COVID-19 has changed customer behavior, and how businesses can respond

Customer behavior has dramatically shifted due to COVID-19, but by focusing on customers' needs above all else, business owners can survive—and thrive—during the pandemic and beyond.

by Kylie Ora Lobell
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

COVID-19 has radically changed the way people work, exercise, socialize, and, notably, spend their money.

Predictably, many dramatic shifts in customer behavior have occurred, and, instead of panicking, business owners have had to pivot and shift their selling strategies in order to survive.

Here are some ways COVID-19 has altered customer behavior—and how business owners can respond and thrive in this new reality.

How COVID-19 Has Changed Customer Behavior, and How Businesses Can Respond

Customers are shopping online

It's no surprise that customers are shopping online more often. Amazon's second-quarter profits jumped 40% compared to a year earlier, with the e-commerce giant raking in $88.9 billion. Additionally, U.S. retailers' online year-over-year revenue growth was up 68% as of April, which was far above an earlier peak of 49% in early January.

Michelle Douglas, head of marketing at Green Goo, says companies need to be of assistance to customers who are shopping online during this time.

"Consumers' shopping habits have shifted to online. However, not all consumers can navigate through even the simplest websites," she says. "Providing customer service that goes beyond digital has helped our consumers place orders with confidence."

They're finding information on social media

During COVID-19, people have been spending more time on social media. A survey of U.S. social media users showed that, as of March 2020, 29.7% were spending one to two additional hours on social media each day, and 20.5% used it an additional 30 minutes to one hour each day.

Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, says businesses can put out messages that comfort consumers who are anxious about COVID-19 and the recession while focusing on the relevance of their products or services.

"We have learned to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future," she says. "We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feeling, and facts."

Customers are prioritizing their spending

McKinsey & Company, which has been tracking customer behavior during COVID-19, reported that consumers are now focusing on essentials and shifting their approach to purchases. In one survey, 40% of Americans said they are becoming more mindful of where they spend their money.

"[Customers] know their priorities better now," says Ben Walker, CEO of Transcription Outsourcing. "People have a better understanding of their needs and wants, which is actually one upside of being in this current situation."

When responding to this change in customer spending behavior, Walker recommends tapping into your most loyal customers. "[If you established your] business way before the pandemic hit, I'm pretty sure you have your loyal customer base," he says. "Take care of them, make sure their needs are met, and basically keep them happy."

They aren't purchasing memberships

Since customers are more cautious about their spending because of economic uncertainty, they may not want to purchase memberships or make other long-term spending commitments, according to Kimberly Porter, president of Microcredit Summit. They might also be afraid that a company is going to close before they get their money's worth out of a subscription.

If your business is subscription-based, Porter says, "having clear return and refund policies can help consumers feel covered in case a business needs to close unexpectedly. It is also important to show the immediate value of your service or product to encourage consumers to not put off buying it."

While we all adjust to COVID-19, customer service should remain your business' top priority.

"Never stop trying to provide excellent service, even if business is slow," Walker says. "Combined with the right strategies, these efforts will pay off in no time."

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Kylie Ora Lobell

About the Author

Kylie Ora Lobell

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance copywriter, editor, marketer, and publicist. She has over 10 years of experience writing… Read more

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