New Behaviours Becoming Habits & Habits at Scale Becoming Trends

As we enter the eighth month since the pandemic began, it is becoming evident that many changed behaviours are becoming habits. While external forces such as lock downs, concern for safety, or just plain availability and changed distribution systems may have prompted the initial shift, along the way we’ve seen internal reasons emerge for staying with the new pattern – we found something better, or at least preferred in the current situation. Individual reasons for doing things differently will vary widely, but they are unite in one thing: the fact that a better solution has, in some cases accidentally, been discovered. New habits as the result of new discoveries having taken place on a massive scale. Consider just a few of the habits that are now driving the increase in sales for the following items.

What’s up?

Coffee: Nestle in Europe coffee sales have climbed by 1/3 this year already. In the US, Starbucks and Nestle at-home products have seen double digit growth.

Hair colour: Sales in the 2nd quarter across the industry are up 30%. While that has likely cooled off recently as salons opened, we can expect some return to this trend during a second wave in some areas.

Vitamins & supplements: Whether it was forward buying or health driven, sales were up 50% in the first half of the year in the US.

Cleaners & soaps: Sales have been up between 50-70% depending on the company and product.

Booze: Beer sales are up 20% and spirits are up by 40%. I don’t have stats on wine, but if my own consumption, or that of friends is any indication, it’s likely somewhere in between a 20-40% increase too!

Nail care: Apparently small indulgences are where it’s at. Do it yourself nail care and polish sales are up 115%. But this is also likely similar to hair colour, where solutions are being sought when salons were forced to close

Fitness & weight training equipment: Initial sales demand bumped by 130% in March, and since then there’s been a 307% jump in online sales for this category.

Bread makers & baking supplies: Demand for bread makers increased 400% over last year at Bed Bath and Beyond.

E-commerce: Online e-commerce sales are up 31.8% quarter over quarter, and show no sign of slowing down.

Dog toys & care supplies: Pet ownership has increased during the pandemic. I’ve never seen so many new puppies introduced to families this spring, summer and fall. Indeed, dog food sales are up 159%

Boats & RVs: Power, sail and self- propelled boats, big and small. Demand for all of these increased. The Marine Retailers Association reported that 70% of boat dealers were out of or very low in inventory in July. RV dealers reported a similar trend this past summer and into the fall. Many kayaks and SUPs sold out across Canada by August.

Sewing machines: Nobody really expected there to be a shortage of sewing machines in 2020, but here we are! Sales in the category were up 60-80% with many models being sold out.

Hand tools: The increase in demand for hand tools seems to have been largely driven by a surge in home renovations and do-it-yourself projects.

Arts & crafts supplies: Staying closer to home, being crafty and creative, with an emphasis on do-it-yourself has caused a lift in arts and crafts sales. Hobbycraft in the UK reported a 200% lift in online sales in the category.

Home office sales: The pandemic has caused a surge in home office supplies sales. From desks to filing cabinets, WIFI boosters, webcams, ring lights and microphones, it appears many are setting up camp at home – some for good. Some retailers report sales in the category doubling over this time last year.

Gardening: Home gardening boomed on a global scale this past summer. Seems many looked to nurturing and growing plants as a way to occupy an unexpected increase in time spent closer to home. Nursery and landscaping sales were up 60-70%

Eating as entertainment: 35-40% of consumers reported eating more home cooked meals over the last 7 months.

Puzzles & board games: Apparently, sales of puzzles and board games increased 350- 500% depending on who you ask and what study you read.

Some of these of course will stick, and others will not. That’s the nature of consumption and the unusual times we find ourselves in. But it is fascinating to consider what new patterns have been created, and behaviours altered that might never revert. Or at the very least, open up new opportunities that would not have existed just eight short months ago. While considering things that have had increased sales and demand, it is also interesting to consider areas that have been hard hit with shrinking demand. I’ve listed some of those below.

What’s down?

Cosmetics: Globally L’Oréal beauty market fell 14% in the first ½ of the year. Professional beauty, make-up and fragrances are down 25%

Sun care: With holidays cancelled, and the promise of sun destination escapes on hold, sunscreen sales are in “deep double-digit decline” according to JP Morgan Research estimates.

