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What’s Driving Our Purchasing Decisions During The COVID-19 Pandemic?

The Answer May Surprise You

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Matt Wujciak

soft skills

Consumer behavior during a pandemic

In saturated markets, customer experience trumps product value. And what’s going on in the world, and how you’re reacting, is influencing the experience your customers are receiving. Take a look at the grocery industry. Millions of customers walk into grocery stores every day looking to purchase groceries for their family. From a societal standpoint, with over 1,455,000 cases and 83,664 deaths worldwide (growing by the day), customers are terrified of contracting the coronavirus. And it’s influencing where they’re spending their money. 

Pretend for a minute that you want to buy a carton of orange juice for your kids. You can get a carton of Minute Maid orange juice for exactly 4.99 at a number of stores near you. While competitive pricing models undoubtedly influence purchasing behavior, many grocery retailers offer the same exact price for the same exact branded product. So what influences where you choose to get your orange juice? Location? Local marketing? Product discounts? Customer service?

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If you’re like the vast majority of consumers, your answer would probably be all of the above, whether it’s a conscious awareness or a “that’s just where I go.” Why? The sum of each of these components (along with many other variables including the sociological impact of COVID-19) create a conscious or subconscious psychological factor of perceived customer experience. Now with a viral, contagious pandemic seemingly controlling our every decision (including which brands or stores we choose to throw our money at), CX is the #1 factor in purchasing behavior. Now what do I mean by that?


Factor in the traditional concepts of CX along with the sociological pandemonium of COVID-19. When I get in my car and drive to a store within 4 miles to get a carton of Minute Maid orange juice for 4.99, I consciously want a fast experience that now gives me a piece of mind that I may never have contemplated before.

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I am going to the nearest store that will protect me from COVID-19. I have a 7-Eleven, ACME, ShopRite and Kroger all within 4 miles of my temporary office – my kitchen. I’m going to buy my orange juice for roughly 5 dollars from the grocery store that delivers the most seamless customer experience, including a fast check-out, but, more importantly, one that gives me piece of mind. In this case, that means health and safety. 

Delivering a “Kroger” piece of mind

Never has this statement been more important for business continuity plans and consumers alike. Although I did drive an extra hundred feet that I may never emotionally recover from, I chose Kroger this morning. And here’s why. 

Kroger has been consistently identified as an industry leader in the supermarket space, and you probably already knew that, at least to some degree. That’s exactly my point. 

If you’ve been to a Kroger recently, you might notice a few changes, like “Xs" on the ground outside the store. That’s because Kroger is limiting its occupancy by 50 percent to protect its customers and employees from the coronavirus. But so are most stores. So what else is Kroger doing differently to protect its customers, employees, and socially differentiate from competitors? Why did I get my orange juice from them instead of 7-Eleven?

The Kroger Marketplace in Newport, Kentucky, for one example, is cutting its occupancy down to 901 and emphasizing social distancing. They've installed plexiglass barriers at checkout lanes, customer service and Starbucks locations. The store is now even delivering prescriptions directly to customers’ homes (with a free delivery option as well), encouraging consumers to stay home.  451_digital_transformation_business_impact_whitepaper

Kroger Corporate Affairs Manager Erin Rolfes said the store will be monitored through QueVision, which initially was set up to monitor traffic at checkout lanes.  

“We were able to make some small changes and now it monitors how many people are in the whole store,” Rolfes said. “And will kind of give us a green, yellow, red, to let us know when we will have to start queuing people outside.” 

The increased safety measures are aimed at protecting everyone in the store. There have been four Cincinnati-area Kroger associates who have tested positive for coronavirus (lower than most competitors).

“Every time we get a positive test we will completely deep clean the store following CDC, local and state guidelines to make sure it’s a safe place,” she said. “We clean the stores every day on a very rigorous schedule. We do our best to keep our associates safe both in and out of the store.”  
Some associates are wearing masks and gloves already, but Rolfes said they are hoping to be able to provide personal protective equipment for all employees in the near future.  

