5 ways consumer shopping behavior has transformed

“The Great Reshuffling” is a term that’s become associated with the mass moving of employees over the past two years. But did you know it’s also applicable to the behavior of consumers?

Many consumers—whether new, lapsed or re-engaged—over the past couple of years have tried new brands during the COVID-19 pandemic or shifted away from brands they were previously loyal to as their lifestyles changed. This “great reshuffling” has shaken up previously understood patterns of consumer behavior. But how has consumer shopping behavior changed in recent years?

To get the clearest picture of the new consumer shifts, Epsilon went right to the source with its recent 2022 research on modern shopping behavior, “The Great Reshuffling of Shoppers.” We surveyed more than 1,400 U.S. consumers on how their shopping habits have changed in the past two years—and where they’ve changed for good.

Here are five key findings from the research, along with recommendations for how to account for the changing consumer behavior in your marketing.

1. Consumers are still buying non-essential items

Epsilon found that 95% of consumers reported having purchased non-essential items in the three months prior to taking the survey. Specifically, the clothing, shoes and accessories category sits at the top of non-essential purchases (83%), with health and beauty products at a close second (77%).

An even more surprising finding on modern shoppers' behavior is that the “felt like treating myself” sentiment seemingly hasn’t died down despite economic concerns. The youngest age group surveyed (ages 18-34) were most likely to respond that they tried a new brand or website to treat themselves, and this sentiment declined with higher age groups as well as the highest income bracket. This could be due to differing mindsets about what sorts of purchases constitute “treats” as younger shoppers were also more likely to prefer casual, non-luxury apparel.

Recommendation: While the lingering effects of the pandemic remain, don’t hesitate to reintroduce “back to normal” messaging into your mix, as consumer shopping habits are no longer Covid-centric. People want to see a combination of attire categories that sync up with their everyday lives. Ensure you’re offering a top-notch experience: advertised items are available, in stock and can be delivered on time.

2. Shoppers are trying new brands, for a good deal

That said, shoppers aren’t just dishing out their dollars left and right to treat themselves. While about one-third of shoppers have recently purchased from a new brand, 51% of consumers state they have been enticed to buy from a new brand due to better prices and sales.This is followed closely by ease of online ordering (48%) and great selection (43%).

Once again, we're seeing differences in shopping behavior between age groups. While the youngest age group was more likely to have a “treat themselves” sentiment, as mentioned above, they were also the most open to buying from new brands—where the driving force was good deals.

Recommendation: Set your customer acquisition sights on millennials and Gen Z who are already more open to trying new brands. But it’s not as simple as just “reaching younger audiences” on social media and other relevant channels. You should assess if this audience is right for your brand by analyzing current shoppers in that age range, determine common attributes for those consumers and quantify the size of that market first. 

3. Shoppers are making purchases from new websites, too

According to survey respondents, 53% purchased from a new website because the price was better. So, while shoppers are willing to try new brands, they are more likely to be incentivized with a good deal that gives them more bang for their buck.

Deals will never go out of style when it comes to acquiring new customers, but don’t forget to share those same benefits with your loyal customers that want to feel like they got a deal too.

Recommendation: If shoppers are open to trying new websites, there’s an opportunity to capitalize on brand dollars with a retail media network. You can create a new revenue stream that leverages brand partner dollars to engage existing and potential customers on-site, off-site and in-store. Not interested in retail media? You can always do good, old-fashioned acquisition campaigns with digital media, too, which are just as effective at reaching the right customers.

4. Online experiences aren’t going anywhere

To no surprise, the contactless world has shifted shopping behaviors even more toward digital channels:

  • Shopping online for delivery is the only channel with in-pandemic growth. 
  • Of those who made purchases online recently, 90% of people anticipate making more online purchases in the next few months.

Consumers are satisfied with their online experiences, which is why these new online shopping habits are sticking around. Ease and convenience are top of mind, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Recommendation: Physical stores will always have their space, but treat your website like your primary storefront. With the top reason for trying a new website being ease of use, invest in user experience (UX) to improve the overall customer experience and keep those purchases rolling in. 

5. In-store shopping is making a comeback

While online channels remain popular—and will continue to be in the future—you don’t have to put all your eggs in one online shopping basket. In fact, online and in-store shopping can and should coexist in your messaging mix. 

Shopping behavior insights suggest that consumers are headed back in-store to purchase their goods, with categories such as gardening supplies and outdoor furniture having a sizable percentage of purchases—62% and 45% respectively—occurring in-store. While categories like clothing still have a high majority of shoppers making purchases online, over half of respondents expect to shop this category in-store in the coming months, citing factors such as fit, quality and immediacy.

Recommendation: Keep your online and offline experiences seamlessly connected and have them play off each other in your omnichannel messaging mix.

If you’re in a retailer category that finds people more likely to shop in-store, consider using geotargeted messaging to drive consumers to the store nearest to them and provide updates on topics such as loyalty offerings. That said, it’s important to consider that any brand has a mix of primarily in-store vs. online shoppers. Your customer data platform should consistently analyze where purchases are made so they can serve “shop online” or “shop in-store” messages to the right people across your portfolio.

Adjust your marketing based on current consumer behavior

We’ve seen how “The Great Reshuffling” of shoppers is not just a pandemic-era trend, but also has shifted consumer behavior for the foreseeable future. Consumers continue to spend on non-essential items with an eagerness to try new brands and websites, while some are returning to in-store shopping.

Modern shopping behavior and new consumer preferences are making waves in multiple industries, resulting in major impacts on sales. Using identity matching, purchasing trends, and data analysis, you can better study and allocate campaign marketing efforts. 

As a marketer, it’s important to be prepared to best serve each consumer based on their past interactions with your brand—and even reach new customers—across your marketing mix. We hope the findings from our research and recommendations can help you get there.

This article was originally published on Adweek, June 2022.