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08/26/2022 | Pressemitteilung

How does fear influence shopping behavior in the Corona pandemic?

Image: Envato Elements / zamrznutitonovi.
Woman with mask shopping in supermarket.

Humans have a need for security, even in everyday situations such as shopping at the supermarket. The Corona pandemic, however, can cause anxiety even at the thought of it, for example of infection or empty shelves. In a survey, researchers at the University of Kassel identified two types of consumers: those whose fears are influenced by personal concerns and those who are frightened because of the virus itself but have other, more pressing problems.

"Knowing the reason for the fears can help retailers relieve their customers of emotional stress when shopping - through store design, security personnel or targeted addresses," concludes Kassel economist Dr. Katrin Zulauf. Together with Prof. Dr. Ralf Wagner, head of the Sustainable Marketing department, she identified consumer types with different purchasing behavior through a survey conducted during the first Corona wave. From this, they derived different measures to make the respective shopping experience more pleasant.

The first consumer type is influenced by concerns about their own personal situation when shopping for groceries at the supermarket during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, respondents feared losing a loved one or their job, financial difficulties, or limited access to food. They felt less anxious when they shopped less frequently. To increase the comfort of this group of people in the supermarket, Zulauf and Wagner suggest highly visible security measures, such as contactless shopping or time windows when customers can be alone in the store. Limiting purchases of rare goods such as toilet paper or yeast per person could reduce the fear of running out empty and bring concerned consumers back to the supermarket more often. Complementary services such as rapid tests, vaccination offers, or free masks could also help. In crisis situations, these measures could also prevent retailers from losing these worried customers to online providers.

The second type of consumer is accompanied by a constant fear of the corona virus. This is not surprising, as people in this group are much more likely to know someone who has already been infected with the virus. They indicated that they felt less fear the more frequently they shopped for food. "We suspect, based on previous research, that these individuals feel better and more prepared for the crisis if they shop more frequently," Zulauf explained. They indicated that the Covid 19 pandemic has not affected their personal concerns. "Either these individuals have relatively carefree lives or have other, more pressing issues in their daily lives anyway," Zulauf surmises. Retailers can easily target this type of consumer with special offers or exemplary shopping lists they can use to spread the word.

The researchers surveyed 228 people from Germany and Brazil using an online survey because the early response of these two countries to the crisis differed significantly. The German government attempted to address the new threat and created a high level of awareness among the population, while the Brazilian government tried to maintain operations as much as possible. However, no differences in nationality or age emerged from the survey results. This suggests that the consumer types identified by Dr. Zulauf and Prof. Wagner are universally transferable.



Dr. Katrin Zulauf
University of Kassel
Sustainable Marketing Department
Phone: +49 561 804-7404
E-mail: zulauf[at]wirtschaft.uni-kassel[dot]de

Press contact:
Sebastian Mense
University of Kassel
Communications, Press and Public Relations
Phone 0561 804-1961
E-mail: presse[at]