The Four COVID Personas, Part 1: ‘Social Shifters’

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That people and life itself are changing as a result of the pandemic is not in doubt.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to accurately assess, however, is how people really feel, and how feelings alter behaviors.

PYMNTS first polled consumers on March 23 as lockdowns got serious, and the digital shift was already making headlines by then. That week, Amazon suspended thousands of sellers over allegations of price-gouging on crisis supplies, as field hospitals were being set up at the centers of major U.S. cities.

Having surveyed more than 14,000 consumers to date about pandemic-era changes, PYMNTS researchers have identified four distinct consumer personas to emerge from the lockdowns. The first group has been termed “social shifters” for their uniquely blithe appraisal of post-pandemic living.

“Consumers who have gone online to perform routine activities cite many reasons for doing so, with the foremost being using technology to see their family and friends,” according to The Great Reopening: Shifting Preferences edition of PYMNTS’ COVID-19 report series. “Social shifters stand out as the group most likely to be interested in leaving their homes for the same reason, with 82.7 percent of those who want to go back out citing wanting to visit their friends and family.”

While social shifters are still worried about catching COVID-19, it’s a risk they seem increasingly willing to take if it means they can resume a semblance of normal living, like their shopping routines.

“Consumers in all groups want merchants to offer digital purchasing options in the future, but their reasons vary by what they are doing online,” according to the report. “Social … shifters are far more concerned about the possibility of being infected during in-person visits to stores, for example, cited by 47.5 percent … as their reason for wanting merchants to provide digital features.”

Of the four pandemic-era personas identified by PYMNTS, social shifters are the most likely to return (or try to return) to pre-pandemic behaviors wherever and whenever possible.

“Social shifters … appear to be the least likely to continue shopping online, ordering from aggregators or to say they will work online from home after the pandemic,” the report stated. “Our research shows 68.8 percent of them plan to continue shopping online at least ‘somewhat’ as often as they do now, compared to 71.6 percent of office and 70.2 percent of convenience shifters who say the same.”