Portsmouth academic's research reveals how people changed shopping habits and drank more during pandemic

In the latest Business Talk column from the University of Portsmouth, we look at how a study conducted by Dr Sianne Gordon-Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the Portsmouth Business School, has found that people changed where and how they shopped and increased their consumption of unhealthy snacks and alcohol during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

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Thursday, 5th August 2021, 12:00 am
People's shopping habits changed during the pandemic

These changes were found to be heavily linked to self-control and driven by fear, anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic.

The research took place throughout the UK’s first lockdown in April 2020, during which time fear of COVID-19 was high, as understanding of the virus was widely limited and the general population did not have any similar experiences for comparison.

This coupled with the UK reporting the highest death rates in Europe led to many changes in consumer behaviour and made the UK an interesting point of study.

Using a two-stage research approach, Dr Gordon-Wilson observed the activity of two Facebook groups over a seven-week period.

She then used her findings to form a series of interview questions, to learn more about participants and their consumption patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driven by fear of contracting the virus, some participants changed where they shopped, moving from large supermarkets to smaller, less populated convenience stores that stocked essential items, and others began to use online shopping.

One participant explained that she did not feel safe in long queues or browsing supermarkets with other customers, who seemingly did not adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Previously choosing their supermarkets based on price, range and quality, participants found changing the way in which they shopped, including store format, type and frequency, helped them gain a sense of control in an uncontrollable time.

The final key theme Dr Gordon-Wilson found was alcohol consumption. The study revealed that overall purchase frequency, quantity, variety and spend increased during the lockdown period.

As most people were strictly confined to their own homes, the boundaries between home, work and social life blurred, and general lack of structure eroded the difference between the weekdays and weekends.

As a direct result participants felt less need to control the days in which they consumed alcohol.

Multiple participants named drinking as something fun and relaxing to do that passed the time and relieved boredom.

Self-control dwindled as they sought the immediate rewards of pleasure, relaxation and distraction, over the long-term benefits associated with abstaining from alcohol.

Drinking gave participants more feelings of pleasure and joy, and alleviated negative feelings of fear and anxiety associated with the pandemic.

The results of Dr Gordon-Wilson’s research can be used by retailers, snack and alcohol manufacturers and weight management businesses to gain and retain customers through future pandemic and lockdown scenarios.

To find out more about this, or any of our research, email [email protected]

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