Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and generational heterogeneity on ecommerce shopping styles – A case study of Sacramento, California

Authors: Qianhua Luo, Teddy Forscher, Susan Shaheen, Elizabeth Deakin, and Joan L. Walker

Date: January 2023


The COVID pandemic has accelerated the growth of ecommerce and reshaped shopping patterns, which in turn impacts trip-making and vehicle miles traveled. The objectives of this study are to define shopping styles and quantify their prevalence in the population, investigate the impact of the pandemic on shopping style transition, understand the generational heterogeneity and other factors that influence shopping styles, and comment on the potential impact of the pandemic on long-term shopping behavior. Two months after the initial shutdown (May/June 2021), we collected ecommerce behavioral data from 313 Sacramento Region households using an online survey. A K-means clustering analysis of shopping behavior across eight commodity types identified five shopping styles, including ecommerce independent, ecommerce dependent, and three mixed modes in-between. We found that the share of ecommerce independent style shifted from 55% pre-pandemic to 27% during the pandemic. Overall, 30% kept the same style as pre-pandemic, 54% became more ecommerce dependent, and 16% became less ecommerce dependent, with the latter group more likely to view shopping an excuse to get out. Heterogeneity was found across generations. Pre-pandemic, Millennials and Gen Z were the most ecommerce dependent, but during the pandemic they made relatively small shifts toward increased ecommerce dependency. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation were bimodal, either sticking to in-person shopping or shifting to ecommerce-dependency during the pandemic. Post-pandemic intentions varied across styles, with households who primarily adopt non-food ecommerce intending to reverse back to in-person shopping, while the highly ecommerce dependent intend to limit future in-store activities.

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Posted on

January 23, 2023