COVID-19 Impact on Buying Behaviour

-Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers

The world faced a unique challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. China was the first country to face the mass spread of novel Coronavirus (Bennett, 2020) and promptly, the virus started spreading across the world.

On 11 March 2020, the coronavirus epidemic was declared a ‘pandemic’ by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020). In the absence of a vaccine to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus COVID-19, countries around the world were forced to take preventive measures in the form of imposing social distancing and declaring country-wide lockdowns (Kaplan et al., 2020).

This restricted cross border travel, suspended production, and the global supply chain came to a halt. Social distancing was a very challenging task in India as it is the second most populated country in the world. To protect the population of 1.3 billion from infection, the Prime Minister of India announced 21 days of nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020. The decision taken after 14 hours of voluntary public curfew on 22 March 2020, known as Janata (people) Curfew (The Economic Times, 2020).

The behavioural responses during epidemic outbreaks such as EBOLA, SARS, MERS, swine flu and dengue have been studied in the past (Balinska & Rizzo, 2009).

 

Such changes were noted during pandemics and outbreaks such as SARS because of motivated individuals and government policies (Wen et al., 2005). The areas affected by pandemics generally witness unemployment, uncertainties, and economic recession. Individuals take safety measures to reduce the perceived risk during pandemic situations due to ambiguity and unpredictability (Brug et al., 2009).

 

An increase in the purchase of food, face masks and sanitizers was reported during the outbreak of swine flu (Goodwin et al., 2009). During the first phase of coronavirus lockdown in India, citizens experienced unprecedented situations, leading to an unparalleled preference shift among consumers. Goods were classified into essential and non-essential goods; only essential goods were available to citizens, and there was no demand for lifestyle products (Enormous, 2020).

 

Another unique behaviour was noticed when people across the world expressed their emotions against China because of their belief that China had not undertaken adequate preventive measures to avert the pandemic from spreading around the globe. In addition, China was reopening its businesses while other regions of the world, including India, were forced to follow lockdown, which adversely affects the economy.

Moreover, Indians became apprehensive of losing their jobs due to the economic slowdown (Ganesh, 2020). A feeling of nationalism was observed across many countries globally. People started talking about the importance of being self-reliant and reducing dependency on China, which is considered the global manufacturing hub. Even before this pandemic, the world seems to have started shifting from globalization to localization (Oba, 2020). Global incidences such as Brexit have seen the rise of populism, accompanied by anti-foreigner sentiments in multiple European countries.

Earlier, this was seen more in China when corporate houses such as Amazon had to quit the Chinese market as the Chinese government always believed in China First policy; in the US also, the Trump administration policy of America First resulted in the rest of the world starting to look inward and strengthening their economy, giving rise to nationalism (Oba, 2020).

 

Changes in the choice of purchase destination, type of goods purchased and adoption of digital payment, especially in developing countries such as India, were observed during the nationwide lockdown (Enormous, 2020). Consequently, there is a need to understand the new consumer behaviour in terms of new theories, marketing strategies in the post-COVID-19 situation and factors influencing consumers while buying goods or services post lockdown. Since there is the uncertainty about when the world would be free from this contagious virus, the current study included both COVID-19 and post COVID-19 periods.

The study is an attempt to answer research questions based on three notable changes during the lockdown: first, economic activities came to a complete halt, indicating the adverse effect on the economy. Hence, there is a need to study what citizens feel about the economic situation and who they think should contribute to the revival of the economy. Second, considering the economic impact, would consumers continue their impulse buying or shift towards planned behaviour? Would consumers be more willing to buy country-of-origin products, displaying their ethnocentric behaviour? Third, has the stay-at-home mandate influenced how they think about the environment and sustainable living?

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