By Guest Author 22/04/2020

Associate Professor Leah Watkins and Associate Professor Rob Aitken


Living in lockdown is a rare phenomenon, and one that provides a unique opportunity to examine our spending habits.

NZ lifestyles under the microscope

Researchers at the University of Otago have been conducting an ongoing research programme designed to provide insights into the lifestyles, consumption patterns and behavioural trends of New Zealanders since 1979. The NZ Consumer Lifestyles study is based on responses to almost 600 questions about consumer attitudes, opinions and behaviours.

The last study was published in 2015, and in this we noted a number of emerging consumer behaviour trends that we believe will be amplified by the Covid-19 lockdown. These included growing caution around consumer debt, increased spending on DIY activities, and more price and quality consciousness. We also noted more awareness of and concern with social and environmental issues which were reflected in a shift towards more frugal consumption behaviours, including recycling and re-using, and by an increased focus on environmentally friendly alternatives in the market. We would expect this to have increased further given the financial and material uncertainty created by Covid-19.

Bucking the trends

One trend identified in 2015 that we expect may not continue was the trend towards convenience and takeaway food. The enforced lockdown may instead draw consumer’s attention to their discretionary spending on eating out, and has given them an opportunity to develop their interest and skills in home-prepared food. We also anticipate an expansion and integration of digital media and communications for social, recreational, consumption and work-related aspects of life to continue.

Overall, we expect to see consumers re-evaluate their priorities and spending, focusing more on certain entertainment and hospitality experiences, local products and services, more spending on their homes (DIY and self-sufficiency), and on home -based leisure/fitness. The expectation for businesses to act responsibly, contribute to the public good and consider consumers’ and employees’ wellbeing is likely to increase, as are deliberate decisions to support those businesses that do.

Life at Alert Level 3

In the immediate term, the move to Level 3 and the opening up of online shopping may see a spike in spending as consumers regain access to consumption goods that have been limited. Whether this will continue as priorities are re-assessed, is a matter of considerable interest. The NZ Consumer Lifestyles study will be re-run this year but will be postponed until later in the year to explicitly explore changes in consumption patterns post-lockdown.


Associate Professor Leah Watkins and Associate Professor Rob Aitken are based in the Department of Marketing at the University of Otago.

Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash