Covid-19: online & more sustainable consumption becoming priority for many Europeans

A TFI survey of 5,000 people across five countries
Posted on August 25, 2020

The pandemic lockdowns certainly accelerated the shift from offline to online consumption for many households in Europe. This begs the question: was this a temporary change or something more long-lasting in consumer behaviour? During two weeks in mid-July, we ran a short tracker across five European countries (Germany, Romania, Poland, Spain, and Turkey) to better understand how some consumer behaviours are evolving with the developments towards a ‘new normality’ after Covid-19. We find that:

1. Online consumption is likely to settle up in the post-pandemic new world for at least one third of consumers,

2. Many households are still keen on more sustainable and local consumption, and

3. Summer holidays saw a revamp towards nature and domestic destinations for most Europeans.

Digital consumption likely to stick

The coronavirus is undoubtedly shaping our ‘new normal’ ways of working, learning, shopping, entertaining, and socialising with others. By now, we clearly see that digital channels are playing a crucial role in the definition of this new normality and that the shift towards online consumption is likely to stay. In our survey, we find that 35% of consumers report to be using online services more often than prior to the pandemic. Although this trend is mostly driven by the younger population (below 45 years old), it is striking to see that one quarter of the older generation is also growing their digital footprint, particularly when shopping for food, groceries and technology items, as well as in their consumption of socials and leisure content.

Most importantly, we are facing a net increase in digitalisation of almost 30% across all online consumer activities. Our survey suggests that European households mostly increased their use of online services in the following categories: consumption of news (40%), socials (39%), leisure content (38%), online banking/payments (32%) and, online education and learning (31%). A

Because of convenience, time savings and more choice alongside with health concerns, social distancing and the risk of a pandemic blowback, we think new digital consumption is likely to stay and flourish after the crisis. Covid-19 is undoubtedly redefining what ‘digital transformation’ actually means and reinforcing consumer behaviours into new habits. What is next? Industries need to develop innovative and ethical digital architectures that adapt to changing consumer needs. These architectures should not cash-in from short-term consumer vulnerabilities but should contribute to more inclusive access and financial resilience looking forward.

Figure 1

Local and more sustainable consumption on the rise

It seems that the biggest carbon crash wrought by Covid-19 has also helped consumers to reassess the changes we needed to ‘build back better’ and tackle the environmental crisis. Our survey results suggest that around a third of consumers are not only demanding more sustainable retail but are also considering more seriously health, energy use, sustainability, and local origin, a consumption priority. We find that, for the majority of respondents, health concerns and the support of local economy are the two dominant reasons for improving their pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours. Although the positive environmental impact of Covid-19 is unlikely to remain after the economy, life and travelling return to their former pace, the massive disruption to our routines caused by the pandemic could be an opportunity for us to move to a more sustainable lifestyle. At least temporarily, it seems to be happening in the holidays domain, as shown in the next section.

Figure 2

Summer holidays revamp towards local and natural destinations

With the reopening of the European borders, many were expecting international summer tourism to recover. However, uncertainty put a held back to the usual holiday plans of most households. We asked people about their realised and/or planned vacations for this summer and, with no surprise, we found that the vast majority (51%) turned their holidays in a combination of domestic travelling, day trips and ‘staycations’. Besides the most relevant reason of avoiding health and security risks, supporting the local economy also played an important role for households while making these decisions. Around 60% of holidaymakers are spending their summer time in local places and activities, especially focusing on natural and relaxing landscapes. Only a smaller group of respondents (23%) told us their plans included an international trip, although a half of them were not really sure to make it, so they had other domestic holidays and daytrips in their list anyway. A remaining big group of respondents (27%) who were overwhelmed by uncertainty either didn’t know how to spend their holidays or decided to postpone and not take days off at all this summer.


A more extensive version of this article was published by ING THINK here. This article is a contribution to the Think Forward Initiative by Maria Ferreira, Economist at ING.