European consumer sentiment and behaviors during the COVID-19 crisis

European consumers are gradually returning to pre-COVID-19 spending and out-of-home activities, including holiday shopping, though some pandemic-related practices will continue.

Despite the Delta variant, European consumer optimism and spending intent rebounded strongly between February and October 2021, driven by younger and vaccinated consumers. The resilience of this optimism and intent will be tested as Europe heads into its next COVID-19 wave. We will continue to track changes in consumer sentiment and behavior as the next normal evolves.

Our findings are based on consumer pulse surveys of at least 1,000 respondents in each of the following five countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Below, you can find key European insights, and at the bottom of the page, the full European report.

Consumer optimism and spending is rising

European optimism about a post-pandemic economic recovery rallied sharply between February and October across all five countries. Driven by younger and vaccinated consumers, confidence jumped more than 50 percent, from 21 to 34 percent. Italy, Spain, and France all enjoyed a near doubling in consumer optimism, while confidence among German consumers climbed significantly as well. UK consumer optimism led Europe in February (30 percent) but inched up only three points by October. Unlike their continental cousins, unvaccinated UK consumers registered far higher levels of confidence than their vaccinated compatriots. Half of European consumers reported finances were back to normal and indicated a willingness to spend across most categories. Older consumers wanted to splurge on dining and travel, with apparel topping the list for Gen Z and millennials.

Omnichannel is the new reality

Omnichannel—shopping and researching both online and in stores—showed itself to be firmly entrenched for more than half of European consumers across all product categories, especially for sports, apparel, and home-related purchases. Empowered by mobile apps, remote shopping, and home delivery, consumers have adopted lasting new habits and mindsets. Spanish consumers showed lower adoption rates of in-store alternatives, while Germans increased remote service offerings and home-related activities. Although omnichannel was mainstream in France, nearly half of French consumers still preferred to shop in person for groceries, household supplies, and personal-care products.

Loyalty elusive as consumers adjust to stockouts, pandemic

Consumers were shifting their loyalties as the pandemic continued, with unprecedented numbers of European consumers, particularly younger ones, trying new brands, retailers, and websites. Some 66 percent of consumers tried new ways of shopping, and among them 37 percent sampled new brands due to unavailability, novelty, or value. Spanish and Italian shoppers were more willing than French, German, and UK ones to change their shopping habits. While most Spanish consumers who changed brands or retailers did so over price, a sizable percentage switched to natural or organic products, and a smaller number opted for more sustainable ones. Gen Z and millennials were almost 40 percent more willing than baby boomers to try any new shopping behavior, including new brands, retailers, websites, and methods, like curbside pickup.

Consumers engaged in more out-of-home activities

Europe staged the pandemic-postponed Euro 2020 championship this summer, with increasingly full stadiums as the tournament progressed, reflecting a greater degree of normalcy across the continent. Routine out-of-home activities across all five countries jumped from 11 percent in February to 51 percent in October, driven by work, daily necessities, and friends and family. But three-quarters of consumers remained cautious due to the Delta variant. Almost 60 percent of Spanish consumers resumed normal activities, versus roughly half of French, Italian, and German shoppers. Only 44 percent of vaccinated UK consumers resumed normal activities, compared with 54 percent of unvaccinated ones. The Delta surge convinced roughly three-quarters of Italian, Spanish, French, and UK consumers—but only about half of German consumers—to modify their behavior.

Holiday shoppers planned a return to stores, spending earlier and differently

As the holidays approached, almost half of Europeans intended to resume in-store browsing and shopping, with more than a third spending earlier than usual. Fully 76 percent of European consumers planned to shop differently this year, especially online. Although most Europeans said they intend to maintain 2020 holiday spending levels, more than 20 percent said they would splurge on family travel and restaurants. A quarter of French shoppers intended to spend more on gifts—twice the European average. Nearly 60 percent of French consumers also planned to shop in stores, followed by roughly half of Italians, Spaniards, and Germans; roughly a third of UK shoppers said the same. Europeans concerned about product availability, especially younger ones, reported shopping earlier this year. If reported intentions hold, online shopping will account for a third of new shopping behaviors, with social media disproportionately influencing Gen Z and millennials. Roughly a third of European consumers said they would shop at different retailers, with most citing value for money as the main reason.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues evolving during the months ahead, we will keep monitoring consumers. Watch for our next consumer pulse, coming soon.

These exhibits are based on survey data collected in Europe from October 15 to 22, 2021. Check back for regular updates on European consumer sentiments, behaviors, income, spending, and expectations.

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