Luggage: Luggage sales are down 77% as are briefcases at a 77% decrease. Gym bags are down 57%. We’re not only not travelling, we’re now not hauling stuff to the office or the gym!

Swimwear: Men’s swimwear sales are down 64% and women’s swimwear sales are down 59%. With no cruises, no resorts, and not a lot of beach vacations in the works, these numbers makes sense. They also help explain why Swimco, a well-known swimwear retailer in Vancouver, in business for the last 45 years, just went under.

Bridalwear: Bridal gown sales are down 63%. Fewer weddings and large gatherings have tapped this one dry. Party and event supplies are also down 55%.

Clothing & apparel: Formal wear for both men and women is down 62%. Apparel sales across the board have slumped – all likely driven by fewer events, celebrations, going out and less travel and holidays, Plus working from home has substantially reduced clothing demands.


New behaviours are becoming habits, and habits over time at scale, are becoming trends

The curious thing right now is how new habits are being formed “at scale” like no other time in our history. I truly believe we will reflect back on this time as an era something like the Industrial Revolution, where there was “before” and then “after”. It’s just that while living through it, we can’t yet see it. And admittedly, the changes are still taking place – with them altering consumer needs, product and service offerings, distribution systems, pricing and promotions.

When we layer so many new habits being formed at once (work from home, absence of large gathering experiences, fear in general for health safety and economics, absence of music and performing arts to challenge us, alternative ways to dine out, work out, collaborate, socialize, the lack of serendipity & chance moments – the list goes on) – the impact on society is profound. You may recall in a blog post shared back in June some primary research I did at the time within my network:

“73% have changed products, suppliers or services they were previously loyal to”


“65% of those pleased with the alternatives found are likely or strongly likely to continue the behaviour in the future”


These statistics are from an informal study I did back in June with a sample of 100 folks who are connected to me on social media and through my e-newsletter. At the time I found the results unsettling. The magnitude of change was much higher than anticipated. Obviously this was not a representative sample from a larger population, but as a view into the world of professional colleagues, I was stunned at the behaviour movement which had taken place. When I brought these statistics into a discussion with my global marketing leaders think tank group recently at Mark Shaefer’s Uprising event online, they validated them on a larger scale. In fact Martin Lindstrom, a well respected social scientist and global trends tracker, echoed similar sentiments in a recent study he was working on.

Right now we are seeing the “scaling over time” phase for some of these habits – and that is what will build out huge societal trends. Working from home is great example. A colleague recently shared a Forbes article about how Microsoft and many other tech companies will let their employees work from home permanently – even after the pandemic. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The impacts on recruiting, marketing of company culture, the broadened talent pool, different reimbursement based on location and cost of living, payrolls systems, tax laws, and work permits. That’s just internally. Then there’s office space, leasing as space needs change, home office space demands, changed transit use, commuting, and the supporting businesses in work hubs that relied on that office traffic. The ripple impact of just that ONE “behavior become habit at scale as a trend” is profound.

Before I let you go to ruminate on all of this a little more, I want to share a short personal anecdote that reinforces some of this. Last week I attended my first face to face client meeting in 7 months.  I recorded a short video on the drive home. In it I riff, with some amusement, at being out of the habit of attending meetings in person with most of my work having shifted to Zoom, and not knowing the protocol with masks and greetings, and most importantly, not being able to find the pants I wanted to wear – since I hadn’t gone looking for them or used them in over 7 months. When I shared this video on Facebook and LinkedIn, it generated the most comments of any post so far this year – over 40 and counting! Go Figure. You can watch it here, where alarmingly it has over 80 views. If I had anticipated that, I would have called it something different than “Missing Pants Pandemic.”


It was a little shocking to realized how quickly habits have formed. And despite appreciating the need to meet in person, how I have now re-framed that need, in the context of online options going forward – far beyond the pandemic. To me it is now an equation based on a trade-off of value for time, since there is no denying the efficiency and other benefits realized through online options.

New beahviours are becoming habits, and habits over time at scale are becoming trends. The impact of this will be profound – not only locally and nationally, but also globally. That’s the type of change a global pandemic can trigger. The good news is, there is opportunity in all of these changes, for those astute enough to recognize and act on it.

Mary Charleson

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