Are our shopping habits now part of the “new normal”?

By Hüseyin ERBAS* 

The cheek kiss is still a ritual in some cultures, although it is less now common in European societies. It was a ritual practiced more frequently before the Spanish flu in 1918. After the Spanish flu pandemic, handshaking replaced cheek kissing and this new ritual became the ”new normal” (Birnbaum, Harlan, Rolfe, 2020). COVID-19 pandemic has affected our everyday lives and behaviors. Today, handshaking has now been replaced by waving and elbow bumping and these have recurred again as greeting gestures within our ”new normal” everyday behaviors during COVID-19.

Not only do extraordinary situations change our greeting rituals, they also change our shopping behaviors. With the COVID-19  pandemic, consumers gained new shopping habits that they would never have thought of a year before. For example, wearing masks or gloves during shopping in the markets, having disinfectants, paying attention to social distancing, avoiding some products while choosing other new ones are some of the new shopping behaviors we have just acquired. These new behaviors that have been adapted by consumers in a bid against COVID-19, although weird and difficult in the early days of the pandemic, are now a part of our daily shopping behaviors. Here I am going to share some insights from my comparative research on changing shopping behaviors of Swedish and Turkish consumers during COVID-19. 

“At the beginning of the epidemic, when I saw people were buying a lot of toilet paper and fighting over toilet paper, I was both yelling and laughing, but now every time I go to the store I buy a pack of toilet paper and countless cleaning products even though I know that it will not be sold out in the markets and that I have enough at home. (laughs) My guest room is full of toilet paper and cleaning  products, but I am still buying it.’’ (Elif,32, Izmir/Turkey)

First Elif perceives shopping an extensive amount of toilet paper and other hygiene products as weird and rejects to follow others’ behaviors in this situation. She does not welcome this behavior but after some time, she adapts this behavior and follows the others’ practices of buying toilet paper and cleaning products. In the interview, she states that she has realized the severity of the situation with COVID-19 and has kept stocking these products since then. 

“I no longer go shopping without gloves and disinfectant. Especially disinfectant, I have a small bottle of disinfectant that I always carry with me. In the beginning, I could sometimes forget it at home, but  now I take that little bottle with me as I take my wallet and mobile phone.’’ (Karin, 68, Lund/Sweden)

Disinfectants have been widely used word-wide in the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Karin mentions above they become an inseparable component of bags, alongside wallets. She says that she had forgotten to carry her disinfectant bottle or gloves in her life at the beginning of the pandemic but now she gives extra attention to carry them in her bag and bring them everywhere. 

Consumers are quickly adapting to new shopping behaviors and now see them as an inseparable part of everyday daily life in both Turkey and Sweden. From the insights given above, one can observe how consumers normalize these behaviors as “new normal” everyday life behaviors.  Although it is too early to make a definitive judgment, the fact that these people get accustomed to these new shopping behaviors in as little as ten months gives us a clue to the “new normal” in the future.

People have started to prefer to shake hands after the Spanish flu but cheek kissing still exists as a greeting gesture. These shopping behaviors mentioned above might still exist in the future like in the greeting example. Thus, I believe the term “new normal” is actually a combination of old and new behaviors. Over time, we will see how the “new normal”, which is the combination of the shopping behavior of consumers before COVID-19 and the new shopping behavior they acquired during COVID-19, will look like. Of course, some factors will have an effect on how these changing behaviors will be permanent;  for example, how satisfied the consumer is with these new behaviors, how many people in the society will continue them, how good will the digital infrastructure in countries be. Perhaps in the future, we will not even remember why some of the shopping behaviors that seem extraordinary to us now have changed in this way. 

References: 

Birnbaum M., Harlan C., and Rolfe P. (2020 May). Europe bids adieu to cheek kiss in coronavirus era. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/cheek-kisscoronavirus/2020/05/15/2df3e28a-93bf-11ea-87a3-22d324235636_story.html

*Huseyin Erbas is a Masters in Applied Cultural Analysis program student at Lund University. He currently conducts his research with a collaboration of Square Culture for one of his courses in the program. He researches the changing shopping habits of consumers with COVID-19 and the reasons behind them in both Turkey and Sweden. To get further information about his research, please email sahra@squareculture.se.