man shopping in supermarket with mask on
From "health-minded crowd avoiders" to "stressed strugglers," these five buyer groups outlined by market research firm Nielsen exemplify shoppers' new mindsets and spending habits. — Getty Images/FG Trade

The pandemic has triggered psychological states shaping why and how we buy, nudging consumer-behavior shifts that go well beyond the much-noted surge in online shopping.

These crisis-informed mindsets, along with socio-economic factors fueled by the crisis, are ushering in a once unfathomable set of consumer groups, from “health minded crowd avoiders” to “at-risk solution seekers,” according to Nielsen research.

For businesses, attention must be paid, as these groups are altering the consumer economy in real time.

“Within the U.S., there is a behavioral shift unfolding. Currently, we are shifting from a state of health restriction into an environment of economic constriction,” Nicole Collida, North American consumer intelligence commercial lead for Nielsen, told CO—. Factors such as high unemployment rates and ongoing state restrictions are helping to dictate consumer spending patterns, prompting Americans to rethink how they shop and what they buy, she said.In turn, “With one in four American households reporting an income decline due to COVID, economic factors will be the primary driver of the next wave of consumer behavior shifts.”

Here, Collida unpacks the five U.S. buying groups and behavioral “resets,” like a “homebody reset,” that have emerged amid the pandemic, and why they matter.


Nielsen SVP Nicole Collida outlines the current shopper mindsets and buying habits resulting from the pandemic. If your business is looking to pivot and meet customers where they are, read on.

Nicole Collida, North American consumer intelligence commercial lead, Nielsen:

The 5 new buyer groups reshaping consumption

In the U.S. market, Nielsen developed five distinct buyer groups that can be used to understand and track [product] category and retailer engagement throughout the pandemic.

  • Health-minded crowd avoiders: Consumers who are protecting their health by avoiding crowds.
  • Conscientious store shoppers: Consumers who are healthy but seeking safer shopping routines and plenty of supplies.
  • Regular routine rebounders: Consumers who are somewhat concerned with COVID but anticipating a quick rebound.
  • At-risk solution seekers: Consumers who are very concerned financially, are preparing now, but expecting a shorter-term impact.
  • Stressed strugglers: Consumers who are very concerned financially and trying to stay safe.

Why it matters now: Strategies informed by new consumer mindsets drive a return on investment

Simply put, these consumer segmentations were created to help companies gain visibility into the minds and mindset of U.S. consumers today. Segmentations form because of patterns that emerge in buying behavior. Digging into consumers at this level of detail allows for strategies that link to the most meaningful ROI [return on investment] for brands and retailers: a true understanding of what consumers demand, and where they are fulfilling these critical wants and needs.

Given the unique nature of today's business landscape and the ever-changing factors that are, and will continue to, impact consumer decision making, a company's success may hinge on understanding the specific consumption shifts that have occurred in 2020, and new habits that will shape our future in the months to come.

New relationships form between retail brands and consumers

Across the store, from a category and product level, there are nuances that are emerging across these five segmentations that companies need to be mindful of. New use cases are emerging, new brand loyalties and disloyalties are forming, and for some categories, an entirely new relationship is forming between consumer and product. In order to survive and thrive, retailers and brands must recalibrate their understanding of consumer habits and realign with a segmentation that is representative of the current landscape.

Why it matters now: ‘At-risk solution seekers’ and ‘stressed strugglers’ lead buying behavior

For example, it will be important for retailers and brands to keep a close eye on at-risk solution seekers (18% of households) and stressed strugglers (20% of households), because these are the two segmentations who are most meaningfully impacted by financial strain in recent months. These groups are most likely to see continued shifts in behavior and are already proactively making choices and shifting shopping behaviors that may vary in extremities due to their high level of concern for their financial well-being. While we expect other consumer segments to shift behaviors more dramatically as we potentially move into a recession, the at-risk solution seekers and stressed strugglers are already there. They will drive omni shopping behavior in new ways, like increased trips to the value channel and smaller pack-size purchases. Their choices are now being made on economic factors, whereas much of the population is still focused on health- and safety-based decision making.

