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Consuming in a crisis: pandemic consumption across consumer segments and implications for brands

Meheli Basu (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA)
Vanitha Swaminathan (Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 16 December 2021

Issue publication date: 19 January 2023




This paper aims to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed consumers’ perceptions of outdoor consumption categories, such as retail shopping, eating out, public events and travel and how these perceptions may impact businesses in these domains in the long term. Further, this research aims to understand demographic effects on outdoor consumption inhibition during the current pandemic and discuss how businesses can use these insights to rebrand their offerings and evolve after the pandemic.


Data collected by CivicScience, a survey-based consumer intelligence research platform, during April–July 2020 forms the basis of the preliminary analysis, where the chi-square test has been used to examine significant differences in consumer attitudes between different age groups, income groups and genders. Further, a social media analysis of conversations around outdoor consumption activities is undertaken to understand the rationale behind these demographics-based attitude differences.


Results lend varying degrees of support to the hypothesized consumer attitudes toward outdoor consumption activities during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic wore on, older (vs younger), female (vs male) consumers and lower (vs higher) income-group consumers had reportedly higher inhibition toward different outdoor activities. Older individuals were significantly less likely to shop, dine and attend public events than younger individuals. Lower-income consumers were significantly less likely to dine and travel than higher-income consumer consumers. Female consumers were significantly less likely to shop and travel than male consumers. Social media scan of conversations suggests that differences in perceived health and financial risks may have resulted in demographics-based differences in outdoor consumption activities.

Research limitations/implications

This study contributes to the literature by understanding demographic differences in consumer participation in outdoor activities. One limitation is that due to the time-sensitive nature of the pandemic research, further studies could not be conducted to understand the implications of other variables, beyond demographics that influence consumer behavior during a crisis. A future research direction is to understand how other psychological variables or traits, influence health and financial risk-taking behavior during a similar crisis.


The principal contribution of the present research is that it tests the risk-taking theory in the context of outdoor consumption during the Covid-19 pandemic. The present research has implications for businesses as they continue to evolve during and post Covid-19.



The authors would like to express their gratitude to CivicScience, a survey-based consumer intelligence research platform for making data available for this project. They also thank Atlas Infegy for the data on social media trends. The research assistance of Joe Slomowitz is also gratefully acknowledged.


Basu, M. and Swaminathan, V. (2023), "Consuming in a crisis: pandemic consumption across consumer segments and implications for brands", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 14-36.



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