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Transformation of consumer buying behaviour – Utilitarian shopping vs Hedonic shopping

, April 29, 2022, 0 Comments

transformation-consumer-shopping-behaviour-marketexpress-inCovid 19 pandemic has changed our way of life unpredictably. Consumer buying behaviour towards necessities and non-necessities has been impacted differently by the two-year prolonged pandemic situation.

Spending patterns of an individual in both categories got influenced by the income uncertainties, personal traits, perceived economic stability and psychological status of the consumers. Anxiety, fear, lack of social gathering, short and long term full or partial lockdowns, closure of office spaces etc. severely impacted our way of shopping, what we buy, how frequently and where we buy. The influences of the Covid 19 pandemic on our consumption and purchase patterns are discussed here. For example, some products like cosmetics were hardly purchased by consumers in the last two years whereas OTT subscriptions had multifold incremental growth. The impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour was different in utilitarian shopping and hedonic buying.

Utilitarian vs Hedonic shopping

While buying utilitarian goods, the buyer acts as a rational decision-maker and wants to maximize utilities and tangible benefits. Convenience, variety and affordability are the primary motives in utilitarian shopping and researchers have described the utilitarian buying process as a logical problem-solving activity. Purchase of most of the necessary items comes under this category of shopping.  Hedonic shopping acts as an excitement arousal shopping experience, often occurring for high involvement products, mostly purchased on impulse.

Impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on utilitarian shopping

During the Covid period, consumer expenditure on the necessary items was increased especially in the categories of grocery items, wellness, hygiene products and pharmaceutical products. Expecting sudden lockdown panic buying of groceries, staples, household items, cleaning products and CPG items was observed at multiple periods over the last two years.  Higher expenditure on all the above categories has resulted in consumption-led growth in both urban and rural India. Consumers mostly preferred trusted brands to purchase those items, though local and private brands also found space in the consumer basket. Either very large or very small packages were sold in both online and physical stores. Since on-the-go consumption has declined due to restricted movement and safe shopping, e-commerce is embraced by people and the growth of the e-commerce industry has accelerated multifold in the past two years. Many retailers opted for Omni channel presence, changed store layouts, offered longer store operating hours and provided a safe hygienic store environment. At the same time, Kirana stores selling grocery items did good business due to their proximity to residential places. Packaging, especially hygiene packs, was valued by consumers and acted as a differentiator for many CPG goods. McKinsey has reported that there has been a decrease in the frequency of shopping, the density of shoppers and a decrease in customer satisfaction. Brand loyalty was at stake as many times customers were forced to try new products due to supply chain disruption.  

Hedonic shopping

Consumers responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways- the majority were anxious and reduced the purchase of hedonic goods. Some consumers took the crisis in a normal way and remained indifferent. Psychological orientation, perceived economic uncertainties and personal mental stability acted as negative influencers in the purchase of hedonic products.  Many of them restricted their purchases only to necessary items and frugal spending on hedonic products resulted in a decline in discretionary spending. Fashion products, apparel, and cosmetics which are normally bought as hedonic shopping products showed negative growth. Restrictions in social gatherings like weddings, cultural events, absence of physical workplaces and tours acted strongly as negative influencers for hedonic purchases. Due to lockdowns, and the closure of malls and stores, consumers who usually enjoy shopping and mostly engage in impulse buying refrained from buying hedonic non-necessity goods. Contrary, for a small segment of customers, the covid crisis even influenced the purchase of hedonic products in a positive manner. They spent more on hedonic shopping mainly on digital shopping platforms due to multiple reasons like defending boredom, restoring the sense of self and alleviating the state of anxiety and stress. 

A plethora of research and discussion is being conducted to analyse whether the emerging changes in consumer behaviour due to the Covid crisis are temporary or permanent. Research indicates that normally it takes about 66 days to form a new habit.  People adopt a new habit relatively quickly if that does not differ much from existing routine behaviour and the new experience is rewarded by incremental value. Consumer behaviour is a complex phenomenon and is shaped by people, places, culture and time. Due to multiple waves of the pandemic, consumers are exposed to newer influences and adapted to the new behavioural patterns for a prolonged period of 2 years. Further study is needed to anticipate and analyse whether the covid 19 induced behavioural changes are temporary or permanent.