2021 Insights: How COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior

Post-Pandemic Generational Marketing
Insights / 2021.02.09

2021 Insights: How COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior


What you need to know:

  • The pandemic forever changed how consumers shop (among many other things).

  • Each generation of consumers responded differently as they learned to cope.

  • Learn what speaks to your audience in 2021 and beyond.

In January 2020, very few people could have predicted what the year had in store. The pandemics, lockdowns, a turbulent election, and more changed the way we work, play, communicate, and think about the world around us.

Historically, cultural change is a harbinger of opportunity for brands to create deeper connections with their loyal customers while extending their reach to new audiences.

What can 2020 teach us about these audiences for building better brand relationships in 2021? Let’s find out.


Gen Z: Born after 1996

Gen Zers were uniquely primed to navigate the digital impact of COVID-19 — their core traits were accelerated and emphasized by the pandemic.

Gen Zers are super tech-savvy. It’s all they know, after all, since phones and the internet came about before they were born, and 40% of them say they’re addicted to their devices.1 Therefore, they were able to adapt more quickly during the pandemic than any other generation, simply continuing to be highly active on their devices.

Gen Zers are entrepreneurial, an ambition that has only been reinforced by the pandemic's effect on the traditional workforce. In fact, 54% want to start their own company to achieve their goals of staying in control of their careers, becoming debt-free, living a purposeful life, and treating the planet well.2 

Career plans aren’t the only area disrupted by the pandemic. GenZers have missed out on many milestone life experiences like canceled graduations, school dances, and in-person learning. The pandemic has further entrenched their desire to challenge cultural norms and traditional expectations in every way. Displaying inclusion, acceptance, and diversity has never been more important to this audience.

Ultimately, this generation is highly independent. Brands can appeal to Gen Zers by giving them the tools to chart their own digital course and drive their brand/product experience.


Millennials: Born between 1981 – 1996

Millennials have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and as the largest living generation, they are a high priority for brands to win back.3

It impacted them at work, with 35% of Americans between ages 18 and 29; and 30% between the ages 30 and 49 say they, or someone in their household, have lost their job during the pandemic.4 

It also impacted them at home. More than any other generation, Millennials were forced to find solutions for educating their children virtually or finding childcare while facing job uncertainty, working from home, or working in hazardous settings. As a result, Millennials are also battling feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and lack of motivation to exercise.

Millennials already don’t trust traditional advertising, and distrust of institutions only continued to grow over the tumultuous year.2 Break through and build brand trust by focusing on user-generated content and testimonials — a whopping 84% of Millennials say UGC impacts their purchase decisions.5 

While there’s a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic, many of these circumstances won’t be changing for Millennials anytime soon. Brands can win with digital marketing strategies using influencers, social media, and “see for yourself” virtual reality or video to project certainty in the face of the unknown. Messaging that supports Millennials’ mental/physical health and emphasizes convenience or time-saving will continue to resonate most this year.


Gen X: Born between 1965 – 1980

Gen Xers weathered the pandemic best when it comes to financial stability. In fact, stability is this generation’s theme song. Catering to their value of stability is exactly how to resonate with them post-COVID.

Unemployment didn’t hit Gen Xers as hard as the other generations, so they’re more economically stable. Gen Xers are also known as the most loyal generation and tend to have an above-average household income.6 While this generation is often overlooked, brands have the most acquisition and retention opportunity with this generation now more than ever.

Despite spending more time online during the pandemic, Gen Xers prefer OG marketing tactics. Sure, these folks are plugged into digital via their smartphones and social media to connect with friends and family. But more time at home means more time to check the mail, and even pre-pandemic, 86% of Gen Xers brought in the mail every day.7

Gen Xers also like to deal in nostalgia and are vocal about “better times” before the pandemic. For brands, it’s a good idea to reach Gen Xers with tried-and-true targeted emails and direct mail that focus on tapping into this mindset vs. tapping into trends.


Boomer: Born between 1946 – 1964

Boomers are diving into digital, pushed online by all the pandemic-induced lifestyle changes. For marketers, Boomers’ digital migration has opened up more engagement opportunities as they explore online alternatives to in-person services.

So what services are they trying? Boomers increased their grocery curbside pickup rates by 431%, retail rates by 410%, restaurant pickup orders by 300%, and telehealth utilization by 469% — and that’s just the beginning.8 Experts project 76% of these first adopters will continue adopting technology at this “pandemic pace” in the years to come.9

After all, Boomers are big spenders  — the 72 million Boomers living in the United States do most of the spending in the economy. While Boomers are most susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, that doesn’t seem to have slowed down their spending. In fact, only 6% of Boomers said they were planning to cut back on spending during the pandemic.10

The pandemic has helped bridge the digital divide between this generation and others in terms of usage but Boomers’ feelings of security and enjoyment from that usage lag behind. While 88% of Boomers agreed technology has helped them during the pandemic, only 78% of Boomers said they feel safe using these new technologies, compared to 86% of non-Boomers. And when it comes to enjoying trying new technologies, 77% of Boomers said they did versus 88% of non-Boomers.8

Still, some things stay the same. Boomers do their research and aren’t enticed by time-urgency strategies (especially those who have retired). Fact-based messaging drives decision-making for this audience, and Boomers' repeat purchase decisions will be secured as brands deliver on easy-to-use, easy-to-benefit digital experiences.


Help your brand win back post-pandemic consumers of all ages. Contact us today or email David Lyon, VP of CX Planning at Tandem Theory.



1 Boss Magazine
2 Forbes
3 National League of Cities
5 BazaarVoice
6 GlobalWebIndex
7 MarketingProfs
8 Mobiquity
9 Business Wire
10 eMarketer