Advertising, Consumerism, Materialism, Marketing
Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff
Consumer behavior—or how people buy and use goods and services—is a rich field of psychological research, particularly for companies trying to sell products to as many potential customers as possible. Since what people buy—and why they buy it—impacts many different facets of their lives, research into consumer behavior ties together several key psychological issues. These include communication (How do different people respond to advertising and marketing?), identity (Do our purchases reveal our personality ?), social status, decision-making , and mental and physical health.
- Why Consumer Behavior Matters
- The Psychology of Buying and Spending
- How Advertising and Marketing Work
- How to Appeal to Consumers
Corporations, political campaigns, and nonprofit organizations all consult findings about consumer behavior to determine how best to market products, candidates, or issues. In some cases, they accomplish this by manipulating people's fears, their least-healthy habits, or their worst tendencies. And consumers themselves can be their own worst enemy, making rash purchasing decisions based on anxiety , faulty logic, or a fleeting desire for social status. But consumers aren’t powerless: Learning more about the different strategies companies employ, as well as the explanations for people's often confusing purchasing decisions, can help individuals more consciously decide what, why, and whether to buy.
In developed countries, people spend only a portion of their money on things they need to survive, and the rest on non-essentials. Purchasing decisions based on want, rather than need, aren’t always rational ; instead, they are influenced by personality , emotion , and trends. To keep up, marketers continuously investigate how individuals and groups make buying choices and respond to marketing techniques.
Political marketing is, in many ways, similar to product marketing: it plays on emotions and people’s desire for compelling stories , rather than pure rationality, and aims to condense complex issues into short, memorable soundbites. Smart politicians use marketing research to tailor their messages, connect with voters who share their values, and counter their opponents’ narrative.
Humans are social animals. We rely on a group to survive and are evolutionarily driven to follow the crowd . To learn what is “correct,” we look to other people—a heuristic known as the principle of social proof . Fads are born because a product’s popularity is assumed to signal value, which further bolsters its popularity.
Natural or man-made disasters can trigger panic buying or hoarding behaviors, either before the disaster or after it has passed, usually of products deemed necessary for survival. In the weeks and months after a disaster, some evidence suggests that “hedonic purchases”—such as alcohol or unhealthy foods —rise as victims of the disaster attempt to cope.
After large-scale recessions, such as the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, consumers typically become more frugal and sensitive to price. These changes become permanent for some consumers, especially for those who were particularly hard-hit; for others, behaviors revert back to baseline once the economy has stabilized and any personal financial challenges have been overcome.
It already has. Consumers are buying less , shifting more purchasing online, and spending less on travel and in-person events. Whether those changes will endure, though, is unclear. Some experts predict that most people will revert back to old habits post-COVID; a small few, it’s predicted, will become more frugal and less materialistic in the long term.
Much of what people purchase—like food, shelter, or medical care—is necessary for their health and security. But what compels someone to buy things that aren’t necessary, like the latest iPhone or an impractical pair of high-heeled shoes? The study of why people make such purchases—which are often irrational—is closely related to the field of behavioral economics , which examines why people deviate from the most rational choice available.
Behavioral economists, marketing professionals, and psychologists have concluded that extraneous purchases may be driven by a need to display one’s social status, or in response to an emotion like sadness or boredom . In other instances, retailers may successfully manipulate the desire for a “good deal” by making an unneeded item seem especially affordable or portraying it as being in limited supply.
Learning how to recognize common manipulation tactics may help individuals and families save money—and stress —in the long term.
Many human behaviors are driven by reward. Purchasing a new gadget or item of clothing triggers a surge of dopamine , which creates pleasurable feelings. Though the glow of a new purchase may not last long, the desire to once again be rewarded with a burst of dopamine drives us to buy more .
It depends. Some research suggests that experiential purchases like vacations bring more happiness than material goods, in both the short- and long-term . However, this rule may not apply universally. For lower-income people, spending on material goods that meet basic needs is often more conducive to happiness, especially if the items remain useful over time.
Consumers are often irrational. Instead of only buying things they need, they also buy unnecessary items—often because the purchase makes them feel good, soothes negative emotions, or boosts social status. A consumer may also buy something that has been framed by a marketer as especially attractive; “buy one get one free” offers, for instance, are hard to resist and encourage people to buy things they don’t need.
Certain buying impulses can ultimately be harmful , but they often serve a psychological purpose. Purchasing unhealthy foods or excessive alcohol, for instance, can temporarily offer comfort from painful emotions; buying a new pair of designer jeans might break the bank, but can also help the purchaser prominently display their social status.
Dissonant buying impulses—or purchases that conflict with one’s resources, needs, and goals —can be difficult to manage, especially when they’re driven by negative emotions. Learning emotional regulation skills —such as naming any negative feelings, redirecting attention to productive activities, or practicing mindfulness —or creating physical “barriers” (such as freezing credit cards so they can’t be used impulsively) can help.
Anxiety is known to spur impulsive purchases —in part because buying things offers a sense of control and can be used to self-soothe. Anxiety can also lead someone to prioritize products that promote safety or a sense of security—such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or canned goods.
In a word, panic. Anxiety and fear make the world appear frightening and senseless; stocking up on certain items like toilet paper is one way to restore a feeling of control. Panic buying is also driven in part by herd mentality; if people see that others are hoarding hand sanitizer, they assume they should too.
Impulse buying may be motivated by negative emotions, as purchasing something often temporarily boosts mood. It may also be driven by personality—the naturally more impulsive or less conscientious may be driven to more frequently purchase items on a whim. Marketing strategies, like advertising products as “limited time offers,” can increase the tendency to impulse buy.
Two vast, interrelated industries—advertising and marketing—are dedicated to introducing people to products and convincing them to make purchases.
Since the public’s desires tend to change over time, however, what works in one product’s campaign won’t necessarily work in another’s. To adapt messages for a fickle audience, advertisers employ focus groups, market research, and psychological studies to better understand what compels people to commit to purchases or become loyal to brands.
Everyone has heard the advertising maxim “sex sells,” for instance—but exactly what, when, and why sex can be used to successfully market a product is the subject of much debate among ad makers and behavioral researchers. Recently, some evidence has suggested that pitches to the perceived “lowest common denominator” may actually inspire consumer backlash.
Marketers regularly use psychology to convince consumers to buy. Some common strategies include classical conditioning —training consumers to associate a product with certain cues through repeated exposure—creating a scarcity mindset (suggesting that a product only exists in limited quantities), or employing the principle of social proof to imply that everyone is buying a product—so you should, too.
Marketers often exploit cognitive shortcuts , known as heuristics, to convince consumers to make purchases. One example of this is the anchoring bias , or the brain’s tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information it learns. A savvy marketer may say, for instance, that a car costs $20,000, then quickly offer to take $1,000 off. Since the consumer “anchored” on to the initial $20,000 price tag, a $1,000 discount seems substantial and the consumer may leap at the offer. But if the car was truly worth $15,000, it would still be overpriced, even with the supposed discount factored in.
Renowned marketing researcher Robert Cialdini found that advertisements are perceived very differently depending on consumers’ state of mind. Fearful consumers, for instance, are more likely to respond negatively to ads that promote standing out from the crowd. However, consumers in a positive state of mind respond well to ads encouraging uniqueness; thus, timing and context are often critical to an ad’s success.
Limited time offers trigger a sense of urgency and force consumers to make quick decisions. A product only being available “for a limited time” (either at all or at a lower price) creates a sense of scarcity. Scarcity—whether real or manufactured—increases a product’s perceived value, heightening the chance of an impulsive purchase.
Because the majority of humans desire and seek out sex, sexual stimuli naturally capture attention; thus, marketers often make use of attractive models or erotic imagery simply to make consumers take notice. Being “primed” with erotic content can change behavior, too; research has found that sexual priming can lead consumers to make riskier financial choices.
The effectiveness of sex in advertising likely depends on several factors, including gender and context. Women appear to respond more negatively to sexual ads than men, research finds. When the product is unrelated to sex, using erotic imagery in ads can trigger dissonance and trigger negative feelings about the brand.
In a crowded marketplace, anyone hoping to sell a product or service will need to stand out. To succeed at this, marketers often turn to psychological research to identify and target their most likely consumers, grab their attention, and convince them that a product will fill a specific need or otherwise better their life. Aiming to inform and persuade consumers—rather than manipulate them—is widely considered to be the most ethical approach, and is likely to help build brand loyalty more than cheap marketing tricks.
Both the message and the messenger matter for persuasion . Marketing researcher Robert Cialdini has found that first impressions matter greatly—a company (or individual) that appears trustworthy and warm is more likely to gain their audience’s trust. Cialdini also coined the term “pre-suasion” to argue that marketers must grab consumers’ attention before making an appeal—by offering free samples, for instance, or couching a product pitch in an amusing commercial.
Turning to psychology can help. Appealing to consumers’ emotions and desire for connection with others are often powerful marketing strategies, as long as they’re not interpreted by consumers as manipulative. Introducing novelty, too, can be effective—research shows that consumers respond to surprising ads, humorous ads, or even “experiential” ads (such as parties or events designed to promote a product). Repeating an ad enough times so that a consumer remembers it—but not so much that they become frustrated—is also a critical part of any effective ad campaign.
Humans are creatures of habit and slow to adapt to change. To spread a new message or idea, advertisers have learned that simplicity is key; overcomplicated appeals can be frustrating or confusing for consumers. Summarizing the benefits of a new product, service, or political campaign in pithy, memorable phrases or images—and then repeating the message as often as possible—is more likely to grab consumers' attention and convince them to take a chance on a new object or idea.
Customers trust businesses that are honest with them, sharing accurate information about everything from the benefits of using their products to how they run their business. Other guidelines for ethical marketing include clearly distinguishing ads from other types of content (news, entertainment, etc.), prioritizing the interests of children or other vulnerable groups (by not marketing unhealthy products to children, for example), avoiding negative stereotypes, and respecting consumers’ intelligence and privacy.
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What drives people to panic buy during times of crisis: A new study sheds light on the psychology of consumers
Professor and Associate Dean of Engagement & Inclusion, Ted Rogers School of Management, Toronto Metropolitan University
Lecturer in the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management, Toronto Metropolitan University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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Fear can cause people to behave irrationally in times of uncertainty. During the pandemic, this took the form of panic buying as people flocked to stores to stock up on essential goods. Some even sought to profit off of shortages by price gouging toilet paper and hand sanitizer .
This phenomenon wasn’t just limited to a few countries or communities, either; it was a global occurrence that emptied supermarket shelves and caused significant disruptions in supply chains.
But what drives people to behave in such ways during times of crisis? Is it a basic survival instinct, a herd mentality influenced by social pressures or something more complex?
During the onset of the pandemic, we conducted a study aimed at understanding the complex web of factors that compel us to act or overreact in the face of uncertainty.
Psychological traits of consumers
We examined the following factors in our study: narcissism, psychological entitlement, status consumption, fear of embarrassment, and fear of missing out. Narcissism is a trait characterized by a heightened sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy for others.
Psychological entitlement refers to the belief that one is inherently deserving of special treatment or privileges. Status consumption is the tendency to purchase items that confer social prestige or dominance.
Fear of embarrassment is anxiety about being negatively judged by others. Fear of missing out is the worry over missing out on rewarding experiences that others are taking part in.
Unique types of consumers
Our study identified four distinct consumer groups, each with unique psychological traits that drove their purchasing habits.
1. Egalitarians. Egalitarians displayed low levels of narcissism and psychological entitlement compared to the other groups. They tend to have a more community-oriented and balanced approach to life. They likely have a strong belief in communal responsibility and fairness. Egalitarians are the type of individuals who volunteer at local food banks or participate in community clean-up events.
In terms of purchasing, egalitarians did not hoard as much as other groups. While others might hoard hand sanitizers, for example, an egalitarian might buy just one or two bottles and leave the rest for others in the community.
2. Conformists. Conformists are influenced by a moderate fear of missing out and a high fear of embarrassment. Conformists are the type of people who follow dress codes and rarely question authority.
When it comes to purchasing, conformists prioritized items that aligned with public health guidelines, like disposable masks. They are usually the first to buy masks in bulk when a new public health advisory is released.
3. Communal egoists. Communal egoists display moderate levels of narcissism and psychological entitlement. For example, this kind of person might organize a community event, but will insist on being the centre of attention during the event.
This group is particularly interested in food-related items like bottled water and snacks. A communal egoist might stock up on these products, not only for themselves, but with the intention of sharing with their neighbours in an effort to stand out.
4. Agentic egoists. Agentic egoists are characterized by high levels of narcissism and psychological entitlement. For example, an agentic egoist might cut in line because they believe their time is more valuable than others.
In terms of purchasing, agentic egoists are willing to spend more on items that directly benefit them. For instance, they might buy the last three bottles of an expensive, brand-name cough syrup, without considering that others might need it, too.
What this means for consumers
A significant lesson we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent global turmoil, is the importance of being ready for the unexpected.
If you’ve ever found yourself filling your shopping cart to the brim in a moment of panic, you’re not alone. But understanding who we are, why we make certain decisions and how we can be more considerate is the first step toward making better consumer choices.
Are you an egalitarian, thinking of the community while only buying what you need? Or perhaps you identify as a conformist, sticking strictly to items advised by health authorities? Recognizing these traits in ourselves can be a wake-up call, encouraging us to shop more responsibly, especially in times of fear and panic.
What this means for retailers
Understanding the traits of different customer groups isn’t just about boosting profits. It’s a way to guide businesses in serving communities ethically and effectively, especially in times of crisis.
For example, if most of your customers tend to follow the crowd (conformists), consider offering reliable public health information in your stores. If your clientele leans towards fairness (egalitarians), make fair distribution of essential items a core part of your community support strategy.
If you cater to individuals who focus on their self-interest (agentic egoists), think about the long-term impact of promoting high consumption and how to encourage responsible buying. If a large portion of your customers are community-focused (communal egoists), think about setting up ongoing community-sharing programs or donation drives.
As we reflect on the challenges we’ve faced, retailers have an opportunity to plan for a future where their actions benefit not only their business, but society as a whole. Enhancing our self-awareness enables us to handle chaotic circumstances more gracefully and make decisions that are advantageous for everyone in our vicinity.
- Consumer behaviour
- Behavioural psychology
- Panic buying
Director, Cool Soils
Clinical Research Officer
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous
RMIT Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellowships
COVID-19: New habits are here to stay for retail consumers
- New global consumer research shows that the home continues to be the focus for living, working and shopping (despite restrictions lifting).
- Consumers’ personal situations are influencing attitudes and behavior, including levels of comfort venturing out.
- Consumers are shopping mindfully and cost-consciously, with demand for local, sustainable and value brands rising.
- The recent surge in digital and omnichannel adoption, particularly among new or infrequent users, looks set to continue.
Retail consumer behavior has changed
Consumer habits have changed—and these changes are here to stay. With the lives of consumers upended by COVID-19 and long-term trends accelerated in the space of mere weeks, there have been substantial and lasting changes in the way people live, work and shop.
Our new consumer research, which we have been conducting every two weeks since March 2020, indicates that habits formed during the crisis will endure well beyond it, permanently changing values, attitudes and behavior.
As retail and leisure facilities reopen, we explore how consumers are individually reshaping their lives for this new reality—and the implications for retailers.
What’s really driving retail purchasing today?
Retail consumers take stock of personal concerns.
Health, safety and finances continue to impact consumers’ attitudes and behavior. In the last three months, personal health and the health of friends and family have remained top priorities for consumers, while fears over finances have grown. Fifty percent of consumers now rank financial security as one of their top three concerns—a rise of 36% since March 2020.
Fifty percent of consumers rank financial security as one of their top three priorities—a rise of more than one third in the last three months.