With this in mind, retailers and brands who are able to bring a bit of comfort and perhaps even some form of stability to consumers who are especially concerned and impacted by the unpredictable nature of today's economy and job market, may have an opportunity to build brand affinity and ultimately, loyalty, long term.

In order to survive and thrive, retailers and brands must recalibrate their understanding of consumer habits and realign with a segmentation that is representative of the current landscape.

Nicole Collida, North American consumer intelligence lead, Nielsen

The key behavioral resets redefining the U.S. consumer economy

The ‘basket reset’

Due to economic conditions, consumers will minimize stockpiling. New economic sensitivities will force limitations on basket choices. We can already see that in the U.S. — the average size of the American shopping basket has seen a steady decline from peak COVID-19 levels. Simply put, we anticipate that consumers will start to reprioritize what goes into their baskets. Particularly as more and more consumers become unable to maintain their peak COVID-19 spending levels, the consideration set for what is “essential” will shrink.

Why it matters now: Smaller pack sizes and private-label products gain appeal

From a grocery perspective, categories that saw large spikes of growth as consumers sheltered-in-place such as alcohol, tobacco and cosmetics may encounter some headwinds ahead. Anticipated shifts in grocery category spending are likely to tip towards necessities such as prepared foods, dairy and CPG food products. Beyond basket size, consumers are also showing some signs in some categories of a shift toward private-label products. This marks a shift from the early days of the pandemic when consumers were more focused on whatever was available. But, as shoppers look to find cost savings, private label will become more attractive. Lastly, correlating with shrinking basket sizes, product innovations with smaller pack sizes will increasingly emerge. As the recessionary environment worsens and household cash flow is pressured, consumers who would normally be able to save money by buying larger, more economical pack sizes may be forced to actually buy smaller pack sizes as and when they can afford them.

The ‘homebody reset’

Global measures confirm that many homebound routines are here to stay, and this facet of consumer reset is transforming behaviors and preferences in a big way. Within the U.S., as of early July, Nielsen data shows that home delivery [jumped] 39% in dollar sales. This is impressive growth, but it was dwarfed by click-and-collect, [which soared] more than 95%.

Why it matters now: Do-it-yourself consumption takes flight

U.S. consumers continue to embrace e-commerce but are starting to gravitate toward more affordable (no shipping and handling fees) and still convenient options. Within the homebody economy, U.S. consumers are also continuing to embrace the ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) mentality with respect to some CPG categories. Increased skills and ability in areas such as beauty and baking may see enduring consumer activity and interest. Building on this, the DIY mentality is also impacting in-home eating preferences. As restaurants continue to operate with limited capacity, grocery stores and meal kit providers continue to see beneficial opportunities for growth.

The ’rationale reset’

The economic climate is causing consumers to cut back to save on household expenses. This means that we are entering an era where consumers may soon reimagine the role CPG [consumer products goods] products play in their day-to-day lives. Referencing data from The Conference Board, a third or more of surveyed consumers are spending less on take-away meals, travel, entertainment and clothing.

Why it matters now: Consumers opt for micro luxuries

With this in mind, we predict consumers will turn to consumer goods as a means to fulfill some of these gaps in smaller ways. One example of this: Consumers who can afford small luxuries are opting for products like nicer bottles of wine, nicer cuts of meat, artisan bread, sushi and facial skin care to compensate for the travel and entertainment experiences they can no longer safely enjoy.

The ’affordability reset’

Good deals in stores have been hard to come by over the past few months. This is a trend that was seen worldwide. Nielsen data shows that promoted sales reached a four-year low across the U.S., Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Poland in the second quarter of 2020.

Why it matters now: Marketers must reassess their promotional game plan

However, we see the early indication that the promotional baseline has been reset, prompting a huge opportunity to transform consumer behavior around affordability. The recent lack of ‘normal’ promotional activity leads to an important and perhaps historic moment where companies can reset and reimagine their approach to promotional activities, readjusted to the new world we are all operating in.

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