Blog February 3, 2021

The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Consumer Behaviour

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life for individuals across the globe, from how we work to how we socialize and even how we shop. How has consumer behaviour changed in light of COVID-19, what trends in consumer behaviour and sentiment have we seen develop in the past 10 months, and what are consumers expecting as we move closer to a post-pandemic lifestyle?

Since March 2020, Numerator has been fielding ongoing surveys to our Canadian OmniPanelists to track their COVID-related behaviours and sentiments. We’ve combined the past ten months of insights into one comprehensive look at how consumer behaviour has been impacted by COVID-19, what’s changed from month-to-month, and what consumers anticipate moving forward. 

COVID-19 Consistently Impacts Shopping Behaviour of 8 in 10 Consumers

Impact on shopping behaviour ramped up alongside the pandemic itself in early March. By the first week of April, more than 9 in 10 consumers shared their weekly shopping behaviours and experiences were being impacted by COVID-19. Despite fluctuations in the pandemic and ongoing lockdown – reopening cycles, the overall level of consumer impact has remained high, dipping below 80% only once, in the month of November. 

Specific Impacts on Consumer Behaviour Have Shifted Throughout the Pandemic

At the onset of the pandemic, product shortages were the most prevalent issue shoppers were facing, with 63% experiencing shortages of some kind the week of March 28. While the impact of out of stocks has significantly declined— aided by supply chain improvements, adjusting to new levels of demand, and less panic buying— some consumers are still facing these outages, with roughly a third experiencing a shortage in recent months. Stock-up behaviours have generally remained in the low 30% range since March, with many consumers choosing to keep extra goods on-hand after the shortages experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.

While store closures in the spring led some consumers to shop at new retailers or hold off on non-essential purchases or services, much of that impact decreased as regions reopened and adjusted to new operating norms. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases post-holidays has led to a slight increase in these behaviours in January. One behaviour that has not declined— and has in fact increased throughout the pandemic— is consumers’ likelihood to replace in-store shopping trips with online orders. 30-50% of consumers have noted this behaviour since March, with the highest numbers occurring in December. 

The following chart is interactive: Click through to view individual behaviours across weeks, or to view weekly summaries of all behaviours.

The COVID-19 Online Shift is Significant and Sustained

According to our latest survey, 68% of shoppers placed online orders for delivery in January 2021, and 40% placed online orders for in-store or curbside pickup. These services attracted the most first time shoppers in the spring, but have continued to attract first-time and first-time-recently shoppers throughout the pandemic. 

Between April and May, roughly half of click and collect shoppers— those who ordered online for curbside or in-store pickup— were using the service for the first time ever or for the first time in six-plus months. Since July, these numbers have been closer to one third. First timer numbers have been smaller for traditional ship-to-home online shopping, given higher overall usage pre-pandemic, but the service has shown fairly consistent levels of first time or first time lately buyers since March, hovering around 20%.

Toggle between views for In Store / Curbside Pickup and Delivery below

Overall COVID-19 Concern Peaked in Spring but Remains High

The overall level of consumer concern related to Coronavirus reached its highest levels in late March / early April, when nearly 40% of consumers rated themselves as “Very Concerned (10/10)” regarding the virus. There was a notable increase in concern in July, as cases rose across the country. We’ve also seen a steady rise in concern in recent months, with roughly a fifth of shoppers very concerned about COVID-19, and half rating their concern 8 out of 10 or higher. Despite recent progress on vaccine distribution, consumers are still experiencing high levels of anxiety around the pandemic, which will continue to shape their behaviours for months to come.

Specific Concerns Center Around Social Implications

The most common concerns cited by consumers through the pandemic have been inability to see friends and family, impact on the national & global economy, and fear of infection— for self or family / friends. While the inability to see friends and family dropped slightly in the summer months, it has increased significantly in recent months as many spent the holidays separated from loved ones.

When it comes to consumers’ primary concern, fear of infection for self or household members has been by far the most prevalent concern for the entirety of the past 10 months. In recent months— similar to what we’ve seen with overall level of concern— the inability to see friends & family has risen in importance, with 22% of consumers citing this as their primary concern in January, only slightly behind the 27% who cited fear of infection. 

Other finance-related concerns like inability to purchase basic needs or other goods & services, and the pandemic’s impact on job security, have fallen lower in the list throughout the pandemic, while the social and emotional toll— being stuck at home, cancelling plans, school closures— rise. These concerns have implications for the types of products and services consumers will be seeking out as they deal with the continued desire to connect with others, and stick out the final leg of pandemic isolation and boredom. 

Click the green arrows to toggle between numbers for overall concerns and primary concerns. Click the play button or use the slider at the bottom of the chart to see week-over-week changes in concerns.

Many Behaviours Will Stick Post-COVID

Currently, over half of consumers say they are baking, cooking and consuming food & drinks at home more frequently than they did pre-COVID. Looking ahead to when the pandemic is over, about a fifth think these behaviours will continue. 86% of consumers are going to bars and restaurants less frequently or not at all during the pandemic, while 30% are ordering take-out or delivery more frequently. After COVID, intentions for these behaviours are split: 30% plan to make up for lost time, visiting bars & restaurants more frequently than they did pre-covid, while 20% expect to continue going less. 10% think they will continue ordering take-out and delivery at a greater frequency, and 22% think they’ll use the service less post-COVID. 

When it comes to shopping, 50% are making online purchases more frequently during COVID than they did before, and 57% are shopping in person at stores less frequently. Post-COVID, 14% expect to maintain a higher frequency of online shopping, while 31% expect to increase their frequency of in-store shopping, after months of tempered activity. 

Toggle between views for Current COVID-19 behaviours and Post-COVID Expectations below

Looking Ahead

As vaccine distribution ramps up and the country approaches new milestones and a return to normalcy, Numerator will continue to bring you the latest insights into consumer behaviour and sentiment surrounding the pandemic and the economy. This will be the final update to this version of our COVID-19 Sentiment Survey as we look ahead to new trends, market dynamics, and consumer behavioural impacts. 

For more information on how your brand or category is affected by COVID-19, or to learn more about the latest research from Numerator, please contact your Numerator Customer Success Representative or drop us a line.