These concerns are clearly playing out in consumers’ lives. Even as retailers open their doors to consumers, retail footfall remains below pre-pandemic levels in most countries across the world and consumer confidence is low, although there are hopeful signs of an uplift in the next six months.
Retail consumers focus on the home for work and play
Consumers are still choosing to stay at home. Despite lockdowns easing, and many businesses reopening, the home continues to be the hub of all activities.
Socializing at home or someone else’s home is still the preferred option for 36% of consumers, while connecting virtually with friends remains a high priority for 33% of consumers and is a trend that’s consistent across all age groups.
of consumers favor socializing at home in the next six months (ranked in top three)
of consumers favor connecting virtually with friends in the next six months (ranked in the top three)
The initial rise in home cooking and baking, as well as home improvement and DIY activities, which was evident in our earlier research, are remaining popular pastimes for consumers.
And the once mandatory working from home has been embraced by many and continues to be popular—86% of consumers plan to continue or increase working at home—despite many offices reopening.
Retail consumers shop locally, mindfully—and digitally
What consumers are buying and how they are shopping has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and these new habits are continuing. In many cases, consumers have used this life pause to reflect on their own consumption. They are striving to shop locally, mindfully and cost-consciously.
Fifty-six percent of consumers are shopping in neighborhood stores or buying more locally sourced products, with 79% and 84% respectively planning to continue with this behavior into the longer term. Reasons for this vary from actively supporting local stores or national products, or as quest for authentic and artisan products.
Similarly, consumers are limiting food waste and making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases , with the vast majority likely to continue with these behaviors.
of consumers are limiting food waste with 90% likely to continue post-crisis
of consumers are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases with 89% likely to continue post-crisis
The dramatic rise in the adoption of ecommerce and omnichannel services, which has been evident since the start of our research, sees no sign of abating. The latest data suggests there will be a huge increase of 169% in ecommerce purchases from new or low frequency users, post-outbreak. And the vast majority of consumers who have increased their use of digital and omnichannel services , such as home delivery, curb-side pickup or shopping via social media platforms expect to sustain these activities into the future.
Source: Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Pulse Research, conducted 2nd-8th June 2020. Excludes those who do not use services.
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Retailers to rebuild with responsibility and resilience
The retail industry has suffered challenges in its past, but none like the current pandemic. Long term trends have accelerated, and retail consumers have permanently changed what they buy and how they shop.
Retailers have responded in record time with new products and services, new ways of working , and some impressive displays of innovation. Responsibility to employees and consumers has never been more important, and our research shows that consumers have high expectations of medium and large businesses to act responsibly, supporting employees and addressing major social and environmental issues.
Sixty-seven percent of consumers agree or significantly agree that companies will ‘build back better’ by investing in longer-term, sustainable and fair solutions.
To build consumer confidence, retailers need to understand their new consumes by leveraging data-driven insights and focusing on initiatives that will have the greatest impact, such as visible safety measures in stores and relevant training for store associates on how to best approach consumers and manage new situations.
Reimagine the retail workforce
Home will be the new battleground. With life, work and shopping continuing to focus around the home, retailers need to design services and experiences to meet new consumer needs, as well as increase investments in digital, and maximize the potential of their store network by reconsidering formats and locations.
Retail businesses have a unique opportunity to reset and rebuild for the longer term . How they help consumers navigate the pandemic will influence their future success.
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Consumer Behavior Trends: Spending Habits in 2022
Soaring gas prices, record-breaking rental rates, and surging food costs are just a few of today’s economic challenges taking their toll on consumers. And more financially conscientious customers mean brands have to do more to earn their business.
To get a better understanding of how the economy is impacting their spending habits, we connected with more than 11,000 consumers in the U.S. Our research uncovered top consumer behavior trends —including where consumers are planning to cut back, what factors are informing their purchase decisions, and how industries can best prepare to meet customers’ evolved needs .
Most consumers have concerns about their future financial situations
Disruptions in the supply chain and other global events continue to impact the consumer price index (CPI)—causing the cost of everyday items to surge. Today, the CPI is the highest it’s been since 1981.
And while we’re seeing an increase in wages across the country—after years of remaining flat—inflation is negating much of those gains. In fact, when adjusting to the cost of living, wages were actually down 1.3% in the last month.
With these economic challenges, more than half of our panelists believe their finances will take a hit over the next year. While this varies slightly across industries, 1 in 3 retail consumers are predicting a turn for the worse—resulting in a shift in priorities that will put more of an emphasis on essentials, like groceries, and less on non-essential retail spending.
Demographic factors also have an impact on consumers’ perceptions of their financial future. Our research shows retired, more affluent (an income of $75k or more), or part-time employed consumers are the most worried about how the future will impact their finances.
Improve the retail experience with these essential steps
Consumers are planning to spend less at restaurants and non-essential retailers
To adjust to changes in their personal finances, many consumers plan to eat at restaurants less and do less shopping at non-essential retailers. In fact, nearly half said they’ve already done less shopping at non-essential retailers in the past year.
Additionally, businesses in the entertainment and travel industries could also feel an impact, with more than 30% of consumers saying they will spend less in these areas as well.
On the other hand, almost 1 in 3 panelists say they will increase spending on groceries. This is likely due to two factors: 1) If consumers are ordering food from restaurants less, they’ll be cooking at home more and 2) Consumers are likely considering inflation’s impact on rising food costs.
When we look at which consumers are scaling back costs, consumers with lower household incomes ($55k or less) are most likely to cut back on spending at restaurants and non-essential retailers.
Though consumer behavior trends are showing fewer customers ordering food from restaurants and not shopping as much, it’s important for brands to continue prioritizing their digital efforts. Convenience options that gained popularity during the pandemic—such as third-party delivery , curbside pick-up, online shopping, and contactless in-store visits—are likely to stick around for good.
Brands should take the time to assess their third-party delivery strategies and provide options that satisfy customers’ craving for convenience —taking the necessary precautions to safeguard against potential pitfalls and not lose control of the customer experience.
Consumers are prioritizing their savings—but also travel plans
With financial concerns on the rise, it’s not a big surprise many consumers are choosing to prioritize their savings over the next year to build up a nest egg should things get really rough. But with the combination of waning pandemic-related restrictions and restless people tired of being at home, taking a vacation is also a priority for some consumers.
We previously mentioned the travel industry is one area where many consumers are planning to spend less. But our research also shows almost 1 in 4 are planning to spend more on travel in the next 12 months.
Knowing this consumer behavior trend , retail and service brands could focus promotional campaigns on products conducive to vacation preparations. Reward loyalty program members with a free pair of sunglasses with their next in-app purchase. Throw in a free car wash with their next oil change. Run a BOGO promotion on luggage. Anything to show your customers you value their business. Speaking of value…
Across all industries, consumers have lower Value satisfaction
With a heightened focus on personal finances comes a more discerning look at value—even the most laid-back consumer can probably say which gas station in town has the cheapest gas right now. Today’s consumers are expecting more bang for their buck, and brands across industries need to give their value offering a hard look.
Unfortunately, Overall Value among retail concepts had declined by 2-ppts over the last 6 months (when compared to the previous 6 months). We’re also seeing a rise in visit share with brands like Dollar General and Walmart—which historically lines up with times of economic hardship when value is top of mind for consumers.
The important thing to remember here though is higher value doesn’t always mean less expensive. Though nearly half of retail consumers list Promotions or Deals as a top factor in choosing a brand, 64% stated Quality of Products as most important.
Additionally, for grocery and service consumers, a previous positive experience is also a big factor. Which mean brands offering a differentiated experience —with high-quality products and exceptional customer service—will win customer loyalty in the midst of these economic challenges.
Stay on top of consumer behavior trends with a sound customer experience strategy
The unprecedented ups and downs of the past two years have made it difficult to prepare or predict what’s coming next. But we do know the most effective way to weather the storm is to leverage the direct feedback of employees and customers. Brands that can adapt their customer experience management strategies to meet changing needs and expectations will be the ones to come out on top .
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Effect of negative emotions in consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic: A study from Peru
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Supervision, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
Affiliation ESAN Graduate School of Business, Universidad ESAN, Lima, Peru
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
Affiliation Facultad de Economía y Empresa, Universidad Católica de Santiago de Guayaquil, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
Affiliation Universidad Espíritu Santo, Samborondón, Ecuador
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
* E-mail: [email protected]
Affiliation Facultad de Ciencias Sociales y Humanísticas, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, ESPOL, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
Affiliation Ana G. Mendez University, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing
Affiliation Instituto Tecnológico de Puerto Rico, Manatí, Puerto Rico
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- Published: November 3, 2023
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The research examines the negative consumer emotions generated by the perception of social networks or traditional media with consumer behavior during the covid_19 pandemic. The study was developed in Peru with a sample of 220 consumers; the design is quantitative and structural equations were used for data processing. The results indicate that social networks and traditional media are not related to negative emotions, but are related to the change in consumer behavior in the purchase of more products and new products. The research has theoretical implications since it provides evidence to the literature that the negative emotions generated during the covid_19 pandemic are related to changes in consumer behavior, which affect the purchase of more products and new products. The practical implications of the research is for businessmen on the causes of changes in consumer behavior generated during crises. like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citation: Regalado-Pezúa O, Carvache-Franco O, Carvache-Franco M, Carvache-Franco W, Ortiz-Soto M, Larregui-Candelaria G (2023) Effect of negative emotions in consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic: A study from Peru. PLoS ONE 18(11): e0293932. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0293932
Editor: Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, University of Haifa, ISRAEL
Received: June 1, 2023; Accepted: October 21, 2023; Published: November 3, 2023
Copyright: © 2023 Regalado-Pezúa et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Data Availability: The data will be published with the manuscript.
Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
The context of the covid_19 pandemic generated negative emotions such as unhappiness, sadness, shame, fear and anger that have developed influenced by social and traditional media. In crisis conditions such as during pandemics, consumers adopt changes in their behavior to protect themselves from crises and negative emotions such as fear, anger, anguish and anxiety arise.+
Consumers receive information from family and friends about covid_19 through different communication channels, such as social networks and traditional media. This information generates negative emotions, which drive consumers to change their purchasing behavior in different categories.
Panic buying due to the pandemic has increased the demand for products in several nations and economies during the covid_19 pandemic [ 1 ], and its effects have been studied from various dimensions: such as the effect of fear and dread [ 1 ] environmental stimuli such as reflective thinking [ 2 ], uncertainty, severity and scarcity [ 3 ], threat of crisis and scarcity, fear of the unknown and social psychological factors [ 4 ].
Negative emotions such as fear, restlessness and uncertainty created panic buying during the covid_19 pandemic, which are purchases of larger quantities of products and new products. There is a gap in the literature on whether the negative emotions generated in consumers by social networks or traditional media affect or modify the purchasing behavior of new products and products in greater quantity during the pandemic.
The objective of the research is to find out if these negative emotions generated during the pandemic are related to changes in consumer behavior that produce changes in the purchase of products in quantity and new products. This research is carried out in Peru, an emerging economy, to contribute to the literature gap since studies in this type of countries are scarce in developing countries since consumers can adopt different behaviors from consumers in developed countries.
2. Literature review
People tend to feel nervous and insecure when experiencing especially environmental changes [ 5 ]. In the case of infectious disease outbreaks, when the causes of disease progression and outcomes are uncertain, they give room for rumor spreading and closed-minded attitudes [ 6 ]. These responses lead to fear and uncertainty, bringing negative social feelings and behaviors as consequences [ 7 ]. Fear, anxiety, or perceived scarcity may prompt panic buying or hoarding as mitigation mechanisms for perceived risk and negative emotions aroused by the prevailing situation [ 8 , 9 ].
Negative feelings can alter consumer behavior as consumption is a habit, and social context can disrupt consumer habits [ 9 ]. Likewise, sociologists and psychologists have researched and documented that life transition periods are critical phases in a person’s life and are associated with significant behavioral changes [ 10 , 11 ].
Recent significant developments and trends [ 12 ] argue that the consumer landscape operates, in the new times, in a rapidly changing environment and can be described as turbulent and disruptive. Likewise, in these scenarios, significant events are taking place that alter how consumers behave. It is surprising to realize how much the consumer landscape can change from the routine. Stressful events result in the initiation, intensification, or changes in consumption habits to manage the stress caused by social change [ 13 ].
One of the changes that can be observed is panic buying, which occurs when consumers purchase vast quantities of products in anticipation of, during, or after a disaster or in anticipation of an increase or decrease in the prices of needed products [ 4 ]. Panic alludes to intense collective fear and connotes primitive, disorderly, and even violent actions in a catastrophe [ 14 ].
Panic buying is a socially undesirable behavior in which large quantities of necessities and medical supplies are purchased in markets, often giving rise to situations of shortages [ 15 ]. Panic buying by consumers has the potential to exaggerate the consequences of supply disruption [ 16 ]. They increase consumer anxiety about supply shortages and worsen panic buying [ 17 ]. Sheu & Kuo [ 18 ] pointed out that panic buying, or other behaviors, is more about mass behaviors than mixing rational aspects with irrational and emotional ones.
Regarding stockpiling more than current consumption needs, Sheth [ 9 ] noted that consumers have two motives for stockpiling items: (i) as stock to protect against stock-outs given uncertainty about future usage needs, and (ii) for economic reasons, i.e., the convenience of stocking up on storable goods when a supply becomes available, i.e., when retailers offer goods at a relatively low price.
The covid_19 pandemic increased depression in people, and in this state receiving negative messages from news or advertisements caused a greater negative impact on people, causing them greater anxiety and panic or fear, which alters their consumption behavior [ 19 ]. The main changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic were: abnormal purchasing behavior, changes in product preferences, greater use of technology and digital media to make purchases [ 20 ]. Various intentions of consumption behaviors have emerged with covid_19 influenced by fear and hope, such as behavior focused on health, conscious consumption and support for local products, this mainly due to the vulnerability they perceived, which is why they acted with actions of protection. protection [ 21 ]. Covid_19 caused an impact on the change in the lifestyle and purchasing behavior of consumers influenced by the socioeconomic environment of consumers and has been proven to have a greater impact on consumers from less organized sectors, which caused an increase in substitute products for daily activities [ 22 ]. Consumer purchasing behavior mainly impacts sustainable products. During the pandemic, there was greater awareness, concern and environmental habits, so consumers were predisposed to pay more for sustainable products, but the change is affected by the demographic variables such as gender, age, income level and education [ 23 ].
The theory of panic-created behavior by Schultz [ 24 ], was compared with other theories put forward by colleagues/experts of the time [ 25 ]. Scholars have widely mentioned and studied this behavior in the wake of the covid_19 pandemic [ 26 – 29 ]. Addo et al. [ 30 ] further noted that panic buying is expected to lead to price changes in times of crisis, such as the current one caused by covid_19.
Furthermore, it is imperative to understand the impact and course of the pandemic caused by covid_19 on panic buying [ 30 ]. There are psychological and economic explanations for this stockpiling behavior in a crisis. A common psychological explanation is that accumulating storable goods gives consumers a sense of control over the risky situation created by a crisis [ 31 ].
Panic buying represents a relatively unexplored area in consumer behavior research, where purchase decisions are affected by emotions, such as fear of the unknown, anxiety, and social influences [ 32 , 33 ]. During the covid_19 pandemic, panic and fear due to the excessive increase in prices of various products and the fear of greater shortages caused social influence to change consumer behavior to increase their purchases of some products [ 34 ].
Cohen [ 35 ] substantiates the theory of moral panic based on the reaction of a group of people to a perception that creates fear. A moral panic occurs when a condition, episode, person, or group of people emerges to be defined as a threat to social values and interests [ 31 ]. In extreme cases, moral panic creates mass hysteria within society, and the general public begins to believe that everything reported is happening everywhere [ 31 ].
