Canadian Shoppers Hesitant to Spend Amid COVID-19: Survey

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A recent survey by Ipsos, the world’s third largest market research company, found that Canadian shoppers today are more thoughtful of their spending and they are taking more time to research online before making their purchases.


Therefore, brands and retailers need to be prepared for this elevated behaviour, especially as they head into planning for the busy fall/winter Holiday shopping season.

“As companies start to make plans for the busy, make-or-break Holiday shopping season, they will need to have the latest information on shopping trends in order to make the best decisions possible and adapt to a rapidly changing consumer landscape. Any pains in operations or fulfilment today will be amplified as we head into the busy fall shopping season,” said Naumi Haque, Senior Vice President Ipsos.

“Not surprising one of the key things was that many Canadians are shopping online and that’s happening across categories. Groceries is where we saw the biggest shift. Almost a doubling of people using online grocery in about a month. From a broader context, we looked at sentiments for Canadians and we found that the current sentiment related to COVID has sort of normalized.

“Canadians have surpassed the preparation and the adjustment phase where they would have been stocking masks and pantry loading and things like that, over two thirds are now adjusting or acclimatizing to what we’ve been calling like a new normal situation. And I think part of that is we’re seeing purchases in non-essential categories increase as well. Fashion and apparel and home and electronics are starting to see an uptick as well.”

Haque said much of the early volatility in consumer behaviour is now starting to normalize where retailers can make plans for the back half of the year or the next 12 to 18 months because they can start to predict what that time period is going to look like.


According to the study, Canadian consumers are still reacting to the financial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on them, with over a quarter delaying or cancelling major purchases (28 percent). As a result, most consumers (61 percent) also agree that they are being more mindful about how much they spend, and nearly half (46 percent) are being more cautious by spending more time researching purchases online before buying them.

The survey also found that three-quarters (75 percent) of Canadians are making fewer trips to the store because of social distancing measures, half (48 percent) are worried about safety precautions taken by delivery companies and a third (34 percent) are still stockpiling food items and personal care products.

“The accelerated growth of digital is being felt across categories, and especially in grocery and personal care. The number of consumers using alternative grocery fulfillment options like curbside pick-up and delivery nearly doubled within a month and high consideration provides ample opportunity for future growth of these platforms,” said Ipsos.

Haque said retailers are planning for the future and what that might look like. They have to invest in understanding how the landscape is changing.

“There’s definitely companies out there that are reluctant to invest in the research because they don’t want to commit the budget or they feel like it’s not worth it because things are going to get back to normal. It’s like ‘oh this is a blip. It’s a pandemic. It will go away’. But I think the fact of the matter is what we’re hearing from consumers and we’re seeing in the data this is the new normal for at least the next 12 months,” said Haque.

“You can’t develop a strategy for a 12-month period being blind to what’s happening with consumers. There’s new consumer segments out there. There’s new consumer needs and shopping occasions that didn’t exist before and we don’t touch in depth on that in the study but we’re doing a lot of custom work with clients to help them understand that.

“Just understanding that this is going to be a longer haul and making sure we have the right information is one thing they can do. The other thing is that it’s going to be a digital fall/winter. The trend is going that way anyway. Every year we see more digital and omnichannel behaviour. But this holiday season we know is going to be much more digital. There’s a lot of general best practices around that. We want to encourage retailers to think about that.”

He said customers are going to want to check inventory before they go online. They are going to research online before going to a store. They won’t want to spend time in a store particularly if there are continued safety concerns.

“So they’re going to do a lot more research up front,” added Haque. “They’re going to be scrutinizing their purchases more. They’re doing more research around price and being mindful of how they’re spending. Using mobile first. We’ve seen mobile trends increase a ton . . . Anything retailers can do to help consumers reduce the amount of time in store using mobile is going to be a really important measure for retailers and for brands.

“For a lot of these activities, consumers don’t really know how to go about shopping. They don’t understand if they go to a mall do they line up outside, do they line up inside. Do I need a face mask? Do I not? Should I have kids? Are there safety measures in place? Around the food court? There’s just a lot of uncertainty so I think communicating to consumers and making sure retailers and brands are communicating in terms of all the measures they’re taking and what are the mechanics of shopping I think is going to be super important.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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