Half of consumers say their spending habits have changed permanently due to the pandemic, according to a new AlixPartners report

01 April 2021

The firm also launches a new, empirical approach that segments consumers by their pandemic-driven anxieties, including breakdowns by product sector and country

NEW YORK (April 1, 2021) – A new report released today by AlixPartners, the global consulting firm, finds that one in two consumers around the globe has had their consumption habits permanently changed due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—which is just one of the findings from the firm’s ongoing, empirically-centered research into changing consumer priorities that have led AlixPartners also to announce today the launch of a new modelling approach that segments consumers by their pandemic-related anxieties.

AlixPartners polled more than 7,000 consumers across nine countries—China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and found that 48% on average say the pandemic has altered their buying behaviors permanently. That finding ranged from 40% of consumers in Saudi Arabia to 60% in Japan, with 43% of consumers in the U.S. saying so. Meanwhile, the firm’s new lens on segmentation analyses changing consumer priorities in 15 consumer-facing sectors—ranging from groceries to household products, from clothing to home furnishings, from restaurants to travel and leisure, and beyond.

The new AlixPartners methodology says that when mapped by the two main consumer anxieties today—health (mental as well as physical) and finances—recent behaviors and future intentions segment consumers into four distinct demographic cohorts: the “Most Anxious” (highly concerned about both health and finances), the “Health Concerned” (more concerned about health than finances), the “Budget Constrained” (more concerned about finances than health), and the “Least Anxious” (little concerned, relatively, about health or finances). According to the firm’s research, Health Concerned and Most Anxious consumers worldwide are experiencing both the most significant and the most permanent changes in purchasing behavior.

David Garfield, global leader of the consumer products practice at AlixPartners and leader of the firm’s Americas business unit, said, “Although there is growing hope around the world that consumers will eventually rebound from the pandemic, our new modelling approach reveals that significant numbers will experience long-lasting changes in their buying behaviors—changes that will lead to massive challenges for many companies as well as intriguing new opportunities for others. Coupled with AlixPartners’ 40-year history of helping clients to master disruptions of all sorts, this new approach provides companies with an unparalleled advantage in facing the type of shifts we anticipate.”

Some of the other significant takeaways from the AlixPartners research include:  

  • “Most Anxious” consumers are in every country, led by the U.S.
    No less than 44% of the consumers in the U.S. fell into the Most Anxious cohort in the AlixPartners survey and analysis. The next-highest country for this cohort was France, at 38%, followed by Saudi Arabia (37%), Italy (35%), Germany (33%), the U.K. (32%), Japan (31%), China (31%), and Switzerland (28%). In the U.S., almost one in three (29%) consumers reported being extremely or very concerned about physical health, and just over one in four (28%) said they were extremely or very concerned about mental health.

  • Younger people are feeling the most vulnerable
    Younger consumers in the survey worldwide report that the pandemic has made them highly concerned about their mental/emotional health and that of those closest to them. For instance, 34% of those ages 18 to 24 internationally report being “extremely” or “very” concerned about mental health, which compares to just 26% who feel that way about physical health and which almost equals the 35% thus concerned about financial health. Meanwhile, for those ages 25 to 34, 30% report being extremely or very concerned about mental health, compared with 32% for financial health and just 24% for physical health.

  • Elevated levels of online commerce are here to stay—but new channels are turning off some consumers
    Perhaps not surprisingly, leading the way in channel-shifting to online in the survey is China. For clothing and footwear, for instance, among consumers in China who say their shopping behaviors have been permanently altered by the pandemic no less than 70% say they plan to shop more online in the future than they did pre-pandemic. By the same token, also-high percentages of consumers saying they plan to shop more online were reported in many other countries for this product category, including the U.K. (43%), Germany (39%), Italy (31%), Japan (29%), and the U.S. (29%). And the average for all countries surveyed was no less than 37%, versus an average of just 20% who say they plan to shop for clothes and shoes more in-store. However, AlixPartners’ research also finds that a significant percentage of consumers around the world say that online commerce does not currently work well for them. For instance, in the grocery category, while a hefty average of 26% of consumers internationally whose purchasing behaviors have been permanently altered by the pandemic say they plan to shop more online for groceries, a higher figure, 27%, say they plan to shop more in-store. And it is a similar story regarding meals from restaurants among those whose habits have been permanently changed: 27% on average internationally report they are expecting to dine more in-person at restaurants, versus an average of just 25% who expect to do more at-home dining.

“As the world prepares to emerge from the pandemic,” continued Garfield, “companies should pay attention to the Most Anxious consumer cohort, as it both skews younger and is showing significant interest in new consumption patterns. At the same time, companies also need to recognize that value needs to remain as important as ever; that digital engagement needs to be a priority, both to capture those consumers who have been exposed more to digital commerce and like it, and those who have been turned-off by things like less-than-perfect delivery experiences; and that issues related to the environment, such as sustainability in packaging, are also critically important today.”

About the survey

The AlixPartners survey was conducted January 11-30, 2021 and polled 7,164 consumers ages 18 and above across China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Its demographics were balanced across the countries by gender, age, income, education, and location (city/rural/suburban). It is the second AlixPartners survey of its kind, the first having been conducted in the summer of 2020. The survey will be repeated at regular intervals throughout 2021.

About AlixPartners

AlixPartners is a results-driven global consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses successfully address their most complex and critical challenges. Our clients include companies, corporate boards, law firms, investment banks, private equity firms, and others. Founded in 1981, AlixPartners is headquartered in New York, and has offices in more than 20 cities around the world. For more information, visit www.alixpartners.com.