Cohen [ 10 ] established five stages of moral panic: (1) something or someone is defined as a threat to values or interests, (2) this threat is represented in an easily recognizable form by the media, (3) there is a rapid build-up of public concern, (4) there is a response from authorities or opinion makers, and finally (5) the panic recedes or results in social change.
2.1. Effect of culture on consumer purchasing behavior
According to Sanz Blas et al. [ 36 ], there are factors involved in adopting online shopping innovation; one of them is culture, as it represents a set of shared values that can influence consumer perceptions, attitudes, preferences, and responses. Consumers can be affected by high or low-context cultures and collectivist or individualistic cultures [ 37 ].
The Latin American consumer differs in many ways from consumers in other parts of the world. One of the characteristics is the attachment or bond they have with the things or objects they acquire; this is because they are conservative, and it is difficult for them to get rid of an object even if it has gone out of fashion or is obsolete. They consider their belongings extensions of themselves, and affective bonds are generated towards what they acquire [ 38 ].
The main concern of Latin American consumers is economic uncertainty. Over and above the covid_19 health crisis, many consumer attitudes have changed, and five behavioral changes have been observed: the first is Mindful Consumption, which refers to the consumer being more attentive to the value of the products they consume; the second is Always Mobile which refers to the new consumer making more purchases on digital platforms; the third is Eco Doing, which is based on the concern for environmental and social sustainability; and the fourth is Responsumers, which reflects that people are more demanding with brands, companies, institutions, the fifth is Wellbeing Reloaded, which refers to new habits of integral wellbeing, such as concern for the food’s origin [ 39 ].
2.2. Consumer behavior of Peruvian shoppers
Bardales and Herrera [ 40 ] considered that the Peruvian consumer had become a net prosumer, he identifies with brands, but now he wants brands to identify with him. It can even destroy a brand, as it did with the case of Domino’s Pizza ® , except love brands unfaithful by knowledge and increasingly more rational when choosing offers and comparing with the information they have at hand. Peruvian consumers are more demanding when buying and have more power than before, especially in social networks. They have the information and a more remarkable ability to demand and therefore believe that a future trend will be the increase of this demand.
According to Alvarez [ 41 ], confinement and social distancing interrupted interpersonal relationships and missed family and friends meetings. Outdoor activities are increasingly revalued; returning to shopping malls and restaurants with the confidence and security of the case would be highly appreciated. Most Peruvians state that a vaccine passport should be required to enter them, even in large spaces such as stadiums or in small ones such as stores and offices.
Navarro [ 42 ] points out that during the crisis, many consumers changed several of their habits: trying new brands/products instead of the ones they used to buy, and these changes may make them try other products, evaluate the price and performance to probably consider them in the future within their usual shopping list. What will be then their new shopping habits in the future?
2.3. Communication channels (traditional social networks) and their influence on Peruvian consumers’ purchasing behavior
For Okazaki et al. [ 43 ], the emergence of social networks has significantly impacted how companies promote their products and services and consumers’ decision-making process regarding their purchases—using the application and extension of the proposed models. Consumer behavior during the covid_19 pandemic was affected by various environmental stimuli, such as social networks that, together with other stimuli such as the economic recession, partial lockdown regulations and restrictions on some services, influenced a change in behavior in the purchase of consumer goods, less impulsive and more planned companies, less frequent purchases [ 44 ].
According to Pfeiffer & Zinnbauer [ 45 ], recipients also have communication channel preferences. It is difficult for advertisers to measure the effectiveness and results of marketing campaigns, especially when using traditional communication channels in the service sector, because it creates a challenge for the marketing decision-maker to allocate the marketing budget most efficiently.
2.4. Effect of the covid_19 pandemic crisis on the Peruvian consumer’s purchase behavior (new products, quantity of products)
Nielsen [ 46 ] explained that consumer habits in Latin America were mainly marked by socioeconomic factors affected by rising unemployment and change in the economy. They identified five predictive factors in the purchase process: readjustment of the basket, increased purchase of digital formats, increased consumption at home, more empathetic brands, and search for reactivation. Similarly, [ 47 ] noted that, concerning consumption habits, the arrival of covid_19 brought changes in purchasing behavior, including a 29% increase in spending on food, 15% on dairy products, and 12% on home care items. The most consumed food is flour.
The behavior of Peruvian consumers during covid_2019 was different, since they tried to avoid waste, when making purchases they were oriented on cost-benefits, carrying out prior purchasing planning with knowledge of the labels and storage of products, they also considered their own culinary skills for these products [ 48 ]. The covid_19 pandemic shows the resilience to everyday consumption rooted in the family to the extent that new rules and norms were imposed in society, so new consumption habits were acquired by consumers [ 49 ].
According to Kantar [ 39 ] on household consumption habits, the most critical finding was the comparison of purchased tickets in comparison of the years 2019, 2020, and 2021. The first comparison of the first quarter between the years 2019 and 2021 showed a positive transformation; however, in the same comparison of tickets for the same period (1st quarter) of the years 2020 and 2021, the growth was higher (25%) even achieved before the pandemic.
In a previous study in the Peruvian market during the covid_19 pandemic, it was found that there was a change in consumer purchasing behavior influenced by social factors, that is, by external influences on society, and by psychological factors in the population, while no incidence was found. of cultural factors and personal factors in purchasing behavior [ 50 ]. In other Latin American countries, it has been found that the covid_19 pandemic had an impact on the flow of sustainable consumption, the consumer purchases with greater environmental awareness and social responsibility [ 51 ].
2.5 Study hypothesis
Because consumers’ prolonged exposure to adverse reports on social media during crises can impact fears and negative emotions such as fear and panic [ 52 ], social media can alter consumers’ emotions, as risky situations are perceived during crises [ 53 ], the following hypothesis is proposed.
H1 = Social media positively affects negative emotions.
Traditional media during crises contribute to fear and panic and produce emotions in consumers influenced by panic [ 54 ], producing emotions and influencing the audience [ 55 ]. The following hypothesis is proposed.
H2 = Traditional media positively impact negative emotions.
Considering that fear, anxiety, or perceived scarcity can propitiate change in consumer behavior. Emotions, such as panic buying or hoarding, act as mitigation mechanisms of perceived risk and prevailing situations [ 8 , 9 ], so negative emotions can alter consumer behavior [ 18 ]. The following hypothesis is proposed.
H3 = Negative emotions impact changes in consumer behavior.
It is considered that negative emotions produced by fear produce panic purchases that generally correspond to the acquisition of more products to mitigate the risk and situation [ 8 , 9 ]. The following hypothesis is proposed.
H4 = Changes in consumer behavior impact the purchase of new products.
It is considered that negative emotions produced by fear produce panic purchases that generally correspond to the accumulation of products to mitigate the risk and situation [ 8 , 9 ]. The following hypothesis is proposed.
H5 = Changes in consumer behavior impact the purchase of more products.
Fig 1 below shows the conceptual model for observing the variables and hypotheses.
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In order to evaluate the various relationships of the hypotheses, the following conceptual model of Fig 1 is proposed, which shows the various relationships mentioned in the hypotheses.
3.1. Design and instrument
The design used is quantitative, non-experimental, and cross-sectional. The questionnaire is composed of the following parts (1) demographic part with questions on gender, age range, degree of schooling, education level, and income range (2) communications through social media (3) communications through traditional media, (4) negative emotions (5) changes in consumer behavior (6) new products and (7) more quantity of products. The scale used is the 5-point Likert scale. The evaluation instrument was developed by the researchers after analyzing the literature review looking for the statements included to answer the objectives of the study. After the instrument was designed, it was validated by 5 experts in marketing and research methodology. These experts evaluated the validity of the instrument, ensuring comprehension, proper order of the questions, and that the instrument measured the proposed objectives. The recommendations given by this group were incorporated and reviewed in the instrument.
The validity and reliability of the questionnaire was evaluated with a representative group of the population using a pilot test with 40 people. With the results obtained from the test, a PLS was carried out to preliminarily evaluate the behavior of the variables and the model. Using the results of the PLS, the reliability and initial validity of the instrument were calculated. Firstly, the loads obtained (Factor Loading) were analyzed. The results of the loads are obtained from the calculation of the SmartPLS algorithm, all the results less than 0.40 are eliminated to comply with the rule of Hair et al. [ 56 ], and the process was repeated, computing the SmartPLS algorithm again, obtaining results where all the charges were above 0.40. Then the Alpha coefficients and the convergent validity of each variable were analyzed and the results reflected that the majority met the .70 criterion as established by Hair et al. [ 56 ] and Henseler et al. [ 57 ]. The behavior change variable obtained a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.63. However, Hair et al. [ 58 ] clarify that a value between 0.60 and 0.69 indicates that the value, although it is a weak one, may be acceptable; a value below 0.59 is considered an unacceptable value to carry out the investigation. In the same way, the AVE values mostly reflected results above 0.50, concluding that the latent variables explained more than half of the variance on their indicators, according to the 0.50 criterion of Hair et al. [ 56 ], with the exception of the variables products with more quantity (0.45) and new products (0.47). However, Hair et al. [ 58 ], clarifies that the values can be between 0.40 to 0.70.
3.2. Data collection
The questionnaire was also ethically approved by the ESAN Graduate School of Business of Peru and included the participants’ written informed consent. The sample comprised 220 people and was taken in Peru in 2021. The sampling used was non-probabilistic and of convenience. The questionnaire was administered online via SurveyMonkey.
The population object of the investigation will be men and women over 21 years of age residing in Peru. To determine the research sample, "10 times the rule" was used [ 59 ], which indicates that the sample size must be equal to the greater than 10 times the largest number of formative indicators used to measure a single construct or 10 times the largest number of structural pathways in a particular construct targeted in the structural model [ 58 ]. Therefore, it is equivalent to saying that the minimum sample size should be 10 observations for each relationship. On this rule, it was determined that the sample size will be 200 duly completed questionnaires for the investigation. The researchers have established a 95% confidence level and a 5% confidence interval. Among the inclusion criteria for this research must be men or women over 21 years of age. In the exclusion criteria is that the participants are under 21 years of age.
3.3. Data processing
A confirmatory factor analysis is applied, and criteria of reliability, convergent and discriminant validity are considered. Reliability is assessed based on composite reliability (CR), that is, the degree to which items are free of error and therefore produce reliable results, using CR > = 0.70 as the appropriate value [ 60 ]. Convergent validity is verified using factor loadings greater than 0.5 and a minimum variance (AVE) of 0.5, while discriminant validity is determined by a minimum value of AVE = 0.5 [ 60 ].
Subsequently, the method of structural equations is applied to evaluate and test the relationships proposed in the hypotheses and to evaluate the model, indices are selected as Comparative Fit Index CFI, Goodness of Fit Index (GFI), and Normed Fit Index (NFI), used as a measure of comparison that CFI > = 0.9 [ 61 ], GFI > = 0.9 [ 62 ] and NFI > = 0.9 [ 61 ]. Likewise, the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) index was used, considering an appropriate measure of 0.05 to 0.08 [ 62 – 64 ].
The AMOS software is used to perform path analysis or the analysis of the relationships between variables, determining the coefficient (β) and the standard error (S.E) and the p-value. To accept the hypotheses, those with a p-value or significance less than 0.05 are considered supported or accepted.
Descriptive results were determined and are shown in Table 1 , in which it is determined that in the sample, broken down by gender, men represent 55.90%. The age group that predominates in the sample is 41–55 years old, with 38.6%. Regarding schooling level, those with an associate or technical degree predominate with 34.5%, and those with a high school degree with 42.3%. Regarding annual income level, most earn between USD20,001 and USD35,000 (25.50%).
In relation to the confirmatory factorial analysis, Table 2 shows the CR values obtained between 0.75 and 0.94, which are acceptable values for CR > 0.70, AVE value and values of factor loads that are greater than 0, 50, which meets the criterion of good convergent validity and verifies that the values of the explained mean variance are more significant than 0.5, which indicates good convergent validity.
The fit of the model was verified. The χ2/df ratio was calculated to be 3.01, considered adequate since an acceptable value of χ2/df < = 3 [ 53 ]. The CFI, GFI, and NFI indices were checked and obtained values of CFI = 0.822, close to the comparison value of 0.9 [ 50 ], GFI = 0.82, close to the comparison value of 0.9 [ 51 ], and NFI = 0.756 close to the comparison value 0.9 [ 50 ] so they are considered acceptable values and the RMSEA value was 0.09 also a value close to the reference value of 0.08 [ 51 – 53 ]. The model is considered to have a good fit level with these values obtained. Table 3 shows the values obtained from the model fit.
Each hypothesis was evaluated by obtaining the coefficient β and the p-value or probability value for each relationship. Table 4 shows the result of the path analysis. It is shown that the negative path emotions and social media, with a coefficient β = 0.054 and a p-value of 0.489 greater than 0.05, does not support hypothesis H1. While the negative path emotions and traditional media, with a coefficient β = -0.008 and a p-value of 0.915 greater than 0.05, supports hypothesis H2.
In contrast, the path changes in consumer behavior and negative emotions, with a coefficient β = 0.126 and a p-value less than 0.05; therefore, hypothesis H3 is supported. The path of new products and changes in consumer behavior, with a coefficient β = 1.505 and a p-value less than 0.05, shows that hypothesis H4 is supported. Finally, the path more products and changes in consumer behavior, with a coefficient β = 1.668 and a p-value less than 0.05, supports hypothesis H5. The structural model is shown in Fig 2 .
The research aims to examine the relationship between social media and traditional media on consumers’ negative emotions during the covid_19 pandemic and whether consumers’ negative emotions are related to the change in consumer behavior that affects the purchase of products in terms of quantity and new products.
The results of hypotheses H1 and H2 indicate that social media and traditional media are not related to consumers’ negative emotions during the covid_19 pandemic; this is justified because other causes could have contributed to generating negative emotions during the pandemic, such as environmental stimuli and reflective thinking [ 2 ], perception of uncertainty, severity, and scarcity [ 3 ], crisis threat and scarcity, fear of the unknown, social psychological factors [ 4 ] generated in the social environment that not necessarily that originate from social media or traditional media.
The results of hypotheses H3, H4, and H5 indicate that the negative emotions generated by consumers during the pandemic covid_19 changed consumer behavior that affected the purchase of new products and more products. These results agree with Sheth [ 9 ], who mentioned that fear and dread as negative emotions generated during the covid_19 pandemic caused changes in consumer buying behavior as they resorted to impulse purchases and are in agreement with [ 4 ], who mentioned that there are psychological causes that produce panic in consumers during crises. These change their purchasing behavior in acquiring more significant quantities of products because of the crisis and agree with [ 65 ], who mentioned that consumers, as a form of defense, buy larger quantities of products than usual during crises. Similarly, they also buy new products because they perceive that products may be in short supply.
The changes in consumer behavior are explained by George and Dane [ 66 ], who indicated that emotions in consumers produce changes in their buying behavior and [ 67 ] that emotions can vary rationality in people. Additionally, Willman-Iivarinen [ 68 ] mentions that consumer buying choice is affected by factors such as time pressure and buying opportunities, both identified in crises such as covid_19.
According to Amalia et al. [ 69 ], people are different, as is their perception of a situation, and risk perception reflects the buyer’s interpretation of their consumption. As mentioned by Bagozzi et al. [ 70 ], the messages and perceptions that consumers receive produce negative and positive emotions before purchases, which are mixed and form the anticipated emotions that impact the consumer’s purchase decision.
This research contributes to the literature because although it is known that the covid_19 pandemic generated panic purchases produced by fear, panic, and negative emotions [ 1 ], little is known if social media and traditional media related to negative emotions in consumers during the covid_19 pandemic, and if these negative emotions generated in the context of the covid_19 pandemic are related to higher quantity purchases and purchases of new products, in other economies.
