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Understanding Customers During COVID

Updated: May 26, 2021

What’s the key to success for Canadian retailers in 2021? We’ve gathered insights from recent research to help you make informed business decisions.

2020 was a year like no other, so understanding current consumer confidence will be crucial in the coming year.

Here’s a round-up of highlights from three studies, along with links so you go to the source and drill down for additional detail:

1. 2021 Canadian Consumer Trends Guide

One of Canada's leading providers of installment payment plans for e-commerce and in-store purchases, PayBright, has released the results of its first-ever consumer trends survey. Conducted in October 2020, the report provides insights from across Canada and is extensively outlined in The 2021 Canadian Consumer Trends Guide: Reimagining Retail and E-tail Beyond the Pandemic.

Among the key findings:

  • “The pandemic has accelerated behaviours in both physical and digital channels … In-store, [Canadian customers will] be focusing on deals, and robust health and safety measures. Online they’ll be looking squarely at sales, full stock, and product variety.”

  • Canadians are most looking forward to travel, socializing, and serenity in a post-pandemic world. Here’s the breakdown: “spending time with family (56%); peace of mind (55%); and travelling (54%) topped the list for respondents. The report also found that nearly half of Canadians will likely invest in social activities (40%); mental health and well-being (38%); physical health (37%); financial preparedness and savings (34%); and home improvement (23%) this year.”

  • PayBright also asked Canadians about their 2021 budgets and how they were approaching making financial decisions. “While 49% anticipated no significant change to their planned 2021 budget, 36% predicted a decrease, and only 13% of an increase in their spending over the course of the year. From an age perspective, the most likely to experience a decrease in their 2021 budget are those in the 18-24 and 35-44 age ranges.”

  • “Regardless of the consistent changes COVID may bring, Canadians overwhelmingly indicated that their spending will be powered by incentives like deals and sales. For most, the number one point of persuasion when making a buying decision is a good price (in the form of offers and sales), with 73% of Canadians describing themselves as budget-conscious shoppers looking only for the best deals.”

In summary, PayBright writes, “If 2020 was a year of disruption and uncertainty for Canadians, this will certainly be the year of building safety, security, and long-term solutions.”

2. Canadian Consumer Sentiment During The Coronavirus Crisis

In a survey conducted in August, 2020, McKinsey & Company found that:

  • When deciding where to shop in-store, masks, barriers, and cleaning procedures are most important for Canadian consumers.

  • Canadians intend to continue some at-home habits adopted during the pandemic, such as online fitness, wellness and entertainment.

  • Canadians have adopted new digital and low-touch activities, such as curbside pickup and video chat.

  • Canadian consumers intend to continue contactless self-serve habits such as curbside pickup, self check-out, scan-and go payment, and “buy online, pickup at curb.”

3. US Consumer Sentiment During The Coronavirus Crisis

Published in December 2020, the American version of the McKinsey & Company’s consumer sentiment survey is slightly more recent than the Canadian survey. While there are distinct differences between shoppers in the two countries, some insights are likely still relevant to Canadian retail — including four fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour, “some of which will have a lasting impact:”

  • Up to 40% of consumers (net) say they will decrease spending on discretionary categories.

  • Consumer intent to spend online even post-COVID-19 is up by 40% (net).

  • 76% of consumers have changed stores, brands or the way they shop. “With continued pressure on household income, consumers continue to try new brands and channels, with convenience and better value being the primary drivers of the new behavior.”

  • A rise in the “homebody economy,” with 64% of US consumers not yet resuming “normal” out-of-home activities.

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