We’re now hopefully seeing the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic in most of the world, and it’s a time to reflect on some of the lessons learned. These implications don’t just affect health and public policy but also consumer behavior.

From the collection of audience data, marketers and advertising are really beginning to learn the changes in behavior that could be short-term and also the ones that may be longer-lasting.

This information can be helpful not just going forward currently but may also guide business decisions in other crisis situations.

The following are some things to know about the pandemic’s effects on consumer behavior and preferences.

Spending on Essentials

At the height of the pandemic, spending was almost entirely focused on essentials and value products for most people. It was all about household supplies and groceries.

Whether or not that’s a trend that holds is going to be interesting.

Some of what’s currently happening is actually going in the opposite direction.

Now that many people are vaccinated, they are looking more at luxury spending.

For example, summer 2021 could be a time when travel rebounds, and beyond that, people are willing to splurge on those bucket list trips they’ve been dreaming of.

It’s not all rosy, though, because the COVID-19 pandemic did have a very real impact on the economy.

Many people are still out of work and used their savings to float them through the pandemic. Enhanced unemployment benefits may have shielded the economy from some of that fallout, but those are coming to an end in most states, so we don’t really know what the effects will be on spending and consumer sentiment quite yet.

For the people who kept working, it could be a very different story. They may have set aside more in savings than usual, or they could have paid off lingering debts because they weren’t spending as much money on things like entertainment, eating out, and travel.

More Digital Comfort

While younger consumers have been comfortable with all-things digital for quite some time, that wasn’t the case for older consumers. Now, it seems like almost everyone is on board with the digital world and the digital economy.

For example, older people started to get more comfortable using apps for grocery pickup and delivery.

Food delivery service apps grew enormously during this time as well.

Online banking became a necessity with most branches closed.

If you want to buy a home, which many people did during the pandemic, you might have done so using technology. You could view the home entirely online, do virtual walkthroughs with your real estate agent, and even go through the closing process online.

Things that maybe were going to become popular or more widespread at some point became the norm rather than the exception, including among audiences and consumers that might have otherwise been resistant.

This also highlights a move toward blending virtual and in-person experiences. There’s been a blurring of lines between virtual, at-home experiences and also in-person experiences in physical spaces.

Many retailers are currently assessing how they can replicate the in-person experience in a virtual format and vice versa.

Touch-Free Shopping

The idea of touch-free shopping is one that is very likely going to stick around.

This means fewer interactions with employees and other customers. This might prove helpful to many retailers and other businesses with a lot of in-person interactions, particularly as they struggle to fill open positions.

For example, some grocery stores have started implementing apps that consumers can use to scan items.

You can make online purchases and have them stored in lockers that you access by scanning your phone.

Touch-free shopping has changed the point-of-sale experience completely, with more reliance on technology, and this is probably only going to expand.

All of this has helped facilitate a new way to build customer relationships.

Companies can take this time to basically start over and rebuild touchpoints with the use of machine learning and AI.

Caring for Employees

Finally, something that seems to be driving consumer behavior is buying from brands that they feel reflect those values. One of those values is having a genuine concern not just for customers but also for employees.

Companies that lead with their employees as their key priority has fared well during the pandemic. People want to know how employees are being treated, how they’re being cared for, and what’s being done to protect them, so this can become a big part of your marketing going forward.