The increase in smartphone usage has been drastic
The increase in smartphone usage has been drastic

How Has Online Consumer Behavior Changed?

Since this blog was initially published, the curriculum has been updated to be even more relevant to the modern marketer. As of Fall 2022, Emerson College is proud to offer our reimagined Master of Arts in Marketing, previously known as the Master’s of Digital Marketing and Data Analytics (DMDA).


It seems that everything has changed in the past two years, and online consumer behavior is no exception. As browsing and shopping habits shifted dramatically in early 2020, new patterns were created and began to solidify. While people may have more opportunities to shop out of the house than they did in March 2020, many are still shopping online at unprecedented rates.

For today’s digital marketer, it’s exceptionally important to understand the norms, shifts, and future possibilities for online consumer behavior. By studying what has happened in the past, looking at data in the present, and preparing for the trends to come, marketing professionals can bring about positive outcomes for companies and customers alike. Advanced degrees such as a Masters of Arts in Digital Marketing and Data Analysis provide additional skills for anticipating and navigating marketing trends

The Impact of COVID-19

While the COVID-19 virus itself primarily affected people physically, the effects of living through the pandemic were much further reaching. The pandemic changed how people experience the world psychologically, emotionally, logically, and sociologically. Here are just a few examples of the ways these changes influenced online consumer behavior:

  • Anxiety and COVID-related fear propelled people to purchase necessities, while depression is linked to non-necessity purchases
  • Purchases of non-necessities increased during the pandemic as fear and anxiety influenced purchase decisions
  • As social justice issues have gained renewed focus, shoppers are showing an increased interest in supporting companies that share their values when they are shopping online.

These shifts in the way people think, feel, and the shop may have been caused by the acute stages of the pandemic, but they seem to be here to stay. In December 2021, online shopping remained around 30% higher than it was before the pandemic began. Digital marketers who understand these shifts in online consumer behavior won’t just know how to market to consumers in the post-pandemic era, they will better understand how to foresee other trends and processes in the future.

Expansion of Online Shopping

Expansion of Online Shopping

Surveys and studies show that the shifts in online consumer behavior that took place over the past few years are here to stay. Consumers say that they plan to maintain their online shopping habits rather than fully returning to in-store shopping. The shift in online consumer behavior was not a fad or short-term solution. It was a catalyst that accelerated the shift from physical to digital shopping by five years.

Here are just a few of the statistics that reveal how much online shopping has expanded recently and should continue to do so over the next few years:

  • Online sales are expected to surpass $1 trillion in 2022. That’s 17% growth from 2021.
  • Two-thirds of consumers say that they are interested in augmented reality or virtual reality when they are shopping online.
  • 30% of Americans who use the internet have used voice searches or devices that are voice-enabled when they are online shopping.

There’s no doubt about it: the evidence points to growth and sticking with digital shopping when it comes to online consumer behavior.

Changes in Customer Loyalty

One of the recent trends in online consumer behavior is a major shift in customer loyalty. The importance of brand loyalty shifted dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, of the 60% of US consumers who wanted to purchase an out-of-stock item in fall 2021, 13% waited for the item to be restocked, 39 percent switched brands or products, and 32% opted for a different retailer.

Some of the other major factors influencing shifts in customer loyalty include:

Despite these drastic shifts in customer loyalty, all is not lost. Marketers can still compel customer loyalty, and studying online consumer behavior will help them to do just that.

Increase in Smartphone Shopping

Increase in Smartphone Shopping

The increase in smartphone usage over the past several years has been drastic, and there has been a direct impact on online consumer behavior. The number of smartphone users increased by 73.9% in just the five years from 2016 to 2021. Consider just some of the ways that this major shift, in addition to the lockdowns that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, has affected online consumer behavior:

  • 55.4% of internet users purchase products online via their mobile phones.
  • 60% of shoppers report that the option to shop on mobile is important to them when they’re making a brand choice.
  • 70% of internet users say they use shopping apps on their phones or tablets.

Understanding online consumer behavior will help marketers make strategic choices for their companies — like optimizing smartphone shopping options.

Awareness of the Supply Chain

Consumers have long been aware of item shortages when it comes to, for example, that holiday season’s hottest toys. Remember the Tickle Me Elmo craze? But while shoppers already had an awareness of supply and demand issues on an item-specific scale, the past few years have opened consumers’ eyes to availability problems on a much larger scale.

As the 2021 holiday season approached, 82% of retail executives reported that they were somewhat or very concerned about inventory shortages. They weren’t the only ones anticipating sell-outs, though. Customers were aware, too. A McKinsey survey documented consumer thoughts going into the 2021 holiday season:

  • 45% said they had already started holiday shopping in early October.
  • 31% of that 45% were already 75% finished with their shopping.
  • Early shoppers cited concerns about availability, shipping times, and unexpected pandemic-related challenges as their reasons for shopping earlier than they used to.

Studying online consumer behavior trends in 2021 and noticing variances in when people are shopping can help marketers plan for product releases, sales, and loyalty rewards program offers in the years to come.

Demographic Shifts in Virtual Trends

While it’s easy to think that trends in online shopping may be limited to young people, the data tells a different story. When the pandemic lockdowns forced consumers to find options that they’d never before considered, major shifts in online consumer behavior happened across all demographics.

In 2020, Americans aged 35 to 44 spent around $306 per month, a 40% increase over the prior year. Those aged 65 and older spent approximately $187 per month online, which is a 60% increase from 2019. Consider a few more statistics about projected trends in Baby Boomers shopping online:

  • 190% more likely than average Americans to subscribe to a food delivery service.
  • 73% more likely to sign up for a virtual gym membership.
  • 9% more likely to increase their online grocery orders.

The successful marketers of the future will be able to integrate data about online customer behavior into generational understandings and strategize how best to target various demographic segments.

The online consumer behavior course in Emerson College’s Master’s of Digital Marketing & Data Analytics program prepares marketers-to-be to do just that. As part of the course, students study online consumer trends that we previewed in this post:

  • Expansion of online shopping
  • Decrease in customer loyalty
  • Use of the smartphone
  • Value and availability
  • Older demographics participating in virtual trends

Students and professionals who want to become leaders in understanding and shaping online consumer behavior look to degrees like the DMDA from Emerson College to prepare them for success.

Become an Online Consumer Behavior expert at Emerson College

Understanding online consumer behavior is a key part of the online Masters of Arts in Digital Marketing and Data Analysis (DMDA) program at Emerson College. Through a course specifically centered on online consumer behavior, students learn how to conduct consumer behavior analysis and study online consumer behavior theory. They discuss processes and trends in online consumer behavior and ways to influence that behavior both online and offline.

By considering consumers' goals and fears, looking for explanations of behavior, and examining online search intentions and search engine optimizations, DMDA students learn how to leverage online consumer behavior for the good of the companies they will market and the consumers who will benefit from their companies’ products or services.

Studying online consumer behavior will empower professional marketers to understand the changes of today and the possibilities of tomorrow. You can graduate in as little as 15 months from our 100% online DMDA program.

Embrace the future of the digital marketing world with confidence and expertise. Speak with an Emerson Admission Counselor to discover how you can advance your career.