Industry Insights

Pandemic Shopping in Phases

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We did a little research to see how people were shopping during the first several weeks of social distancing and we noted some distinct – and interesting – phases of pandemic panic shopping. It feels a little like we’re in a big sociology experiment to see how consumer shopping habits are changing as we all learn to navigate the strange new world in which we live – but it’s an interesting lesson on our society’s hierarchy of needs.

3 phase Shopping Spree_4.6.20


The focus of the first wave of shopping was marked by a run on stores to get the things we needed to keep germs at bay. The first products to fly off shelves: hand sanitizers, soaps, cleaning products, masks, gloves, canned goods and bottled water… as well as the unexpected contender: toilet paper. When that was gone, some people made the leap to installing bidet toilet seats in their bathrooms.

Beyond preparation to keep themselves safe from illness, people started making additional purchases to keep them safe from other people. It would seem that years of watching shows like The Walking Dead has instilled a healthy sense of mistrust in mankind - Security systems and gun sales increased.


Without the clear understanding of our new common enemy, people focused on trying to provision for something like a Zombie Apocalypse. Being home nearly full-time meant a need to plan for more food and supplies.

Phase two was all about preparation: We hunkered down with our stacks of cleaning supplies, food (plus quarantine snacks) and liquor – then set to work to get our homes situated with home school/ temporary work from home spaces and then tried to get mentally prepared to be at home for the immediate future.

Planning to be inside for a minimum of two weeks, people bought extra food, pantry staples, baking supplies and household products. With the beginning of Spring, some people were using the time at home to refresh flowerbeds and do yardwork or to organize & do some spring refresh projects. The change in pace may have even felt like a “working vacation” for some at first.


Then came the third phase: We’re all in this together – Like REALLY, really together.

Once people felt like they’d done their level best to protect their health & physical safety, it became clear that meeting emotional needs would be paramount for family welfare.

Keeping antsy kids busy during a quarantine could start to feel a little like being on an endless road trip across flat, featureless plains: No GPS, no ETA, and the repeated chorus of “MOMMMMMMuh!” Oh, did we mention that wine and alcohol sales were up, too?

With gyms and activity centers closed, people bought more home fitness items - yoga mats, resistance bands, weights and filtered water pitchers. We're binge watching TV like crazy - streaming services should be able to reports some solid earnings this quarter. Old pastimes re-emerged, people started rediscovering boardgames, card games, home crafts, stress baking, video games and buying a lot of, well … condoms.

Another notable increase during this phase was an increase in the amount of people making more of an effort to stay out of stores, when possible. Online sales and delivery services spiked, app downloads for retailers with buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup options also increased.

Connecting with others is a huge factor in our emotional well-being. So, during a time when we can’t be together physically, many people are looking for ways to connect and stay in touch with friends and family. Downloads of apps like Zoom, Skype, Hangouts and new apps, like HouseParty are off the charts.


Makeovers! Well, kind of. Walmart indicated that the latest run on product they’re seeing now has been hair color & trimmers. With salons closed it’s become a real make-do situation for people – so they’re looking to tackle the upkeep and maintenance of their haircuts, hair coloring or hair removal situations. We're all starting to look a little shaggy.

Word on the street is that due to some plant closures this week, we might start to encounter some pork shortages, so the next wave could be a run on bacon. There are those for whom a life without bacon would be chaos and darkness… FaceTime and check on these friends, it could be a tumultuous time.

Whatever the next pandemic shopping spree brings, remember to be calm, be kind and share your bacon. We WILL get through this.

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