Fear is a great motivator that, depending on its effect, can cause very specific changes in consumer buying behavior. The interpretation of fear can be a very particular purchase motivator. Therefore, the emotion of fear must be understood from its different dimensions. Each crisis is different and the peculiarity of each one of them is what can define the new purchasing behavior of the consumer.
The COVID 19 pandemic generated great fear in the consumer, inducing a change in behavior in terms of increasing the amount of product and purchasing new products. The results show that each crisis can prompt the consumer to change their purchasing behavior according to their interests and concerns.
The research concludes that in Peru social networks and traditional media are not related to the negative emotions of consumers during the covid_19 pandemic, that is, these media did not have a strong influence on the perception of risk or the generation of fear due to the crisis of the pandemic. In addition, the research finds that the negative emotions that consumers had during the covid_19 pandemic are related to changes in consumer behavior and have a positive effect on the purchase of more products and purchases of new products.
The research has theoretical implications because it contributes evidence in the context of Peru. The effect of social media and traditional media, such as newspapers and radio, on negative emotions during the covid_19 pandemic contributes to the evidence that the negative emotions of consumers during the covid_19 pandemic affect purchases of a higher quantity of products and new products.
This research has practical implications for business managers and academics, as they can learn about the changes in consumer behavior resulting from negative emotions that consumers may have and how this affects product quantity purchases and new product purchases, which can be helpful for sales planning during crises such as the covid_19 pandemic.
The study contributes from the perspective that store owners and marketing specialists must understand the type of emotion that consumers feel in a crisis such as the covid_19 pandemic so that they can design strategies that meet their expectations and the needs of companies and of the clients.
This research has limitations due to the temporality of the data that was taken during the year 2021. Further research on negative emotions, such as panic and fear, and their effect on consumer behavior in other crisis contexts and economic contexts are suggested as future research to understand the influence of negative emotions on consumer purchasing decisions.
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What Do Your Customers Want in 2023?
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Understanding consumers’ New Year’s resolutions can help you figure out how to attract them.
The New Year is often a time of optimism, hope, and change. But how do consumers’ shifting priorities affect businesses? The authors share findings from a recent survey exploring how U.S. consumers are thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions this year and offer seven strategies to help businesses attract and retain customers in this critical time: Help your customers build healthy habits, reach out to new customers, introduce new products, foster consumer loyalty, help customers meet their financial goals, prioritize value, and help your customers do good. Ultimately, the authors argue that retailers must understand how the New Year’s mindset may impact their business — and make their own resolution to anticipate customers’ evolving needs and provide the value that today’s buyers are looking for.
For many of us, a new year represents a fresh start . New Year’s resolutions offer an annual opportunity to transform our lives for the better, whether that’s by improving our health, relationships, finances, or whatever else we find most important.
- AR Ayalla Ruvio is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University and the Director of the Master of Science in Marketing Research (MSMR) program. Her research focuses on the psychology and behaviors of consumers and employees.
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2021 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice
May 5, 2021
Author(s): Kelsey Coyle, Laura Kim and Shaun O’Brien
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Every October the Federal Reserve conducts an annual payment study, the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (Diary), to better understand payment trends and habits of the U.S. population. 1 This year’s Diary was conducted seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the timing of the study, the analysis shows some significant changes in consumers’ payment behavior, though it is unclear if any of these changes will persist once the pandemic has ended. As with previous Diary studies, a demographically representative sample of adults from the Understanding America Study panel were asked to participate. 2 There were 1,537 participants who took part in the 2020 Diary study. Each participant was instructed to report all their transactions, including cash withdrawals and deposits, over an assigned, consecutive three-day period. All transactions are then aggregated and, unless otherwise noted, reported on a monthly, per-person basis. The high-level findings from this year’s Diary study are:
- U.S. consumers made an average of 34 payments in October 2020, down from 39 in 2019
- Cash use accounted for 19 percent of all payments, down seven percentage points from 2019
- Small-value payments, defined as transactions under $25, declined by 26 percent
- Total value spent increased from $4,236 to $4,760
- Average value of cash held in consumers’ pocket, purse, or wallet increased to $74, up $20 from 2019
- Approximately 72 percent of U.S. consumers reported making an in-person payment over their three-day reporting period, down from 91 percent in 2019
- Total spending on not-in-person, non-bill payments increased substantially at grocery stores, dining establishments, and general merchandise locations
As noted in the April and August supplemental Diary papers, consumer payment behavior changed dramatically and the pandemic continues to affect how consumers shop. 3 Total payments in 2020 declined approximately eleven percent, or four total payments, compared to last year. Of the 35 total payments made in 2020, cash, debit card, and credit card payments accounted for approximately 19 percent, 28 percent, and 27 percent, respectively.
The decline in total payments in 2020 was mostly due to a decrease in the number of small-value payments under $25, which declined by approximately four payments per month. This change disproportionately affected the number of cash payments, which have historically accounted for most payments under $25. In 2020, consumers reduced the number of small-value cash payments by more than 40 percent compared to 2019, a decrease of three cash payments per month.
As a result of the pandemic, the share of people reporting at least one in-person payment during the Diary period dropped to 72 percent, a 19-percentage point decline compared to the 2019 Diary. While not directly comparable, supplemental surveys conducted in April and August found the number of consumers making in-person payments dropped sharply in April and began to increase throughout late spring and early summer. 4
As online shopping increased, the average number of not-in-person payments made to grocery stores, dining establishments, and general merchandise stores increased slightly by approximately one payment per person. However, the total value of not-in-person spending per person at these merchant types increased substantially, doubling from approximately $110 in 2019 to $212 in 2020.
The paper consists of four sections, with each section exploring various aspects of cash use during the pandemic. Section 1 details changes in payment trends, including the share of individuals making in-person payments, payment instrument use for not-in-person payments, and the share of payment instrument use by purchase amount; Section 2 discusses how age and stated payment preferences influence payment use; Section 3 explores cash holdings by demographic cohort; and Section 4 outlines in-person and not-in-person payment use by merchant type. Appendix A provides an overview of the methodology. Additional information about the 2020 Diary is available at the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. 5
Note Regarding COVID-19
While the paper highlights changes in payment behavior that may be accelerated by the pandemic, it is still unknown whether these changes will be transitory or permanent in the long run. The Diary data is examined for year-to-year comparisons of payment behavior, and the authors acknowledge that payment behavior has changed throughout this pandemic. Therefore, the Cash Product Office and Federal Reserve of Atlanta sought to capture data on changing payment practices during the pandemic through a series of supplemental surveys, conducted in April and August of 2020. The findings from these two supplemental studies were published in two separate papers and highlighted important changes in payment behavior observed during the pandemic. The first supplemental paper describes changes in cash holdings, changes in choice of payment instrument, and cash avoidance. The second supplemental paper discusses in-person shopping behavior, consumer’s experience with the coin shortage, and consumer cash holdings.
This paper would not have been possible without the support and contributions of the following individuals. From the Atlanta Fed: Kevin Foster, Claire Greene, Marcin Hitczenko, Brian Prescott, and Oz Shy. From the Boston Fed: Joanna Stavins and Ruth Cohen. From the San Francisco Fed: Tom Flannigan, Simon Kwan, and Justin Wray. From the Cash Product Office: Lauren Brown, Alexander Bau, Benjamin Gold, Jamie Law, Kelly McGuire, Margaret Riley, Louise Willard, Kathleen Young, and Roger Replogle.
Section 1. Trends in Cash Usage
Total number of transactions and share of cash usage declined during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of life in 2020. How U.S. consumers made payments is no exception. Given the nature of the coronavirus, consumers limited in-person activities due to the fear of infection and governments enacted shelter-in-place orders and restrictions, many of which remained in place throughout the fall. Thus, the way people engaged in purchases and payments shifted significantly in 2020. In April and August, the Cash Product Office and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta conducted two short surveys to quickly gauge how consumers were paying during the pandemic. This year’s Diary provides a more detailed insight into consumer payment behavior and trends during the pandemic.
In October of 2020, U.S. consumers reported making an average of 34 payments per monthdown from 39 payments in 2019. Despite the decline in the number of payments, consumers’ monthly spending increased to an average of $4,760 in 2020, up from $4,236 in 2019 and $3,999 in 2018. 6 This suggests consumers consolidated their purchases into fewer transactions, combining transactions for multiple products at one store or on one platform.
Cash’s share of all payments decreased by seven percentage points in 2020 (Figure 1), a larger decline than experienced in any category over the past two years. Meanwhile, credit cards’ share of payments has increased since 2016, most recently increasing from 24 percent of payments in 2019 to 27 percent of payments in 2020. However, the increase in credit cards’ share of payments was primarily driven by a decrease in the use of other payment instruments rather than a direct increase in use of credit cards; the number of reported credit card payments remained steady from 2019 to 2020 at 9 payments per month. For the first time since the start of the Diary in 2016, credit cards’ share of payment instrument usage surpassed cash. Debit cards remained the most frequently used payment instrument, accounting for 10 of the 35 payments made, and a 28 percent share of payments.
Figure 1 Share of Payment Instrument Use by Year
View chart as text +
Figure 2 shows the share of individuals making in-person payments over their three-day diary in 2020 (72 percent) was significantly lower than in 2019 (91 percent). The findings were higher than the results from the supplemental April or August survey, though the supplemental surveys asked whether any in-person payments took place over a longer period of time. 7 The results from October 2020 are not surprising when compared to the results from the April and August surveys, given the easing of shelter-in-place orders and increasing comfort among consumers to conduct in-person payments as positive COVID-19 cases decreased from mid-summer to early fall. 8
Figure 2 Share of Participants Reporting In-Person Payments During Diary
- October 2019: 91%
- October 2020: 72%
While the share of people making in-person payments declined in 2020 compared to 2019, most non-bill payments continue to be conducted in person. In each prior Diary study, cash was the most frequently used in-person payment instrument, accounting for 36 percent of in-person, non-bill payments in 2018 and 35 percent in 2019. 9 At the onset of the pandemic, the share of debit and credit cards used surpassed cash as the share of cash use decreased seven percentage points from 2019 to 28 percent (Figure 3). 10 While fewer consumers made in-person payments, those that did experienced a greater share of requests by merchants to not use cash. The second supplemental August survey found approximately 45 percent of those who shopped in person reported that merchants encouraged consumers to avoid using cash at least some of the time. 11
Figure 3 Share of Payment Use for In-Person Non-Bill Payments
- Credit: 31%
Between 2016 and 2019, cash use for small-value payments was declining as debit and credit cards’ share of small-value payments trended upward. While consumers who shopped in person experienced greater payment steering away from cash in 2020, the data suggest the decline in cash use was likely due to fewer total small-value payments, defined as payments of under $25, rather than a substitution of cash payments with cards. Consumers have traditionally used cash most frequently to make small-value payments and the decrease in the total number of small-value payments likely led to a decrease in the overall use of cash. Consumers reported making six fewer small-value payments, with four fewer cash payments and two fewer debit card payments. While substitution between cash and debit cards and credit cards likely took place, the main reason why cash and debit card use declined is due to the reduction in the total number of small-value payments.
Figure 4 Mean Monthly per Person Payments Under $25
Section 2. Who is using cash?
Payment preference for cash declined
The change in the payments landscape during the pandemic accelerated the shift in preferences from cash towards credit cards and debit cards, a trend which had been changing rather slowly over the five years prior to 2020. As with each annual Diary study, participants were asked to report the payment instrument they preferred to use for non-bill payments prior to their 3-day reporting period. In 2020, the share of individuals who preferred to use cash for non-bill payments declined by 5 percentage points compared to 2019. For comparison, cash preference declined four percentage points between 2016 and 2019. The decline in consumers stating a cash preference was offset by consumers stating a preference for credit and debit cards, which increased by 4 and 1 percentage points, respectively (Figure 5). These three instruments accounted for 94 percent of stated preferences and have accounted for at least 93 percent of stated preferences since 2016. Observed payment behavior continued to generally align with stated payment preferences, with participants continuing to make most of their payments with their preferred payment method.
Figure 5 Payment Instruments Preferred for Payment
Cash use declined across all age groups
In contrast to prior years, the share of cash payments declined for every age group (Figure 6). This overall shift is not surprising given the role COVID-19 had in reducing the number of in-person payments, the only venue in which cash can be used for payments. Previously, the share of cash use has been consistently the highest among individuals aged 18 to 24 and those 65 and older (33 percent for both age cohorts in 2019) and lowest among those aged 25 to 34 (18 percent in 2019). While that pattern is still present, the share of cash use declined the most for individuals between 18 to 24 years old, by 13 percent year-over-year.
Figure 6 Cash Use Share by Age Group and Year
Figure 7 shows the share of payment instrument use for each age cohort. Cash was the third most used instrument behind debit cards and credit cards for all cohorts except those 65 and older. The share of debit and credit card use was roughly similar within each cohort except for the 18 to 24 old cohort. However, those 18 to 24 years old reported the largest year-over year decline in the share of cash used. This decline corresponds with a significant increase in the share of debit card use between 2019 to 2020. The simultaneous decline in the share of cash use and increase in share of debit card use within this cohort suggests cash payments may have been substituted with debit card payments. This is consistent with the findings from the 2019 Diary where cash-preferring consumers tended to use debit cards as a backup payment instrument at about twice the rate of credit cards. 12
Figure 7 2020 Payment Instrument Use by Age
Section 3. Who is holding cash?
All age and income groups increased cash holdings during the pandemic
As part of each annual Diary, participants are asked to report the amount of cash held in their pocket, purse, or wallet, which is referred to here as on-person cash holdings. These holdings are assumed to be used for payments rather than cash used as a store of value which is typically stored at one’s residence. This year, average on-person cash holdings increased for all adult age groups and household income levels. This a noteworthy shift from the consistent trend of consumers holding approximately $55 since 2016 (Figure 8). 13 As reported in the August supplemental survey paper, the increases in average holdings may be explained by the continued uncertainty regarding the pandemic rather than being highly correlated to economic impact payments and federal supplemental unemployment insurance benefits. 14
Figure 8 Average Daily Holdings by Age
Individuals between the ages of 18 to 24, who previously held the least amount of cash on hand, almost doubled their daily holdings, from $33 to $60, since the start of the pandemic. In previous years, this age cohort tended to hold less on-person cash than their older counterparts. While on-person cash holdings increased across all cohorts when compared to 2019, age itself does not explain the increases over 2019. Consumers between 25 and 44 increased their average on-person cash holdings by less than $10 while those 18 to 24 and 55 to 64 increased holdings by $33 and $21, respectively. The pandemic caused the largest increase in the unemployment rate in recent U.S. history, climbing from 3.5 percent in February 2020 to 14.8 percent in April 2020, and left many Americans either furloughed or unemployed. Unemployment benefits from the COVID-19 relief bills are likely the cause for increased on-person holdings across age cohorts (Foster and Greene 2021, Atlanta Fed). 15
Just as with age cohorts, cash held in consumers’ pocket, purse, or wallet increased significantly for households at all income levels. Generally, individuals from higher income households reported holding a greater amount of on-person cash than those from lower income households. Individuals living in households earning between $75,000 and $99,999 increased their on-person holdings to $87, slightly more than those with incomes greater than $125,000 (Figure 9). The cash holdings increased by the smallest increment for individuals in households with incomes between $100,000 and $124,999. 16 This year, the individuals from lower income households, households that most likely had the least amount of savings or cash available elsewhere or for emergency use, reported holding significantly more on-person cash than prior years. It is probable that individuals in this income bracket increased their daily cash holdings as a safety net for emergency use during the pandemic. 17
Figure 9 Average Daily On-Person Holdings by Household Income and Year
Section 4. How has shopping changed during the pandemic?
