How are Customer Behaviours Impacted by Pandemics?

Consumption Behavior
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

How are Customer Behaviours Impacted by Pandemics?

We often encounter clues to contagious diseases in our daily lives commuters sneezing on the tram, co-workers blowing their noses at a meeting, or we read recent news headlines about the spread of disease. Pandemics can change our lives in many ways; research founds surprisingly that they also impact customers' product choices.

In recent years, U.S. consumers have become in favour of boutique, private-label foods over large national brands for unique and unexpected product experiences. However, this trend has been reversing during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study reveals that human's deep-seated emotional responses to infectious diseases contribute to the shift.

After analysing data from 2009 through 2014 from the CDC, Google Flu Trends, and Nielsen consumer panels, the study found that people bought more items when the incidence of influenza was high, and they preferred the products that were familiar. Moreover, if a household had historically gravitated toward a certain brand, that preference was more pronounced during that time.

The study believes that disgust of pandemics and fear of losing control make customers seek out their trusted and familiar products and brands. This change in customer behaviour is specific to communicable diseases and is also held for non-food products like headphones.

This finding has practical implications for marketers not just during the pandemic but beyond. For example, it could be better to promote a novel product in the warmer months when people are less likely to encounter contagious clues and are more open to new products. While for familiar products, the converse may be a better idea.

Source: Galoni, C., Carpenter, GS., Rao, H., Disgusted and Afraid: Consumer Choices under the Threat of Contagious Disease, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 47, Issue 3, October 2020, Pages 373392,


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Buying Behavior During Epidemic

It seems obvious that in a period of danger or at least perceived threat, like a contagious disease,... Sign up

Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Effect of Crisis on Smaller and New Brands

@Jaap de Jonge: You are right, Jaap. Unfortunately, this tendency, compounded with lockdown policies... Sign up


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