Press release

4 May 2020 London, GB

New consumer categories emerge as COVID-19 fundamentally changes the way people shop and buy

42% of UK consumers believe the way they shop will fundamentally change, with 28% saying they will pay more for local products.

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Annabel Banks

EY UK&I Media Relations Manager

A highly experienced communications professional with cross-sector experience in media relations having worked with global brands spanning elite professional services firms to digital start-ups.

  • EY survey tracks consumer behaviour and sentiment to help companies navigate current crisis
  • 42% of UK consumers believe the way they shop will fundamentally change, with 28% saying they will pay more for local products
  • EY urges companies to anticipate consumer of tomorrow
  • Four consumer segments emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic

London, 4 MAY 2020: The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on retail and consumers has, and continues to be, the most significant event on the sector in living memory.

In a new report called EY Future Consumer Index, that tracks rapidly changing consumer behaviors, four distinct consumer behaviour segments have emerged since the beginning of the crisis: “Cut deep,” “Stay calm, carry on,” “Save and stockpile” and “Hibernate and spend”.

Consumers that fall into the “Cut deep” segment (26%) are spending less across all expense categories as the pandemic impacts employment; others representing the “Stay calm, carry on” category are continuing to spend as normal (26%). Most consumers (38%) represent the “Save and stockpile” segment, indicating that they feel pessimistic about the future, while consumers that fall into the “Hibernate and spend” segment (10%) are spending more across the board.

Locality, trust and ethics high on agenda for consumers

EY’s survey of almost 1,400 respondents* also finds that 42% of UK consumers believe that the way they shop will fundamentally change as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. When it comes to brands and products, 26% of respondents indicate that they would pay more for local products, 25% for trusted brands and 24% for ethical products. The study also shows that in future, 57% in UK are more likely to purchase from companies that are actively supporting the community. Nearly two-thirds (63%) are more likely to buy from companies that are taking measures to help fight the outbreak.

Julie Carlyle, EY UK&I head of retail, says: “The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way people live. It will not only have a lasting impact on how they shop, but what they buy and how they consume everything – from product, media to social experiences – will be different. Companies urgently need to anticipate what kind of consumer is emerging and what that means for their business, so they can make decisions that drive growth during and after the current crisis.”

Consumer behaviour trends emerge during current crisis

The four segments reflect how consumer behaviour can relate to age groups, family or employment status:

  • Cut deep: These consumers are mainly more than 45 years old and have seen the biggest impact on their employment status. Almost a quarter have seen their jobs suspended, either temporarily or permanently. 68% of them are shopping less frequently, while 57% are only buying essentials.
  • Stay calm, carry on: These consumers, of which 47% are aged 25-54, do not feel directly impacted by the pandemic and are not changing their spending habits. Only 10% have had their employment suspended or terminated due to COVID-19. 39% have seen grocery spend unchanged and less than half (48%) are focusing on essentials.
  • Save and stockpile: This segment, with half of respondents aged 34-54 and 18% of them having had work suspended or are unemployed due to COVID-19, shows particular concern for their families and the long-term outlook. More than half (55%) have changed the way they shop significantly and more than a third (35%) are pessimistic about how they will shop in the future.
  • Hibernate and spend: Primarily aged 18-44 with 15% having seen work suspended or terminated due to COVID-19, these consumers are most concerned about the impact of the pandemic. This segment is ordering more online (39%), 55% are spending more on alcoholic beverages, 64% are spending more on frozen food, and 53% on big ticket items. 63% say that product availability has become more important to them since the outbreak.

The survey shows that UK consumers currently have a pessimistic outlook, with almost two thirds (65%) of the UK expect a global recession post-crisis and over half (53%) believe that financial stability is years away.

Companies must adapt to stay ahead of changing behaviours

Silvia Rindone, Partner in Consumer Product & Retail at EY, comments: “When restrictions start to be eased, companies will need to adjust their business strategy and revisit their cost and operating model to deal with increasingly price sensitive and cautious consumers. Looking beyond the immediate effects of COVID-19, few consumers expect to revert back to pre-crisis behaviours any time soon. In these uncertain times, it’s impossible to say how long the transition will take or whether different consumer trends will emerge. We hope our new index gives a perspective on the changing consumer and help consumer-facing companies stay relevant and plan for the future.”

Five new segments may emerge as consumers move beyond the pandemic

EY predicts that the four segments identified could morph into five very different ones as the crisis abates. For example, the Index currently suggests that over time, most consumers in the “Save and stockpile” segment will migrate to two new segments: “Remain frugal” and “Cautiously extravagant.”

  • Keep cutting: Predominantly older population (60% are 45 years old or older). Currently, spending less than before the crisis, (71% purchase only essential items) and expect to cut more, particularly on discretionary items. They are spending slightly more on food, and health & personal care products.
  • Stay frugal: Majority (69%) are in the middle-income segment and are in the middle age category (67% are between 25-65 years old). Price has become more important for 42% and luxury has become less important for 58%.
  • Get to normal: 60% are 45 years or older and 45% are continuing with employment without interruption. 42% are not willing to pay a premium for anything, the highest among all segments.
  • Cautiously extravagant: 64% are in middle income segment. 64%-72% would more likely purchase goods from a company who cares for their staff, takes measure to fight the outbreak, and supports the community. This is higher than other segments.
  • Back with a bang: Predominantly younger (76% are below the age of 45) and in work with 63% employed full time. 50% are spending more on groceries, 56% are ordering more using food delivery services and 44% are purchasing more online – higher than all other segments.

Over the coming months, the EY Future Consumer Index will provide a regular perspective on which changes are likely to be temporary reactions to the COVID-19 crisis, and which point to more fundamental shifts. The latest global analysis is available at ey.com/futureconsumerindex1