New Study Reveals Dramatic Shifts in Consumer Shopping Behavior One Year Into the Pandemic

By Marc Grabowski, Group Vice President, Oracle AdvertisingMarch 30, 2021
new consumer

We have all changed the way we work, shop, eat and live this past year. As the world reopens, the next few months will be critical in evaluating which of these habits will stick. To help guide marketers through these dramatic changes, we studied consumer shopping behaviors across generations one year into the pandemic.

Our New Consumer study analyzed Oracle CPG Purchase data, representing over 75 million U.S. households and $762 billion in annual consumer spending from February through December 2020, to learn more about how consumer purchase and consumptions habits have changed in the past year.


Baby Boomers Dominated Online Shopping

The state of retail and online shopping was precarious at the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns, but our research found that the past year has been a time of increased curiosity, experimentation, and product adoption. While online shopping skyrocketed across all generational groups, Baby Boomers led the way in online shopping growth, with usage up 5.7x year-over-year, compared to Millennials’ usage, which was up 4.3x. This is likely due to the concentration of Baby Boomers in higher income groups, as 24 percent of Baby Boomers reported $100,000-$150,000 in income.

What are the characteristics of this new Baby Boomer demographic? Our data showed they make the most of their online shopping trips (despite spending less per trip) and are primarily purchasing fresh ingredients to make meals from scratch, a behavior that was found to be less common in younger generations.


Millennials and Gen Z Demand Convenient Food

Changes in food consumption behaviors were present across the board and in unexpected ways—both in how people are getting their food and what they’re choosing.

Interestingly, Baby Boomers are purchasing more traditional items such as meat and potatoes (31%) compared to younger generations who are primarily buying convenience meals (Millennials at 29% and Gen Z at 26%). Baby Boomers are even leading the pack when it comes to cooking at home. Demand for prepared foods, such as boxed dinners and frozen pizza, peaked early in the pandemic (March – May 2020), but it still remains high today. Home cooking foods, such as fresh meat and vegetables, oil and spices, have shown consistently high demand. Baking products, such as flour, cake mixes and frosting, have also seen sustained high demand (sourdough bread, anyone?).


We All Are Giving Into Guilty Pleasures More

While Millennials shopping behavior indicates that they spend more of their money online and on higher quality items, in reality, convenience meals and sweet and cheesy snacks are still significant purchases for them.

Often defined by their health-conscious eating and shopping habits, today’s Millennial is giving in to guilty pleasures in what they eat (like glazed donut sticks, frozen pizza rolls, and sweet, cereal-flavored coffee creamer) and how they purchase it. Millennials spent more money shopping for food online than any other age group—a habit undoubtedly driven by the increase in working from home. Their other popular purchases included: fancy napkins, organic baby spinach, gum, and laundry detergent pods.

Guilty pleasures aren’t just for Millennials though. Baby Boomers increased their purchases of alcoholic seltzers (172%), soda (140%) and chocolate candy (142%), but also opted for new products, like sugar-free cookies, breakfast biscuits and cheese puff snacks. Gen Xers also opted for new products, like variety pack chips, soda and caramel dip. Gen Z increased their purchase of existing products, like chocolate candy (530%) and beer (114%), but also opted for new products, like white cheddar popcorn and cheese puff snacks.

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