“We have been asking our local legislators or state legislators that right after our healthcare workers are fully taken care of, that they consider grocery workers as that next group to get access to those masks,” Rolfes said.  

Yes, precautionary measures, mandated corporate policies, local legislators, and agile technologies are key to successful business continuity plans and quality customer experiences. But the social consumer and employee care demonstrated by Kroger has a marketable social element as well, exemplifying their consistent reputation for exceptional customer experiences.

Creating marketable CX

87% of American respondents claimed that great customer service influences their purchasing behavior. And according to research conducted by American Express (via Inc.), they don't mind spending up to 17% more to get that positive experience. Whether that Minute Maid orange juice is 4.99 or 5.85 from two stores next to each other, there’s an 87% chance you’ll pick the 5.85 carton if you think the customer service (or perceived experience) is better. That’s without factoring in the variable of which store is promising your health and safety. 

This makes CX the most substantial marketing differentiators in modern business continuity. 

Quality customer service is derived from customer experience. And as mentioned above, customer experience is a psychological concept. What does that mean? Perception. And a brand’s marketing efforts of their CX distinguishes your perception of that brand, as well as the experience you’re anticipating.

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“Remarkable CX can be your biggest Marketing differentiator,” bestselling author and keynote speaker, Dan Gingiss presented at our CCW live events series in January.

And anyone who has met Dan will one, tell you that he genuinely believes this. And two, probably believe it yourself by the time you’re done talking to him. 

You may be thinking that this a bold statement. But if I was to ask you, what do Chick-fil-A, Amazon, Apple, Zappos and Kroger have in common? 

Your response would probably entail something along the lines of “good customer service.” This is the case because each of these brands are industry leaders in their respective markets in this particular category. And to a degree, most consumers are aware of it. They’ve established marketable reputations that modern consumers gravitate towards. 

When I personally think of Chick-fil-A I think of strangely well-mannered employees and viral social media videos. When I think of Amazon, I think of same-day shipping, low prices, product testimonials, and frictionless return policies. When I think of Apple, I think of the countless number of times my family has visited the genius bar or bargained for product discounts... and won. When I think of Kroger, as an analyst, I think of customer reviews, case studies, and industry reports. Now as a customer, I think of their precautionary measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also think of how the brand (as well as other business publications) let me know it. 

This is in essence, their biggest marketing differentiator.

7-Eleven may very well have their own effective precautionary measures in place. But you wouldn’t know it. In times of uncertainty, consumers flock to marketable brands that continuously earn their trust. 

The vast majority of consumers have similar feelings about these brands because these thoughts and feelings encompass the experience a customer has with a business, cultivating the businesses’ “brand.” 

A brand is created and enhanced or diminished through the digital age of reputations, social customer care, and of course, corporate action - bridging the gap between the traditionally mundane stigma of “customer service,” with the consumer-engaging community of digital marketing. 

These are the ideas and philosophies that Dan Gingiss has devoted his 20-year career to. 

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of introducing Dan during his seminar at CCW Nashville. And like everyone else, I left his presentation pondering his compelling argument on the behavioral shift in the way consumers correlate their perceived customer experience with the value of digital brand reputation and marketability. 

Kroger has won thousands of new customers during the ongoing pandemonium because they make the right customer service decisions. Sure. But you also hear about, as you are now. Brands that can deliver quality customer service and enhance the perceived customer experience through frictionless interactions and marketable brand management will be the ones that are adding to a robust data base of customer-life-time value (CLV), post pandemic.  

In uncharted waters during times of distress and uncertainty, it’s important to stay connected. The CCW Digital community will be here for you, providing you with customer experience, contact center, and digital marketing resources every step of the way. In remote working environments and challenging economic circumstances, remember to lean on your digital community to come out stronger on the other side. 

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And remember, stay positive. Test negative.