Number of Not-in-Person Payments Increased Slightly while Payment Values Increased Significantly
When entering transaction details, participants report the amount, merchant type, and payment instrument that was used. They also report whether the payment took place at the merchant location (in person) or not (not-in-person) and if a device such as a landline, mobile phone, tablet, or computer were used in making the payment. For example, a debit card payment at grocery store’s online store using a mobile phone would be considered a not-in-person payment while a debit card payment at the store using a payment app at the card reader while checking out would be an in-person payment. In both instances a mobile device was used to purchase groceries, but it is the specific location that differentiates these payments. While the pandemic changed how many people worked, traveled, and interacted with others, it also changed how and where many purchases for goods and services were made. Between 2016 and 2019 the share of not-in-person, non-bill payments made increased one to two percentage points each year, from 8 percent in 2016 to 13 percent in 2019. 18 However, in 2020, the share of non-bill payments made online increased by more than 50 percent and comprised approximately 20 percent of non-bill payments.
Figure 10 Percent of Non-Bill Payments Made In-Person versus Not-In-Person
Two factors could be related to the increase in the share of not-in-person, non-bill payments (all payments in this section are referring to non-bill payments) between October 2019 and October 2020. The first factor was the average number of not-in-person payments consumers made each month increased from about four to five payments as people continued to practice social distancing, at least when compared to October 2019. The second factor was consumers made fewer in-person payments with participants reporting 26 non-bill payments in 2020, down from 31 payments in 2019. 19 These two factors resulted in not-in-person, non-bill payments accounting for a larger share of non-bill payments. 20
The aggregate increase of consumers using mobile apps or online marketplaces to make not-in-person, non-bill payment throughout the month took place essentially across four merchant types: grocery and convenience stores, sit-down restaurants and bars, fast food locations and coffee shops, and general merchandise (Figures 11 a-e). These merchant types show the same general pattern: the average number of payments for each merchant type decreased and the average number of not-in-person payments increased. This indicates an increased level of substitution away from in-person toward not-in-person payments.
Figures 11a-e Mean Number of Non-Bill Payments per Person by Merchant Type
The increase of not-in-person payments, specifically for these merchants, is in line with results from the first supplemental survey in April where people reported increasing online or over the phone payments made at restaurants, grocery stores, and general merchandise stores, even at the start of the pandemic. 21 The change in the number of not-in-person payments for each merchant type is not large. For example, one out of five consumers (an increase of 0.2 monthly payments) made an additional not-in-person payment at a grocery or convenience store and two out of five people (an increase of 0.4 payments) made an additional not-in-person payment at a fast food or coffee shop. On average, the results show that each Diary participant made one additional not-in-person payment in 2020 that would have likely been an in-person payment in 2019 (Figure 11e).
While the average number of not-in-person, non-bill payments made each month increased slightly, the total amount of money spent increased substantially across general merchandise, sit-down restaurants and bars, and grocery and convenience stores (Figure 12). The average amount spent for not-in-person, non-bill payments throughout October increased from $265 in 2019 to $326 in 2020. 22 The increase in average payment values at general merchandise and department stores, sit-down restaurants and bars, and grocery and convenience stores changed considerably with increases ranging between $14 to $19. 23 The increases in the average number payments and the average payment values made at these merchant types not only show that consumers increased not-in-person spending, but were also willing expand the types of goods and services purchased online when conducting not-in-person payments. For example, paying online for dine-in service at a restaurant before the pandemic was practically non-existent, as seen in the 2019 Diary data (Figure 11c). While uncommon, consumers did make not-in-person payments at fast food locations and coffee shops in 2019. But as demand for take-out from traditional dine-in restaurants increased, both the need and supply of not-in-person payment options increased, making it more likely consumers would use these payments at a wider range of restaurants and for a wider range of payment values. These changes do not suggest that these changes will be permanent after the pandemic. Instead, it proposes that the trends and changes in the payments system will be an area of continual research.
Figure 12 Mean Value per Payment for Not-In-Person, Non-Bills for Select Merchant Types
As expected, the 2021 Diary findings were quite different from prior years. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in consumers reducing their total payments, mostly driven by a reduction in the number of in-person payments, which account for approximately 80 percent of all payments. While consumers continued to use cash for nearly 20 percent of all payments, the increase in consumers’ online shopping reduced opportunities to use cash. Despite a decline in cash use, consumers of all age and income groups were storing more cash elsewhere or holding more cash in their pocket, purse, or wallet, presumably as an instrument for emergency use.
In the future it will be interesting to see whether the changes in payment trends discussed in this paper are temporary or whether the pandemic acted as catalyst, accelerating trends already in motion. Consumers have historically held more currency during uncertain times and this pandemic is no different. 24 As economic conditions evolve to a post-pandemic state, consumers may decide to hold elevated levels of cash as they continue to shift more and more payments to online platforms. Or perhaps the return to in-person shopping may bring a sense of normalcy and with it an increase in cash use for small-value payments, such as morning coffee, a quick run to the grocery store, or a drink with friends after work. Regardless of how the payments landscape evolves, it is important to note that consumers continue to use cash, though at a lower rate, even amid a pandemic.
Diary of Consumer Payment Choice
The Federal Reserve’s national Cash Product Office (CPO) uses data from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (Diary) to understand consumer cash use and anticipate its ongoing role in the payments landscape. Developed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Consumer Payment Research Center (CPRC) and currently managed by the Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Diary collects data about shopping and payments behavior from a unique, nationally representative survey of consumers administered by the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. USC’s Understanding America Study panel of households comprises approximately 9,000 respondents from across the United States, 1,537 of which completed the 2020 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.
By tracking consumer payment transactions and preferences during the month of October every year, the CPO compares cash with other payment instruments, such as debit and credit cards, checks, and electronic options. Diary participants also report the amount of cash on-hand after each survey day, cash stored elsewhere, and cash deposits or withdrawals conducted during their three-day reporting period. The CPO analyzes the Diary data, including the impact of age and income on an individual’s payment behavior and preferences. This detail of the stock and flow of cash at an individual level provides insight into how consumers use cash.
To ensure a nationally representative sample, responses are weighted to match national population estimates based on the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The Diary is administered throughout the month of October, which was selected as a "typical month" to minimize seasonality effects in consumer spending patterns. Participants were each assigned a three-day period within the month, with some individuals assigned a starting date in late September and others assigned to finish in early November. For a more detailed description of the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, see Angrisani, Foster, and Hitczenko (2017b); Angrisani, Foster, and Hitczenko (2018); Greene, Schuh, and Stavins (2018); Greene and Schuh (2017); Greene, O’Brien, and Schuh (2017); and Schuh (2017).
About the Cash Product Office
As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve ensures that cash is available when and where it is needed, including in times of crisis and business disruption, by providing FedCash® Services to depository institutions and, through them, to the general public. In fulfilling this role, the Fed’s primary responsibility is to maintain public confidence in the integrity and availability of U.S. currency.
The Federal Reserve System’s Cash Product Office (CPO) provides strategic leadership for this key function by formulating and implementing service level policies, operational guidance, and technology strategies for U.S. currency and coin services provided by Federal Reserve Banks nationally and internationally. In addition to guiding policies and procedures, the CPO establishes budget guidance for FedCash® Services, provides support for Federal Reserve currency and coin inventory management, and supports business continuity planning at the supply chain level. It also conducts market research and works with financial institutions and retailers to analyze trends in cash usage.
Angrisani, Marco, Kevin Foster, and Marcin Hitczenko. 2017b. "The 2012 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice: Technical Appendix." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Data Reports No. 17-5.
Angrisani, Marco, Kevin Foster, and Marcin Hitczenko. 2018. "The 2015 and 2016 Diaries of Consumer Payment Choice: Technical Appendix." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Data Reports No. 18-2.
Foster, K. and Claire Greene. 2021. "Consumer Behavior in a Health Crisis: What Happened with Cash?". Policy Hub , 1 , pp.17-39.
Greene, Claire, and Scott D. Schuh. 2017. "The 2016 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Data Reports No. 17-7.
Greene, Claire, Shaun O’Brien, and Scott Schuh. 2017. "U.S. Consumer Cash Use, 2012–2015: An Introduction to the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Data Reports No. 17-6.
Greene, Claire, Scott D. Schuh, and Joanna Stavins. 2018. "The 2012 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice: Summary Results." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Data Reports No. 18-1.
Kim, Laura, Raynil Kumar, and Shaun O’Brien. 2020. "2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice." Cash Product Office, Federal Reserve System, July.
Kim, Laura, Raynil Kumar, and Shaun O’Brien. 2020. "Consumer Payments & the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice." Cash Product Office, Federal Reserve System, July.
Coyle, K., Laura Kim. and Shaun O’Brien. 2021. "Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice ." Cash Product Office, Federal Reserve System, July.
Schuh, Scott. 2017. "Measuring Consumer Expenditures with Payment Diaries." Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Department Working Papers No. 17-2.
1. The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice has been conducted annually since 2016. Prior to 2016, two Diary studies took place with the first in using RAND’s American Life panel in October 2012 and the second conducted between mid-October and mid-December 2015 using Understanding America Study panel. Given the different panels from which participants are asked to participate and the different timeframe of these early Diary studies, this paper uses data starting with the 2016 Diary.
2. Additional information regarding the Understanding America Study panel, COVID-19 surveys and data can be found at the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research website Understanding America Study (usc.edu)
3. The two supplemental Diary papers can be found at: Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice and Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice
4. The 2019 and 2020 Diary were conducted over 3-day periods while the supplemental surveys in April and August 2020 asked participants to recall in-person payments ranging between 30 and 60 days. While this is not a direct comparison, the April and August survey showed that people conducted less in-person payments despite having a longer data collection period than the Diary.
5. Refer to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Diary of Consumer Payment Choice webpage for the most recent publication.
6. This difference is statistically significant for a two tailed test at the 90 percent level.
7. In addition to the annual Diary study, the Federal Reserve conducted two supplemental surveys in April and August of 2020 which were designed to assess the impact of the pandemic on shopping behavior, cash holdings, cash avoidance, and consumers’ experiences with coin. The April supplemental survey asked individuals if they had made any in-person payments since March 10 th , which was just before the declaration of a national emergency. The August supplemental survey asked participants whether they had made any in-person payments over the last 30 days.
8. The data collection for the 2020 Diary was conducted prior to the peak in COVID-19 cases across the United States which took place during Thanksgiving in November.
9. Refer to the “ 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice ” for details.
10. The share of payments indicates shares by number not by share of dollar value of payments. “Other” payments include bank account number payments, online banking bill pay, prepaid card, money orders, traveler’s checks, account-to-account transfers, and direct deduction from income.
11. In the April survey, 7 percent of the in-person payees reported that merchants refused cash.
12. Refer to the “ 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice ” for details.
13. The results reported in this section exclude the top 1 percent of on-person cash holdings. The decision to truncate the data this year rather than in previous years was to reduce the effect of outliers in 2020, which were more prominent than in previous Diary studies. As a result, comparisons to the same data reported in previous paper will differ slightly. The differences in holdings for those between 45 and 64 were statistically significant at the 95 percent level and those under 25 were statistically significant at the 90 percent level.
14. The 2020 Supplemental Survey concluded that the data cannot conclusively determine how strongly the changes in cash holdings were driven by Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) or uncertainty around the pandemic. If EIPs were a key driver in respondents increasing cash holdings, the continued uncertainty regarding the pandemic may explain why respondents continue to hold an increased amount of store of value cash. Please refer to the “ Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice ” for more details.
15. Please refer to Consumer Behavior in a Health Crisis: What Happened with Cash? for more details.
16. The differences in on-person cash holdings were statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence internal for all income groups except those in households earnings $50,000 to $74,999 and $100,000 to $125,000.
17. This section of the Diary is interested in changes in the amount of cash that is being held for payments. Therefore, the discussion of cash held is focused on cash held throughout the day rather than cash stored elsewhere.
18. Not-in-person payments refers to payments not made at the merchant location and generally a device is used to complete the payment. Examples of a device that could be used are one’s mobile phone, tablet, computer, watch landline, or mail.
19. The number of total payments also decreased in 2020 compared to 2019. However, as bill payments in previous Diary studies show a higher share of not-in-person payments when compared to non-bill payments, the focus here is to show that traditionally non-bill payments shifted from in-person to not-in-person during the pandemic, even in sectors of the economy where the share of in-person payments remained high.
20. If not-in-person, non-bill payments were unchanged between 2019 and 2020, they would have accounted for 4 out of 26 non-bill payments, or 15 percent, rather than 4 out of 31, or 13 percent as was the case in 2019.
21. The two previous supplemental Diary papers can be found at: Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice and Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice
22. This average per-person difference was not statistically significant, though the average transaction values for the merchant types shown in Figure 14 are statistically significant at the alpha = 0.10 level.
23. Observations with a payment value in the top one percent for each merchant type were not included to reduce the effect large payment values may have on average values.
24. The value of currency in circulation (CIC) increased by more than $75 billion between March 4 th 2020 and April 8 th 2020 following the declaration of a national emergency. For comparison, the CIC increased by approximately $80 billion throughout all of 2019. The CIC data can be found at Currency in Circulation: Week Average St. Louis Fed
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What are consumer habits (consumer psychology 101).
A habit forms when a pattern of behaviors becomes linked through repetition and is associated with some kind of outcome (reinforcer) that makes us want to do it again, whether we consciously want to or not. Through repetition, consumer habits become automatic, and the habitual set of behaviors kicks in when it’s triggered by some sort of cue in the environment (“I want a break from what I’m working on”) or in our minds (“I’d like something sweet”). Consumer habits form around all kinds of products and services, from their usual lunch spots, to the ways they shop at stores, to the brands of laundry detergent they use. Establishing and maintaining consumer habits is a great way for a brand to build repeat business and a loyal fan base.
How do habits influence consumer decision making?
Habits are essentially shortcuts our brains create to reduce the amount of time-consuming deliberation we have to do. While we can override habits, they are harder to overcome with deliberate intention when we are tired, stressed, or distracted. Consumer habits impact how they shop, what they buy, and how they use the products in their lives.
How do brands introduce new consumer habits?
To build habits where none exist, brands need to figure out how to encourage consumers to buy or engage with their products and services more frequently. A great example of this tactic is through carefully timed notifications from mobile apps. Every Sunday evening, when I’ve finished my chores from the weekend and don’t feel like cooking, I get an email from Seamless asking if I’d like to order some take out. This gentle nudge – always at the same time and day – has established Sunday nights as take-out night.
Another way that brands build new consumer habits is to introduce themselves during new life events. If a previously loyal Trader Joe’s shopper moves to a new neighborhood, a well-timed mailer from Whole Foods may be enough to get them to check out the competition. After all, the shopper may not even know where the nearest Trader Joe’s is in their new neighborhood. A positive experience at Whole Foods (good location, good value, exciting new products to try) may be just enough reinforcement to do it again, beginning the slow shift in shopping habits away from Trader Joe’s.
How do brands reinforce consumer habits?
If a product or brand itself isn’t enough to reinforce the habit, brands must find another way to reward consumers. They can achieve this by introducing artificial rewards so consumers will believe they are getting more out of using the product. A great example of an artificial reinforcer is the “lather” produced by shampoo. The suds neither are a byproduct of, nor are they essential to hair washing; instead, they give the consumer a way to identify that the product is working, thus reinforcing that they will end up with clean, shiny hair.
Reward and loyalty programs also are excellent ways to create reinforcement where none previously exists. The accumulation of things like points and status is inherently rewarding to consumers, and can lead to building strong consumer habits. A great example is the beauty retailer Sephora. By investing in their Beauty Insider program, Sephora has built fierce loyalty in a highly competitive market. Accumulation of points not only leads to small rewards and samples, but also allows consumers to feel part of the “in” crowd of high status members. By creating rewards that go beyond product purchases and extend to the retailer, Sephora ensures consumers develop a default habit of looking to Sephora first for their beauty needs.
