The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the retail industry and will affect consumers and businesses alike this holiday shopping season. Ashwani Monga, provost and executive vice chancellor of Rutgers—Newark and professor in the Department of Marketing, weighed in on upcoming trends for retailers and consumers.
“The pandemic has changed consumers' relationships with products and shopping. Online shopping has surely blossomed, but not for everyone,” Monga said.
Gift-giving and consumer sentiment specifically have shifted due to the circumstances, he said.
“Cash-strapped consumers are more worried about meeting their necessities than about splurging on holiday shopping,” Monga said. “Those who have lost a friend or have a sick family member are not thinking about gifts. Even those who may not have been adversely affected by COVID(-19) know about the tragic circumstances we are currently in. They will indeed spend and shop, but this holiday season won't be the same even for them.”
Measures such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders have resulted in more stressful shopping experiences when customers are able to shop in-person, Monga said.
Older generations who must socially distance themselves from friends and family may not be as digitally savvy. He said these groups will also find it more challenging to shop during the holiday season and must seek help from others if they choose to do so.
Businesses have faced challenges of their own during this time and have altered their operations and marketing to continue drawing in customers, he said.
“Businesses are trying to have a stronger online presence, and a safer shopping experience within the store. They are trying to offer great deals to get consumers back into the habit of shopping,” Monga said. “They are trying to convince consumers that now is a good time to shop and get ready for the ‘normal’ times that will hopefully arrive soon … (and to) make consumers feel that there is still room for the holiday cheer that goes hand in hand with shopping.”
Monga said it is difficult for businesses to encourage consumers due to the negative impact the pandemic has had on people’s lives and economic circumstances.
The pandemic has also played a role in solidifying the shift to online retail that has been ongoing for the past few years, Monga said. He offered insight on how trends in the retail industry would persist after COVID-19 ends.
“Things won't go back to how they were pre-COVID(-19),” he said. “Consumers have developed new habits of staying home and buying online, and are no longer used to visiting malls over weekends. Old habits of shopping in-person may return, but to a much more limited degree.”