Boredom buys: Aussies shop big in 2020 to shake off COVID-19 blues

Aussies shopped up big during the COVID-19 lockdown to shake off feelings of sadness and anxiety, according to the latest ACRS Retail Report.

  • Australians turned to retail therapy to counter feelings of loneliness caused by the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • More than two-thirds of shoppers felt happy when spending money on non-grocery items; 55% said they didn’t feel lonely, stressed or bored when shopping.
  • Aussies purchased clothing, personal care and homeware items the most, while shoppers stocked up on toilet paper, canned and dry food, and cleaning supplies at the supermarket.

Australians turned to retail therapy to counter feelings of loneliness or to stave off boredom and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns, a new report by Monash University researchers has found.

As the pandemic restrictions adversely affected the mental health of many Australians, research by Monash Business School’s Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) node found people turned to their wallets to help them cope during those uncertain times.

Findings of the latest report, found more than two-thirds of Aussie shoppers felt moderately to a great deal happy, in control and experienced a level of normalcy when shopping for non-grocery products.

More than 55% of shoppers said they didn’t feel lonely, stressed or bored while shopping for non-grocery retail products.

This year, Aussies bought the most of clothing, footwear and accessories (59%); homeware and hardware (45%); and personal care products, such as cosmetics and baby care (37%).

A higher proportion of women made purchases in clothing, footwear, and accessories (70% to 48% men) and personal care (48% to 25% men).

Unsurprisingly, at the supermarket checkout, Aussies stocked up big on toilet paper, tissues and paper towels (14%); pasta and noodles (13%); cleaning supplies (12%); frozen foods (11%) and sanitisers and soaps (10%). The biggest stocked piled grocery items were canned goods and soups (15%).

And while delivery timings of online purchases were a pain-point in 2020, with 38% of shoppers reporting that delivery times were worse than the previous year, overall the retail experience of online shopping was viewed as being better than the previous year (25%) and so too was customer service online (21%).

To understand the effect COVID-19 has had on the retail industry and Australian shoppers, ACRS has been conducting a monthly shopper pulse survey since September 2020.

The report, containing feedback from nearly 5,000 shoppers across Australia, highlights the fluctuating retail trends and the out-of-the-ordinary purchases made on certain products because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Those surveyed said they rushed to the shops to stock up on those goods because they wanted to ensure their family/household was taken care of, they expected disruptions to supply chains, and they expected to spend more time at home and wanted appropriate products,” Stephanie Atto, Principal Research Consultant at the ACRS, said.

“Similarly, Australians also made a number of out-of-the-ordinary purchases because of COVID-19, including casual/loungewear (12%), sports clothing and shoes (8%); face/body care (9%) and haircare (7%); as well as household items for cooking and baking (7% and 6% respectively) and drinks appliances, such as coffee makers (6%).”

Aussies also binged on subscriptions to online movies and TV platforms, such as Netflix, Disney+ and Stan (8%), bought new laptops/tablets (7%) and smartphones (6%), and stocked up the home gym with weights and exercise balls (5%).

However, shoppers were most concerned about being COVID-safe while shopping in store for essential items.

Shoppers agreed that most retailers introduced appropriate safety measures (84%), acted in the interests of their customers (77%), and made it convenient for customers to shop with them (76%).

As small businesses struggled and many closed their doors, shoppers said they would do what they could to support the Australian retail industry, with many expected to shop more for products that are locally produced (61%).

Aussies are also expected to be more conservative with their spending (58%) and will seek out sales or special deals (66%) in the future.

“Although we can’t know exactly what the next year will bring, this year has demonstrated the need for a seamless connection between the physical store, online offerings and improved technology integration into the retail experience. We can also expect some of the shopping behaviours that have changed this year to continue into the future,” Ms Atto said.

To read the full article, please visit Monash Business School’s Impact.