What methods and tools can brands use to measure and analyze consumer habits?
Brands can and should analyze their customers’ routines. Because habits are often automatic or nonconscious patterns, it’s hard for consumers to articulate what is and is not habitual. Researchers instead draw from academic research on consumer habits and incorporate it into behavioral segmentations to understand what is and isn’t a habitual behavior. In addition, drawing on academic knowledge of habits allows researchers to make recommendations and identify opportunities to influence habit formation and maintenance.
What brand does a great job reinforcing consumer habits?
To build new consumer habits, Starbucks incentivizes consumers to visit at non-peak times of the day through special offers. The coffee chain goes on to reinforce consumers by giving “status” to customers that buy enough drinks through their app. Lastly, Starbucks inserts itself in consumers’ morning routines through pre-orders in the app, where they can pick-up their usual coffee at a pre-determined time, skip the line (another reinforcer!), and waltz out with a piping hot cup in hand. By understanding and leveraging patterns in consumer behavior, Starbucks was able to transform a once-in-a-while latte treat into a daily habit for millions of Americans.
To learn more about making habit research part of your consumer insights program, download our ebook, Why Habit Formation Research Should Guide Your Brand Strategy . When you’re ready to partner, contact LRW (now Material) by filling out this form .
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Consumer Choices and Habits Related to Coffee Consumption by Poles
1 Department of Food Gastronomy and Food Hygiene, Institute of Human Nutrition Sciences, Warsaw University of Life Sciences (WULS), Str. Nowoursynowska 166, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland; lp.ude.wggs@kaleip_anelram (M.P.); lp.ude.wggs@kelas_rtoip (P.S.)
Piotr sałek, renata korzeniowska-ginter.
2 Department of Quality Management, Gdynia Maritime University, Str. Morska 81-87, 81-225 Gdynia, Poland; [email protected]
3 Department of Management and Economics, Gdynia Maritime University, Str. Morska 81-87, 81-225 Gdynia, Poland; [email protected]
The data presented in this article is available on reasonable request, from the corresponding author.
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks consumed in the world, also in Poland. In the literature, much attention is paid to the influence of coffee on human health, especially daily intake of caffeine, and also purchasing consumer behavior. There is a lack of research devoted to consumer choices and habits in relation to coffee consumption and brewing method. Therefore, the aim of this study is to describe the characteristics of coffee consumers and present their segmentation based on consumer choices and habits towards coffee consumption. The study was performed using the computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) method on a group of 1500 adults respondents in Poland reporting the consumption of coffee. We collected information about consumer choices and habits related to coffee consumption, including brewing method, place of consuming coffee, and factors determining coffee choices. Using cluster analysis, we identified three main groups of coffee consumers. There are “Neutral coffee drinkers”, “Ad hoc coffee drinkers”, and “Non-specific coffee drinkers”. The respondents in the study are not coffee gourmets; they like and consume coffee, but these are often changing choices. To conclude, it can be stated that the Polish coffee consumer prefers conventional methods of brewing coffee (like a “traditionalist”) but is open to novelties and new sensory experiences. Based on study results it is possible to know the coffee drinking habits in Poland.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world. In 2017–2018, the global production of coffee beans from around 60 countries reached approximately 9513 million tones, and achieved USD 200 billion annually [ 1 , 2 ]. In 2018–2019, the consumption of coffee beans was over 165 million 60-kg packages [ 3 ]. It is estimated that 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day [ 4 ]. According to available sources, the highest coffee consumption in Europe is in Scandinavia at approximately 10 kg of coffee per capita per year. In Finland is 12 kg per capita per year; in Norway, 9.9 kg; in Iceland, 9 kg; in Denmark, 8.7 kg, and in Sweden, 8.2 kg. In other European countries, coffee consumption is lower, in Netherlands—8.4 kg, Switzerland—7.9 kg, Belgium—6.8 kg, and Luxembourg—6.5 kg [ 1 ]. In Poland, coffee consumption is an average of 2.2–3 kg per capita per year [ 5 ].
Many studies [ 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 ] concentrate on the effects of coffee on the body and health, especially disease risk, and daily intake of caffeine with coffee [ 12 , 13 , 14 ]. Coffee, apart from the unique, characteristic taste and aroma, contains caffeine, and several antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid, lignan, melanoids, cafestrol, trigonelline, and kahweol, which may show a protective effect at the cellular level. The ingredients contained in the coffee infusion are responsible for many beneficial processes that take place in the human body [ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. Excessive, long-term consumption of caffeine (above 500–600 mg daily) may lead to addiction and many negative symptoms from the body but also show that coffee becomes a risk factor for various diseases while consume above five number of cups per day [ 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ].
Many studies [ 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 ] focus on the coffee markets, including purchasing consumer behavior and quantified consumption, as well as sustainable development and ethical consumption in line with the principles of fair trade. Few data [ 47 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 ] concern consumption motives, consumer behavior, and preferences as to the method of coffee brewing or aspects related to the proper preparation of the infusion. Coffee is considered a high-quality food. In the minds of consumers, consumption of coffee is more and more often equated with pleasure and positive experiences and is related to lifestyle and social status. Various studies confirm that drinking a cup of coffee is associated with a personal moment of pleasure for the consumer [ 56 , 57 , 58 ], and characterize coffee as: pleasure, health, and sustainable development [ 59 ].
The mentioned previous studies concern on habits, changes in consumer behavior and preferences related to coffee, marketing aspects, and also related to the impact on health, without addressing “technological” issues connected with preparing and consume coffee infusions. The topic of coffee research is related to the cultural and geographic context in which it is conducted [ 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 , 60 ]. In Western economies, a lot of emphasis is placed on issues of sustainable development, including fair trade. In Asia, an important aspect is mainly the behavior and preferences of consumers in relation to café brands or consumption of coffee products [ 61 ]. Consumer habits related to choose the coffee brew methods are also changing with technological development. Studies among European consumers [ 62 ] indicate that they use different coffee preparation methods. Italians, Swiss, and Portuguese use espresso machines: fully automated, capsule, and drip coffee maker. While Germans mainly use a filter coffee makers to brew coffee. In turn, in the South Africa foodservice market espresso based coffee dominate [ 63 ].
Coffee drinking habits, methods of coffee infusion, coffee amount consumed, and additive use in coffee are differentiated between countries and population [ 57 , 64 , 65 , 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 ]. Although much research on coffee has been published, there is still a lack of research related to the technological practices of coffee preparation. The available results do not cover the topic in such a comprehensive way as our research, and they refer to the topic in a different context. This study fills this research gap. Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in Poland. Over 80% of adult Poles consume coffee regularly and 60% of adult Poles drink it every day [ 70 , 71 ]. Its price is relatively low, from USD 1.65 (PLN 6.09) per 250 g in 2010, rising to about USD 1.86 (PLN 7.54) for 250 g in 2019 [ 72 ]. Drinking coffee is becoming a lifestyle. It is also encouraged by the changing coffee market in Poland, where there is an increasing prevalence of cafe chains. The largest coffee shop chains, such as Tchibo, McCafé, Starbucks, and Costa Coffee, are increasing the number of their outlets all over Europe, including in Poland [ 1 ].
The Polish coffee market is worth about PLN 6 billion per year, of which about half is household expenditure [ 73 ], which indicates buying coffee by consumers for home preparation. Polish consumers buy coffee beans more often (30% of households). At the same time, their interest in instant coffee is decreasing—in 2014–2019 by 13% in terms of value and by 14% in terms of quantity. This is likely due to the increase in the purchasing of domestic coffee machines. In terms of the sale of coffee machines in the first half of 2020, Poles became the fourth market in Europe in terms of value, after Germany, France, and the Netherlands. A significant proportion (60.8%) of the coffee machines purchased in Poland are automatic machines, which in 2020 accounted for 92% of the value of the whole coffee machine market [ 74 ]. The consequence of this was an increase in the coffee bean segment by 28.4% [ 75 ]. The market for coffee capsule machines, and thus the demand for coffee capsules, is also growing [ 76 ]. The COVID-19 pandemic may also have contributed to the increase in the sales of automatic coffee machines, and thus the increase of demand for coffee beans in 2020.
Therefore, this research aimed to analyze Polish consumer habits towards coffee consumption and their choices connected with coffee, as well as factors influence on choose kind, brand, and method of preparation of the coffee infusion. The second aim of this study was to identify, describe, and compare consumer segments based on differences in individual choices and habits related to coffee consumption.
2. Materials and Methods
The questionnaire structure is presented in Table 1 . The questionnaire consists of two parts, of which the first part consists of 14 questions relating to coffee consumption and consumer habits with coffee. The questions concern consumer preferences, decisive factors for purchasing, the frequency of coffee consumption, and the method of preparing coffee infusions. The second part of the questionnaire relates to the respondent’s sociodemographic details—gender, age, education, dwelling place. The questionnaire was designed based on the literature. Questions in questionnaire were based on previous studies: Q1, Q2, Q4, Q12, Q13, Q14 [ 50 ]; Q1, Q3, Q5, Q6, Q14 [ 51 ]; Q6, Q11, Q12, Q13 [ 77 ]; Q2, Q11 [ 78 ]; Q1, Q13 [ 79 ]; and Q7, Q8, Q9, Q10 [ 80 , 81 ].
The questionnaire was assessed by determining its repeatability. The reliability of the questionnaire was validated using its internal consistency. Cronbach’s alpha test was used to measure internal consistency and reliability. Cronbach alpha coefficient was above 0.74, which indicated acceptable internal consistency. Therefore, the questionnaire and scale used is valid.
2.2. Data Collection
The Computer-Assisted Web-based Interviewing (CAWI) method was used to collect all data. The survey was conducted on a group of 1500 adult respondents in Poland that reported the consumption of coffee.
Inclusion criteria of respondents for study were as follows:
- Each respondent in age between 18 to 65 years old of who agreed to participate in the survey was invited to complete the questionnaire.
- Everyone consuming the coffee.
The exclusion criterion of respondents was people who do not consume coffee.
This paper were designed as a study with a convenience sampling.
The respondents completed an online questionnaire. A link to the questionnaire in Polish language Google Forms format was sent via Facebook, WhatsApp ® , e-mail, and students forum. A questionnaire provided on a webpage increases the sense of anonymity and gives an opportunity to participate in the study at a time convenient for the respondent, and in time of pandemic COVID-19 was very useful.
The questionnaire was validated by means of a pilot study with 20 people. All problems were identified, for example, unintelligible questions and questionnaire construction, as well as the lack of response request, which can lead to omitted answer for some questions. Then the questionnaire was completed and amended.
It was estimated on a pilot test that it would take each participant around 10–12 min to complete the form. Each adult respondent who agreed to take part in the study was invited to fill in the questionnaire. The respondents were free to participate in the research. Because the research was non-invasive and the details of the participants remained undisclosed, the research does not fall within the remit of the Helsinki Declaration.
2.3. Characteristics of Respondents
The characteristics of the respondents are presented in Table 2 . The study involved mainly women, with secondary or higher education, living in different types of dwelling places. The respondents were in the range of 18–65 years old, who had access to a computer, the Internet, and had computer literacy skills.
Characteristics of the surveyed sample of respondents.
2.4. Data Analysis
The statistical analysis of the results was performed using Statistica software (version 13.3 PL; StatSoft Inc., StatSoft, Krakow, Poland). The ANOVA test was used. Significance of differences between the values was determined at a significance level of p < 0.05.
A multi-dimensional cluster analysis calculation was performed to coffee consumer classifications. Segmentation was performed using the hierarchical (connectivity-based) clustering. Specifically, the agglomeration clustering method and k -means clustering method were used. The analysis was aimed at creating groups of respondents with a homogeneous approach to the purchase and consumption of coffee.
The measure of similarity used in cluster analysis is the distance in a multidimensional coordinate system. This distance can be defined in many different ways. All the variables are therefore categorical, most on the nominal scale and some on the ordinal scale. For this reason, the analysis uses a measure called percent discrepancy, which is the quotient of the number of dimensions with inconsistent values and the number of all dimensions. When studying distances between clusters of multiple elements, it is also necessary to establish a method for calculating the distances of clusters. The analysis used the complete linkage method, also known as the farthest neighborhood method. The distance between clusters is the distance of the farthest elements of both clusters. After separating the clusters, it was examined whether they really differentiate the studied group. For this purpose, the Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test with the significance level p < 0.05 was used. For all clusters, the means and medians were calculated for all variables [ 82 , 83 ].
The analysis consisted of three stages. In the first stage, the system of variables (questions) was reduced. Using the agglomeration method, variables with similar values were combined into clusters, and then all questions were removed from this cluster, leaving one representative. This allows to eliminate from the study questions that are highly correlated and carry the same information, without losing overall information. In the second stage, clusters of cases (respondents) were built using the agglomeration method. The purpose of this stage is to determine the optimal number of clusters. Due to the extremely difficult interpretation of the obtained results, it was decided to create as few reasonable clusters as possible. In the third stage, the elements were finally assigned to clusters using the k -means clustering method and the properties of the obtained communities were analyzed. Due to the large number of numerical values, the article does not present detailed values of the measures and test statistics used, but only the conclusions obtained from them, confirmed by graphs.
3.1. Type of Coffee Consumed by Respondents
Respondents primarily choose instant coffee (50.9% of respondents), ground roasted coffee (45.9%), and roasted coffee beans (37%). A significant percentage of respondents also choose grain coffee (17.7%), coffee beverages (13.1%), and flavored coffee (11.5%). Few people reported a consumption of decaffeinated coffee (7.7%) or low-acid coffee (1.3%).
The choice of the type of coffee correlated with age, education, and dwelling place ( p < 0.05). Roasted coffee beans were significantly more often chosen by people aged 18–25 years, with higher education, and living in cities with above 100,000 inhabitants, while ground roasted coffee was chosen by people aged 31–40 years. Young people (18–25 years of age) significantly more often drink flavored coffee and coffee beverages than others group of consumer. People aged 25–30 years and inhabitants of rural areas consumed grain coffee significantly more often. In turn off, people aged 51–65, with secondary education, and living in cities up to 100,000 inhabitants more often drink instant coffee.
Among the coffee brands, the respondents most often chose Jacobs (44% of indications), Nescafe (36.8%), Tchibo (30.9%), MKCafe (34.9%), and Lavazza (28.4%). Less frequently mentioned were Maxwell House (8.7%), Prima (8.1%), Segafredo (6.8%), and Pedro’s (6.1%). Other brands were mentioned by less than 1% of the respondents. The large variety of coffee brands on the market means that everyone will find something for themselves, and the choice of the brand depends on consumer preferences.
3.2. The Frequency and Place of Coffee Consumption
All the participants in the study reported drinking coffee. The majority of respondents (76.8%) consume coffee daily, either once, twice, or several times a day ( Figure 1 ). A smaller percentage of respondents drink coffee once or three or four times a week or less. The frequency of coffee consumption was associated with age ( p = 0.000) and education ( p = 0.000). However, it did not correlate to gender ( p = 0.517) or type of dwelling place ( p = 0.151). People aged 26–50 and people with higher education consume coffee significantly more often—twice to three or more times a day. People aged 51–65 years significantly more often reported coffee consumption once a day, and people aged 18–25 years significantly more often declared coffee consumption once a week or rarely.
Frequency of consumption coffee by respondents.
The respondents most often drink coffee at home (95.5%) and at work (79.7%), Table 3 . The choice of place to drink coffee mainly correlated with gender, age, and dwelling place. In the canteen, coffee was consumed significantly more often by people aged 18–30 years old and living in large cities above 100,000 inhabitants. Women, people aged 18–30 years, with higher education, living in big cities, significantly more often chosen other catering establishments (cafés) to consume coffee. Young people up to 30 years, women and people with higher education significantly more often drink coffee at work and with friends.
