Aug 17, 2021
COVID-19 impacts continue to define consumer behaviors

While COVID-19 defined consumer behaviors in 2020—from a moratorium on travel to a burst in online sales—its impacts will still be felt in 2021.

Consumers are split down the middle when it comes to choosing between in-store or online shopping. Nearly half of consumers plan to shop in brick-and-mortar retail stores this holiday season and just over half will opt for online and curbside pickup options. Further, a generational gap regarding travel persists among consumers, with younger groups planning to get back on the road and older groups reticent to travel or host large gatherings.

These findings are part of the latest Consumer & Retail study from Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics advisory firm. Sink or Soar During the 2021 Holidays: Redefine Your Brand and Gain Market Share provides a close look at the trends that will define the crucial 2021 holiday shopping and travel season.

Consumer Habits are Shifting

“As pandemic restrictions continue to evolve and concern over new variants fluctuates, consumer habits are shifting rapidly in response,” said Greg Mishkin, vice president of Escalent’s Consumer & Retail and Telecom divisions. “A customized, omnichannel strategy will be all the more important to win over customers this year, as divisions remain over which shopping channel they prefer.”

Consumers have acknowledged the pandemic as a catalyst for a change in their habits, with 44% of respondents saying COVID-19 has changed how they prefer to shop. However, similar to how they shopped during the pandemic, consumers on average plan to do 48% of their holiday shopping this winter in brick-and-mortar stores, 41% via online retail and 12% through curbside pickup services.

Regarding travel and holiday gatherings, expectations vary widely among generations, in particular:

  • Gen X and millennials are the most travel-eager generations, with more than 38% of each group planning to hold large gatherings and more than 45% anticipating holiday celebrations with local attendees.
  • Fewer than one-third of Boomers anticipate large gatherings (24%), holiday celebrations with local attendees (28%) or holiday celebrations with out-of-town attendees (23%).
  • Among all respondents, small gatherings remain the most popular option for holiday celebrations, from 51% of Boomers to 64% of millennials.

“The pandemic has made each holiday season decision—from shopping to travel and gathering traditions—a deeply personal one for each consumer,” added Mishkin. “Brands must act now to evaluate and cater to a diverse group of preferences to avoid being caught unprepared as we emerge from the pandemic.”

To learn more about how brands can position themselves for success during the 2021 holiday season, read the full white paper at

About the Study

Escalent interviewed 1,001 online respondents between April 28 and May 2, 2021. The study was sampled within the United States and consisted of a general population audience of men and women ages 18+, with balanced representation across regions. To qualify, respondents had to be at least a partial decision-maker in winter holiday shopping and travel. The data have a margin of error of +/-2 percentage points at a confidence level of 95%. Escalent will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request. For more information, visit

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