Pandemic permanently altering consumption habits in China

05 May 2021 4 min. read

The global pandemic has provoked widespread environmental concern among consumers in China according to a new AlixPartners report, with many to permanently alter their behaviour.

A new survey report from business advisory AlixPartners has found that almost half of all consumers believe their spending habits have been permanently altered due to Covid-19, with more than two thirds of respondents from China claiming the pandemic had provoked more environmentally-conscious purchasing. Altogether, the firm canvassed over 7,000 consumers globally, including hundreds in China and Japan.

Of those surveyed, two thirds were feeling confident about vaccination programmes, with those equally split into camps which believed their consumer spending would be permanently altered and those that felt their consumption habits would return to normal once the pandemic had subsided. A further 15 percent who were pessimistic on vaccination agreed their habits had shifted for good, while ten percent each hadn’t changed consumption or remained unsure.

Anticipated personal consumption habits post Covid-19

As would be expected with closed borders and community lock-downs, respondents reported spending far less on travel and tourism, outside entertainment, and restaurants – at rates of two thirds or greater for each category – while the majority spent more or the same amount on items such as clothes, consumer electronics and footwear. Naturally, with stay-at-home orders in place, household products, groceries, and home entertainment saw the greatest increases in spending.

For the near half of respondents who believed their habits have been forever influenced by the pandemic, it may be a case of having learned to live without certain luxuries. Dining out and travel – both as to transport and accommodation – were the two categories most cited when it came to enduring shifts, dining out at a rate of 51 percent. Takeaways and deliveries also received a 27 percent hit, while the least impacted category was toys, sporting goods and games.

Consumer categories facing permanently changed habits from Covid-19

Where Chinese consumers diverged the most substantially from their international counterparts was in terms of environmental concern arising from the pandemic. At the global level, just under 80 percent of respondents indicated that the pandemic had increased their concern for the environment, with 38 percent saying these concerns had changed their consumer behaviours. For China, these figures were a 97 percent increase in concern and a 67 percent rate of altered behaviour.

As a comparison, less than a 30 percent of respondents in the US and Japan had changed their consumption habits out of a pandemic-induced concern for the environment. Elsewhere, or perhaps in relation, consumers in China are also shifting to online channels in numbers far outstripping the rest of the world, and in almost every category. Upwards of 70 percent say they plan to shop more online in the future, with the next closest country figure at 43 percent. Japan recorded 29 percent.

Categories on increased online spending in China post Covid-19

Of those stating permanently changed habits (44 percent overall in the case of China), more than half will now head online more for clothing and footwear, compared to a rest-of-the world average of closer to 10 percent.

Already the global leader for ecommerce, impacted Chinese consumers have also taken to shopping online for groceries, with more than a third expecting to increase their spend in the notoriously tricky segment. That figure internationally was net -1 percent.

“Companies need to recognise that emerging values are of increasing significance,” said Shanghai-based AlixPartners managing director Jian Li, citing the growing environmental focus. “We are seeing a shift in concerns and behaviours, with increasing divergence based on culture and locale. Businesses need to take note of the specific market landscape and consumer mentality in each of their markets if they are to have a meaningful dialogue with their consumers.”