Places of respondents drink coffee.
* NS—no significant, p < 0.05
3.3. Factors Affecting Coffee Purchasing
The most important factors ( Table 4 ) affecting the purchasing of coffee included quality and flavor (taste and aroma) of the coffee, as well as habits of consumers (median 5.5–6). Less important factors for the respondents are coffee price, brand, friends’ opinions, and the features of coffee such as origin, acidity, strength, or degree of roasted (median 5). The least important factors for the respondents were packaging, presentation on the shelf in the store, promotion, advertising, convenience, and coffee health aspects (median 4). The smallest differentiation of respondents’ assessments was obtained in the Convenience and Promotion factors. These factors were assessed as insignificant. Respondents do not pay attention to these factors. While the greatest differentiation of ratings was obtained for the Flavor (taste and aroma) factor. Respondents also assessed this factor as important from the point of view of purchasing coffee. For many people, this factor is extremely important, but some respondents do not pay much attention to it.
Factors affecting coffee purchasing.
* Likert scale: (1): Definitely do not agree; (2): Do not agree; (3): I tend to disagree; (4): Undecided; (5): I tend to agree; (6): Agree; (7): Definitely agree; Q25—lower quartile, Q75—upper quartile; Q = (Q75−Q25)/2.
3.4. Preparation Methods and Types of Coffee Drunk by Respondents
Almost half of the respondents ( n = 666, 44.4%) reported that the way of coffee prepare is important for them, while a significant percentage of the respondents ( n = 391, 26.1%) only sometimes paid attention on brewing methods. For others ( n = 443, 29.5%), is the preparation method was not important.
The respondents like different methods of brewing and different of coffee beverages ( Table 5 ). The most frequent method of brewing coffee stated was coffee made with boiling water in a cup or glass (89.7%), followed by preparing in a pressure coffee machine (77.7%) and in a drip coffee maker (61.5%). The most popular types of coffee were espresso (90.6% of indications) and cappuccino (84.1%), latte or latte macchiato, and frozen coffee (approximately 75% respectively). Americano was reported by 51.4% of the respondents. Other methods, such as lungo, flat white, frappé, with alcohol, doppio, café au lait, frappuccino, café Corto, brewing methods without an espresso machine, and Viennese coffee, were mentioned by less than 10% of respondents.
Preparation methods and types of coffee beverages by respondents.
Multiple choice question.
As an addition to their coffee infusion, most respondents choose milk (69.6%), while fewer choose cream (17.7%). A significant percentage (43.7%) of the respondents sweeten their coffee with sugar. Few of the respondents (7.7%) use sugar substitutes (sweeteners). Almost 40% of respondents drink coffee without additions. Other additions such as cinnamon, cocoa, chocolate, cardamom, syrup, or ice cream were used by 8.8% of respondents.
People aged 31–40 years, with higher education, living in large cities (>100,000 inhabitants) drink coffee without any additions significantly more often ( p < 0.05). Coffee is more likely to be drunk with sugar by men ( p = 0.0025), people aged up to 25–30 or 51–65 years, people with vocational education, and people living in cities with less than 10,000 inhabitants. Coffee with milk is more likely to be drunk by women ( p = 0.00001), people aged 31–40 years ( p = 0.00001), people with higher education ( p = 0.005), and people living in both small and large cities. Cream is mostly added by people aged 51–65 years, and people living in cities with 50,000–100,000 inhabitants ( p < 0.05).
According to the respondents, the most important factors in a coffee infusion are flavor ( n = 1358, 90.5%) and aroma ( n = 1086, 72.4%). Coffee appearance ( n = 254, 16.9%) and color ( n = 264, 17.6%) are less important.
For the preparation of coffee, the respondents mainly use tap water (64.7%), using 1–2.5 teaspoons of ground coffee (54.3%) or using a coffee machine measuring cup or capsules (13.8%) to measure the amount of coffee. The majority of respondents (80%) did not know the coffee brewing temperature, which should be lower than 98 °C, although this information is given on every coffee package. Over 50% of the respondents did not pay attention to the brewing time ( Table 6 ). Thus, the study participants were not “experts” in the field of coffee brewing.
Respondents’ preferences for the preparation of coffee infusion.
3.5. Characteristics of the Respondents in Terms of Choices and Habits Related to Coffee Consumption
In order to reduce the number of variables present in the study, the agglomeration method of cluster analysis was used. The role of this method is to create groups of questions with very similar answers. This eliminates the variables which carry the same information, and thus attempts to simplify and facilitate inference. The removal of these variables from the study at the same time does not cause a significant loss of the information that was obtained as a result of the survey. In the agglomeration method, percent discrepancy and full bond were used as the distance measure.
The agglomeration of variables for a bond distance smaller than 0.2 was adopted as the limit (over 80% of concordant responses). As a result, the variables in seven branches were reduced ( Figure 2 ). The variables in each branch are very closely related, and you can replace them with one variable that represents them. The result of this operation was the reduction of the number of variables by 18, with no significant loss of information carried by them. Fifty-one variables were left for further analysis.
Chart agglomeration of variables.
In the second stage of the analysis, the aim was to create the smallest possible number of groups of cases (respondents) behaving in a similar way to each other. For this purpose, the agglomeration method was used in the cluster analysis with the same assumptions as for the reduction of variables. The agglomeration results are presented in Figure 3 .
Chart agglomeration of cases.
In the agglomeration, the binding distance of 0.86 was assumed as the cut-off level (the red line in the diagram). The adopted cut-off value made it possible to distinguish three groups of respondents. The confirmation of the validity of the selection of such a cut-off level is the bond distance diagram. The distance of the mates for which the plot becomes the most vertical is taken as the cut-off level. This indicates large distances between successive agglomerations and suggests the emergence of natural case groups.
The agglomeration method made it possible to determine the optimal number of respondent groups. However, for the precise assignment of individual cases to each of the three groups, further analysis of these groups was performed using the k-means method of cluster analysis. The clusters of the following numbers were obtained: clusters of 1–295 cases, clusters of 2–709 cases, and clusters of 3–496 cases. The results of the analysis of variance performed for all the variables confirm the validity of the division performed. For almost all variables (except two), the proposed division significantly differentiates the community in a statistically significant manner. In other words, the mean values of almost all variables are significantly different in the three proposed groups of respondents. The values of these averages and the relations between them are shown in Figure 4 .
Average values for all variables in three clusters.
Due to the fact that the variables are not quantitative, the obtained mean results cannot be interpreted in terms of their value, but are only an indication of the relationship between the mean values. They make it possible to assess how often the values of variables appear in one cluster compared to another cluster.
On the basis of the diagram of means, it can be concluded that for Questions 1 to 12.4, the respondents in all groups gave similar, but statistically significantly different, answers. It can be seen that the means for Cluster 2 usually have the highest values, and the means for Cluster 3 have the lowest values. Much larger differences are visible in the case of the answers to Questions 13 and 14.
Based on the cluster analysis, the profiles of preferences of coffee consumers were determined. Three profiles were identified:
- “Neutral coffee drinkers”—Cluster 1,
- “Ad hoc coffee drinkers”—Cluster 2,
- “Non-specific coffee drinkers”—Cluster 3.
When buying coffee, the respondents belonging to Cluster 1 ( n = 295) were clearly less influenced than others by the factors indicated in Question 13. Taking into account that in the case of the remaining questions their average answers were usually between the answers of the other respondents, they can be characterized as people with a neutral or even indifferent attitude towards coffee. They can be characterized as “coffee drinkers” of habit: they like to drink coffee, but they do not mind what type. Representatives of this group are women, people aged 31–40 years, people with higher education, and people living in cities of 50,000–100,000 inhabitants. When buying coffee, these consumers do not pay attention to the information on the packaging, the opinions of friends, presentation on the shelf, or advertising. They drink the strongest coffee and often drink coffee from an espresso machine; quite often they drink coffee outside the home, with friends, and in canteens.
The respondents from Cluster 2 ( n = 709) behaved differently. Their answers to questions from the group of 14 questions indicate a much lower frequency of coffee consumption than others. Coffee is drunk outside the home much more often than other people. Most of the questions (except Question 13) were answered on average with the highest value. It can be stated that they drink coffee sporadically and at the same time are more likely to consume different types of coffee and prepared in more different ways than others. This would indicate a randomness in coffee consumption: they drink coffee, but without preferences to brewing method and type of coffee. They are young consumers, not connoisseurs, who drink coffee as part of their lifestyle. This group is mainly represented by women, people aged 25–30 years, people with higher education, and people living in large cities (over 100,000 inhabitants).
Cluster 3 ( n = 496) respondents constitute the rest of the respondents and cannot be characterized in any unequivocal way. The average representative of Cluster 3 are women, people aged 41–50, people with secondary education, and people living in cities with an average size of 10–50,000 inhabitants. When buying coffee, they take into account factors similar to the ones considered by Cluster 2 consumers, and they take them into account to an average extent. However, these consumers rarely drink coffee outside their homes.
Concluding, Polish consumers do not show clear preferences as to the choice of coffee and are not yet “specialists” in the field of coffee brewing, as evidenced by the answers to individual questions, especially when it comes to brewing methods. It seems that they are experimenting in this regard for the time being, choosing a considerable variety of coffees. However, coffee is becoming an integral part of social life, especially among young people.
4.1. consumer coffee choices.
The respondents indicated quality, flavor, habits, brand, and price as the most important factors affecting the purchase of coffee. Other authors also highlighted these factors [ 51 , 84 , 85 ]. Numerous studies confirm that the main motive for drinking coffee, and thus the main factor for the purchase of coffee by consumers, is its flavor and aroma, and the feeling of pleasure when consuming it [ 50 , 52 , 57 , 68 , 77 , 86 , 87 , 88 , 89 , 90 ], as well as the atmosphere in which coffee is consumed and the emotions that accompany the consumer while drinking it [ 77 ]. Other factors include social recognition of the value of coffee and its stimulating “magic effect”, as well as its physical impact on the body, e.g., the ability to aid digestion or increase blood pressure. The direct factors affecting the purchase of coffee are the price and the quality/price ratio, reported flavor and aroma, infusion intensity, and, above all, buying habits [ 77 , 91 ]. It is worth mentioning that consumers are also interested in buying coffee with “health claims” [ 77 ].
Other studies, such as this, confirm that one of the factors in consumers purchasing is coffee habits, and family traditions, which can then influence the place of consumption and the type of coffee consumed. Coffee consumption behavior depends on culture and traditions, especially coffee drunk at home. Culture and traditions are also a source of knowledge and information, and creates behavior related to coffee consumption [ 56 , 57 , 60 , 64 , 77 ]. Samoggia and Riedel [ 77 ] report that consumers for whom flavor, pleasure, tradition, and habits are the main factor in purchasing and reason for drinking coffee do not consider its beneficial effects on health. On the other hand, if they make a purchase without accompanying emotions, they are more likely to discover new product [ 77 ].
In the selection of coffee brands available on the market, the respondents in this study chose typical brands known on the European market—Tchibo, Jacobs, Lavazza, Nescafe, MKCafe, and Maxwell House—which is probably related to their greater promotion and advertising, which affects customers, although respondents did not indicate this factor as decisive for the purchase of coffee. This confirms the results obtained by other authors [ 51 ].
The results imply that young respondents significantly more often choose speciality coffee. Similar results indicate Lewin et al. [ 92 ], but van der Merwe and Maree [ 63 ] found that is no significant relationship between age and speciality coffee consumption. Only a few respondents in this study choose decaffeinated coffee, similar like other authors [ 60 ].
4.2. Respondents’ Habits Related to Coffee Consumption
The results we obtained regarding the place of coffee consumption from the respondents are consistent with other data from Poland [ 51 , 74 ], and in other countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, UK, France, Greece, Spain, and Italy [ 60 ]. Home and work are the most popular places to drink coffee. A significant percentage of people participating in this study also mentioned cafés (61.5%) and canteens (45.8%). Such a high proportion of coffee consumption in catering establishments is probably related to the specifics of our research group, which included people aged 18–65 years who were professionally active or studying. Such people are associated with a more mobile lifestyle, possibility of drinking coffee in a café or for a social occasion, and also are more likely to drink their first coffee at home and another one at the workplace. The data from the “Poland on a plate” report [ 93 ] confirm this findings, while other data indicates that only 5–6% of Poles drink coffee in catering establishments [ 51 , 74 ]. According to Euromonitor International Coffee [ 61 ], the leading factors driving the growth of the coffee market are innovation in the field of consumption outside the home. The other authors [ 56 ] report that consumers who drink coffee in cafés associate coffee with the attributes of happiness and joy, as well as companionship and stable interpersonal relationships.
Coffee drinking at home is an intimate, private activity, ensuring personal comfort and the opportunity enjoy the experience [ 56 ]. The preferences of coffee consumption, both at home and outside, being related to age and social status, are also indicated by other authors [ 66 , 67 , 94 , 95 ]. People under 35 years of age are more likely to drink coffee in a café, while middle-aged and older people (>65 years old) drink coffee at home [ 94 , 95 ] or at work [ 67 ]. The reason for drinking coffee during a break at work may be the desire to improve mental and physical fitness (functional benefits of drinking coffee), as well as establishing social contacts with colleagues from work (consumption behavior facilitating social integration) [ 68 ].
Findings reveal that, 76.8% of respondents drink coffee every day: once, twice, or several times a day. People aged 51–65 years consume coffee once a day. Other authors [ 51 , 63 ] point to a similar relationship. Elderly people usually limit daily coffee consumption probably due to their health [ 94 , 95 , 96 ].
4.3. Methods of Preparing and Serving Coffee Chosen by Respondents
Finding a relationship between the preferred types of coffee or preparation methods is difficult as they may be dependent on the traditions, culture, and customs of each country [ 57 ].
More than half (50.9%) of the respondents choose easy-to-prepare instant coffee. Most people (90.6%) reported drinking espresso. Consumers also willingly to choose cappuccino (84.1%) and iced coffee (76%). This is related to the way coffee is prepared by the respondents. Results reveal that, the respondents choose coffee made with hot water in a cup (89%), coffee from an espresso machine (77%), and coffee from a drip coffee maker (61%). The popularity of pressure brewing method [ 97 ], and methods without the use of an espresso machine, i.e., alternative brewing methods are also indicated by other authors [ 98 ]. Consumers choose the easy, quick way of preparing coffee, as evidenced by the increase in sales of capsule coffee machines, which can also be observed in Poland. They have attracted the interest of consumers thanks to ease of use and convenience, including easy dosing, as well as the low prices of the coffee machine [ 66 , 99 ].
In Poland, new trends have also been identified in the preparation of cold brew coffee, which is drunk by nearly 13% of respondents. The trend is becoming popular worldwide, as is the interest in consuming coffee outside the home and reducing caffè mocha consumption [ 94 , 95 ].
Findings reveal that, for over half of the respondents (55.6%), the method of brewing is not important, although this is an important stage in the preparation of coffee. Pre-infusion, also known as “blooming”, takes place within the first 30 s after pouring a small amount of water onto the ground coffee beans [ 80 ]. The duration of coffee brewing and the ratio of coffee to water depend on the brewing method and machine [ 100 ].
The sensory quality of coffee infusions, especially creating aroma, is influenced by many factors, the time passed since roasting of the beans [ 80 , 101 ]. An important aspect in the coffee preparation process is brewing, including use the water, which has an optimum pH of 7.0 (the acceptable range of pH is 6.5–7.5). In this study, 64% of respondents use tap water to make coffee. It is worth mentioning that the water pH value affects the coffee taste [ 80 ]. In order to improve water quality, filters can be used to reduce water hardness and remove chlorine and organic pollutants, but only 43% of our respondents use filtered water for brewing coffee.
