COVID19 and Its Impact on Consumer Decision Making


Lockdown due to the fear of community spread of COVID19 has brought in unprecedented situation and it has led to unprecedented buying behaviour. Some of the examples are from my family itself. I reached back my native village to attend some urgent work before the lockdown. Here I am, staying with my sixty five years old mother in the village for last five months and no, my life is not difficult except I have to manage my work according to the situation of electricity supply.


As the lockdown was imposed on 24th of March and became effective from 25th March morning so to say, because by 12 of the night of 24th March, half of the nation must have fallen asleep anyway. Movement of even essential items were difficult initially because law enforcing agencies were not able to figure out difference between essential and non-essential items and they were not ready to take any chance to be called negligent of their duty. So, the vegetables grown in rural areas were not finding its way to urban and town market. Prices of vegetables fell drastically and we were able to buy things at around 35-40% of the earlier price. Though lockdown was dampening news, but not for my mother, for whom travel meant walking in our campus or on the road in front of our house. She was very happy to buy vegetables so cheap and she started buying it from everyone and anyone selling vegetables and I was emotionally manipulated to gorge on vegetables much beyond my capacity, otherwise she would have been forced to throw a big portion of it in the dustbin. For first two months, despite my cautious advice and sometime angry retort, she continued buying vegetables in huge quantity, because it was cheap. Something which was supposedly cheap cost us a lot during that period.


My elder brother living in Bengaluru got so panicked when lockdown was announced that he assumed he won’t get any vegetables to eat. So, he bought a year’s quota of salt thinking that if he doesn’t get vegetables then he will eat chapatti with salt.


Few days back I was talking to a friend, who is heading staples business of major retail chain about the news around impact of COVID19. I told him that I not very comfortable with the way news about miseries due to COVID19 fed to the entire world after locking them inside their houses and flats. They are regularly and without fail being fed with the news of death, despair and conflict. I also said that there is news of biscuits companies are doing roaring business, which means tea business must also be doing similarly good business. Upon hearing this, he said not only biscuit and tea, but savouries, mixtures, noodles etc. are also doing very excellent business.


COVID19 is having whatever impact it is having on all of us and it is visible, but what is not visible is the impact of continuous fear feeding by media after locking us inside our houses on our mind. Hypertension, stress, blood pressure, gas and acidity, arthritis, diabetes and many other lifestyle diseases will start demanding its share from our savings once this is over or there is some respite.


Another friend of mine who is with a retail start-up told me that his neighbourhood store in Thane, Maharashtra, which was unaffected by spurt in organizations dealing in online grocery retail is seeing more than 60% de-growth in customer walk in; many of them have shifted to online shopping due to the fear of the spread of COVID19.


These examples are very few among many. How can we forget the sight of couple of kilometres long queue outside grocery stores in US and European countries or people stocking years quota of toilet paper.


This period has brought out the extremes of human behaviour unlike before. COVID19 is not going away soon. There are many government administered nudge which will change the human behaviour permanently. I am sure many neuroscientists and behavioural scientists must be studying it, but retail organizations must not let this opportunity go away and they must test as many hypotheses as possible and figure out the change in human behaviour and decision making process while shopping. Analysing data may not be able to speak much after this pandemic is over. Once it is over, people won’t be able to recall the entire journey; they will remember the peak and end of the experience. This will lead to loss of many data points which can help the business in future. EEG, fMRI, Mobile EEG and eye tracking devices etc. may come to help for in-store study and placement of products on mobile, laptop and other digital devices real estate, nudges, priming and anchoring stimulus applied should be closely and critically analysed, because this phase will bring out the human decision making process which will be new normal.


Though using tools mentioned above to study human behaviour is the domain of experts from neuroscience, but we can offer our services in setting parameters and calculating outcomes free of human bias.


I can be reached at mukul.bhartiya@reviewboard.in. You can find the detail presentation on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Retail Analytics here. Interactive Retail Analytics Solution

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