In order to obtain a high sensory quality in coffee, the water temperature for brewing should be 91–96 °C [ 81 ]. Immersing coffee in boiling water may lead to bitter infusions [ 80 ]. Almost half (49%) of our study participants prepare coffee in this way, and 2% do not pay attention to water temperature, which may also be associated with irregularities in this regard. Coffee infusions prepared in the temperature range of 88–93 °C are characterized by a balanced astringency and bitter taste, appropriate “crema” color, and well-balanced aroma intensity. The infusion that is prepared is also characterized by appropriate density and taste, as well as a sufficiently high concentration of caffeine [ 102 ]. A temperature of water below or above than mentioned, effect on coffee infusion quality [ 103 , 104 , 105 , 106 , 107 ]. Some of the new methods of brewing coffee are performed at temperatures below 25 °C and this methods require a longer extraction time [ 108 ].
Coffee can be drunk on its own or with milk, sugar, condensed milk, and others additives. The preparation method and additives affect consumer coffee choices [ 109 ]. Respondents added different additives to coffee. Almost half of respondents drunk coffee with sugar, and about 70% drunk coffee with milk. According to Landais et al. [ 60 ] coffee and tea have a high contribution to sugar daily intake.
4.4. Characteristic of Coffee Consumers Based on This Study
Based on the results, it can be concluded that Polish consumers do not display the characteristics of coffee connoisseurs, but are rather experimenting with coffee. They do not have clear preferences regarding the choice of coffee or specialist knowledge of coffee preparation. It should be emphasized that greater knowledge leads to preferences for different types of coffee [ 110 ].
Polish consumers consume coffee more often at work than in other places outside home, driven by the stimulating benefits of drinking coffee—improving mental and physical fitness, the opportunity to take a break, and the social aspect. Interestingly, habits can be the key factors influencing coffee consumption—where it is consumed, types of coffee, preparation methods, which is related to the cultural context and traditions of consumers. A country’s traditions and culture can influence both the occasion and the location of coffee drinking. In countries where a tradition of coffee consumption has developed, such as Italy, Brazil, or the USA, the habits of coffee consumption will be different than in Poland.
There are some study limitations. The results come from a convenient sample, focused on Poles. The study did not include the group of people over 65 years of age, who in Poland usually do not have computer access or Internet access, or have low computer literacy skills. For this group, access via the Internet is more difficult and it is harder to collect data. At the same time, coffee consumption in Poland is the greatest in the over-65 age group. Another limitation is that the consumers of coffee were from only one country.
The results of the conducted study suggest that the main factors influencing coffee consumption are sensory quality (flavor and aroma), functional (stimulating) motives, habit factors, and socialization motives.
Polish consumers choose coffee because they like its flavor and the pleasure they experience while consuming it. They also drink coffee because of its functional benefits, wanting to enjoy the energizing effects. The least important factors influencing the choice of coffee by consumers are packaging, in-store displays, advertising, and health aspects. Failure by consumers to pay attention to the information on the packaging may result in a lack of knowledge about the origin of the coffee and the use of fair trade practices by the producer. This failure is also associated with improper preparation of coffee, with particular emphasis on the correct water temperature and the right dose of coffee.
The respondents mainly choose instant coffee, ground roasted coffee, and roasted coffee beans. Few people choose low-acid or decaffeinated coffee, which may indicate that consumers drink coffee for its flavor and also for the stimulating effect of caffeine, and also that health aspects are not important to them.
The conducted cluster analysis allowed for the identification of three groups (clusters) of respondents drinking coffee. They were classified as “Neutral coffee drinkers” (1), “Ad hoc coffee drinkers” (2), and “Non-specific coffee drinkers” (3). Cluster 1 were people drinking coffee mainly out of habit, not overly concerned with the type or method of preparation. They were mainly women aged 31–40, living in medium-sized cities, and drinking coffee from an espresso machine, which may indicate a preference for the stimulating properties of coffee. Consumers representing the second cluster drink coffee occasionally and, at the same time, are more likely to consume different types of coffee, and prepare it with different methods. They were young people with higher education, living in large cities, treating coffee as a lifestyle, consuming it mainly outside the home, but with little frequency. The third cluster includes the remaining respondents who cannot be characterized clearly.
To conclude, it can be stated that the Polish coffee consumer prefers conventional methods of brewing coffee (he/she is a “traditionalist”), but is also open to novelties and the search for new sensory experiences.
The results of the study can be helpful for coffee cafe owners, retailers, and suppliers of coffee, as well as coffee makers sellers, all of whom aim to adapt to changing consumer habits. Identified factors that influence consumers’ coffee choices and methods of coffee preparation, and pointed consumer habits related to coffee consumption may allow to understand the consumer-making process. A consumer segmentation could be helpful to provide marketing activity among proper consumer group, and can be interesting for other populations to cross-cultural comparison.
It would certainly be worth repeating our study after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. It may be an interesting idea to study the impact of remote working mode on the purchase and use of home coffee machines, as well as evaluation the behavior of consumers consuming coffee in cafes. Further research directions may concern coffee cold brewing, especially among consumers who are open to innovation. It would be interesting to investigate the multisensory perception and cross modal relationships of potential coffee consumers.
Conceptualization, E.C.-S.; methodology, E.C.-S., M.P., and P.S.; investigation, E.C.-S., M.P., P.S., and R.K.-G.; data curation, E.C.-S. and T.O.; writing—original draft preparation, E.C.-S., M.P., P.S., and R.K.-G.; writing—review and editing, E.C.-S.; visualization, T.O.; supervision, E.C.-S. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
This research was financed by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education within funds of Institute of Human Nutrition Sciences, Warsaw University of Life Sciences (WULS) for scientific research.
Institutional Review Board Statement
The respondents were free to participate in the research. Ethical review and approval were waived for this study, due to the research was non-invasive (survey on internet panel) and details the participants remained undisclosed, the research does not fall within the remit of the Helsinki Declaration. The data were collected by CAWI method.
Informed Consent Statement
Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of interest.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study
Prashant Choudhary Aditi Bathia Jacquelyn Tan
As consumer habits are rapidly evolving, what does the ASEAN consumer feel about the economy? How have financial habits and digital preferences changed? UOB launched its flagship ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study (ACSS) 2023. The study, conducted in partnership with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for the first time, looked into consumer trends and sentiments in five countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Get the insights from UOB’s latest ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study, conducted in partnership with BCG.
How Your Social Media Habits Can Affect Your Wallet
Posted: November 6, 2023 | Last updated: November 6, 2023
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of social media platforms as a way for consumers to connect with brands, discover new products and make purchases. However, the effects of social media interactions on consumer behavior are not well understood.
A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that 75% of U.S. consumers have tried a new store, brand or different way of shopping during the pandemic, and that social media usage plays a role in the consumer buying process. The study suggested that consumers’ beliefs and habits have changed due to their new experiences on social media, and that companies can reinforce and shape these behavioral shifts by understanding and meeting consumers’ needs in the next normal.
One of the factors that can influence consumer behavior on social media is the number of likes and comments that a post or an ad receives. According to a study by Matthew Pittman, a professor of advertising at the University of Tennessee, and Eric Haley, a professor of communication at the same university, consumers who are mentally drained from scrolling through their social media feeds are more likely to be influenced by a high number of likes or comments on posts, even to the point of clicking on ads for products they don’t need or want.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted three online experiments on Americans aged 18-65 to test how people under various mental loads respond to ads differently. The researchers found that the group that used Instagram first were the most likely to want to buy the featured product when there were lots of likes or comments, and they also reported using the most mental effort to assess the ad.
The researchers explained that this phenomenon is due to “cognitive overload”, a state of mental exhaustion caused by constantly evaluating different types of text, photo and video posts from so many different people. When consumers are cognitively overloaded, they rely more on heuristics, such as social proof, to make decisions.
Consumers should be aware of how social media can affect their behavior and use it in moderation and with caution. As Pittman said in an article for PsyPost, “Social media is not inherently bad; it is how we use it that matters.”
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US consumers keep spending despite high prices and their own gloomy outlook. Can it last?
File - Shoppers push carts into a Costco warehouse Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Thornton, Colo. A surge in U.S. consumer spending is fueling economic growth, reflecting a resilience among households that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in surveys.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
File - A family walks past a ticketing area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, on Sept. 1, 2023. A surge in U.S. consumer spending is fueling economic growth, reflecting a resilience among households that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in surveys. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
People eat at Serendipity 3 restaurant in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. A surge in U.S. consumer spending is fueling economic growth, reflecting a resilience among households that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in surveys.(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
File - A couple approaches a JCPenney store in Frisco, Texas, on Aug. 30, 2023. A surge in U.S. consumer spending is fueling economic growth, reflecting a resilience among households that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in surveys. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
A 2024 Cooper Countryman S sports-utility vehicle is displayed at a Mini dealership Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. A surge in U.S. consumer spending is fueling economic growth, reflecting a resilience among households that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in surveys. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — A flow of recent data from the U.S. government has made one thing strikingly clear: A surge in consumer spending is fueling strong growth, demonstrating a resilience that has confounded economists, Federal Reserve officials and even the sour sentiments that Americans themselves have expressed in opinion polls.
Spending by consumers rose by a brisk 0.4% in September the government said Friday — even after adjusting for inflation and even as Americans face ever-higher borrowing costs.
Economists caution that such vigorous spending isn’t likely to continue in the coming months. Many households have been pulling money from a shrinking pool of savings. Others have been turning increasingly to credit cards. And the additional savings that tens of millions of households amassed during the pandemic — from stimulus aid and reduced opportunities to travel, dine out and visit entertainment venues — are nearly depleted, economists say.
Still, the truth is no one knows where things go from here, given the unusual nature of the post-pandemic economy. The “death of the consumer” and an ensuing recession have been forecast by most economists for at least a year. So far, not only is no recession in sight but consumers as a whole appear to be in robust health. Spending might cool in the coming months, yet it’s far from clear it will collapse.
On Thursday, the government said the economy accelerated at a 4.9% annual rate in the July-September quarter, the fastest such rate since 2021, on the back of a jump in Americans’ spending. People spent on used cars and restaurant meals, airfares and hotel rooms. Much of it, even after adjusting for higher prices, was for discretionary items that suggested that many people feel confident in their finances and job security.
The durability of that spending has caught the attention of Fed officials, who have signaled that they will keep their key interest rate unchanged when they meet this week. But they’ve also made clear that they are monitoring the economic data for any sign that inflation could reignite and require further rate hikes.
“I have been consistently surprised at the resilience of consumer spending,” Christopher Waller, an influential member of the Fed’s board, said in a speech this month.
In the meantime, businesses, especially those in the sprawling service sector, are benefiting from what still appears to be pent-up demand, likely driven by higher-income earners, after the restrictions of the pandemic. Last week, Royal Caribbean Group reported robust quarterly earnings. Travelers crowded their cruise ships and spent more even as the company raised prices.
“The acceleration of consumer spending on experiences (has) propelled us towards another outstanding quarter,” said CEO Jason Liberty. “Looking ahead, we see accelerating demand.”
So what’s behind the outsize gains, so far? Economists point to several drivers: Sturdy hiring and low unemployment, along with healthy finances for most households emerging from the pandemic. Wealthier households, in particular, have enjoyed substantial growth in home values and stock portfolios, which are likely juicing their spending.
Steady hiring has sent the unemployment rate down to a near-five-decade low of 3.8% and lifted to a record high the proportion of women in their prime working years — ages 25 through 54 — who are employed. Measures of layoffs are near historical lows. More jobs mean more income, which generally means more spending.
“We continue to believe that you shouldn’t bet against the consumer until actual job losses are on the horizon,” said Tim Duy, chief U.S. economist at SGH Macro Advisers.
In the July-September quarter, Americans ramped up spending on durable goods — furniture, appliances, jewelry and luggage — that people typically cut back on if they’re worried about their jobs or the economy.
With inflation slowing — it’s at a still-high 3.7% , down from a peak of 9.1% in June 2022 — average wages are starting to outpace price gains. By some measures , wage growth hasn’t yet fully offset the inflation surge that began in 2021. But since late last year, pay has risen faster than prices, likely fueling some spending.
In many lower-paying industries, like hotels, restaurants and warehouses, companies have struggled to find and keep workers and have raised pay accordingly. Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, calculates that for the lowest-paid 10% of workers, wages have jumped 25% since the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic began. That’s well ahead of the 18% increase in prices over that time.
And most households started 2023 in better shape than they were in before the pandemic erupted, according to a report from the Fed . The net worth of the median household — the midpoint between the richest and poorest — jumped 37% from 2019 through 2022 as home prices shot higher and the stock market rose. That was the biggest surge on records dating back more than 30 years.
Most of the savings that Americans have accumulated in the past three years have flowed to the wealthiest households, who have splurged on travel and other experiences. Typically, economists say, the wealthiest one-fifth of Americans account for about two-fifths of all spending.
The net worth of the richest one-tenth of households leaped by $28 trillion — or about one-third — from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2023, according to the Fed. The poorer one-half of Americans gained a bigger percentage increase but in total dollars much less, from about $2 trillion to $3.6 trillion. (Those figures aren’t adjusted for inflation.)
“When wealth is growing by the amount that it has been the past three years ... I do think that it’s playing a larger role in this spending strength than maybe we thought it would,” said Sarah Wolfe, U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley.
Small-business owners like Bret Csencsitz, managing partner of Gotham Restaurant in New York City, can attest to that. High-dollar spending by middle-age customers has helped replace many of his older patrons who moved out of the city during COVID. These customers, who typically work in technology and finance, are buying $150 to $200 bottles of wine and spending a little over $200 on steak for two.
The average per-person check is up over 20% to roughly $145 compared with the pre-pandemic days, he added, and he has had groups of up to 60 people holding dinners at his restaurant.
“People are back,” he said. “There’s more energy.”
Aditya Bhave, senior economist at Bank of America, noted that the spending isn’t all driven by the affluent. Spending on the bank’s credit and debit cards by households with incomes below $50,000 has risen faster than spending by higher-earning clients.
Some Americans, while keeping a close watch on their finances, still feel they have room to indulge themselves. Consider Valerie Zaffina, a 74-year-old retired teacher who was picking up a piece of jewelry last week at a Kohl’s store in Ramsey, New Jersey. She said she and her husband live on fixed incomes and are cautious spenders.
But Zaffina has nevertheless decided on one big splurge — about $5,000 to decorate her rental apartment, including a $2,500 couch and a $600 rug. It’s her first major decorating project in 18 years.
“I had kind of a frustrating year, and I wanted to do something for myself,” she said. “So, yeah, I’m redecorating. I’m in the throes of that, but I’m sticking to a budget.”
Many analysts still warn of a new crop of headwinds facing consumers and the economy. Nearly 30 million student loan borrowers had to start paying their loans this month, for example. And government dysfunction in Washington could lead to a government shutdown next month.
A report Friday showed that while inflation-adjusted income fell last month along with the savings rate, consumers still ramped up their spending. That trend, economists say, is unsustainable.
Even so, those challenges may not prove as damaging as feared. Student loan payments, for example, jumped even before an Oct. 1 deadline for resuming them, Bhave noted. And few borrowers appear to have taken advantage of a 12-month grace period the Biden administration put in place, suggesting that most borrowers can afford to resume paying the money back — at least for now.
And executives at Visa, which reported strong earnings and a surge of spending by their U.S. credit card customers overseas in the third quarter, have also downplayed the likely impact of student loan repayments.
The company isn’t “factoring in any impacts” from loan repayments “because we’ve yet to see any meaningful impact,” said Visa’s chief financial officer, Christopher Suh. “Consumer spending across all segments from high to low has remained stable since March.”
“There’s a lot of gloom and doom,” around the consumer, Bhave said. “And yet the data keep surprising to the upside.”
D’Innocenzio reported from New York.