Cross-border shopping behaviors in the light of COVID-19

To get a clearer understanding of the precise impact the coronavirus is having on exporters, we surveyed consumers across nine different countries — including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, UK, Poland, USA and Canada. We asked how the outbreak had changed their cross-border shopping behaviors, and explored some of the reasons behind this.

Impact on people’s financial situations

Let’s start by looking at consumers’ perceptions of how the virus has affected their country’s economy, as well as their own personal finances. In Spain and Italy, more than 95% of people are understandably concerned about the economic crisis. In France, that figure is slightly lower at 89% — with German shoppers the least worried of those we surveyed, at 81%.1

If we look at Western Europe as a whole, some 30-40% of people have already experienced a drop in their economic circumstances compared to last year, with Spain showing the most severe impact, at 39%.2

So, how is this influencing shopper behaviors?

Consumers are buying more food online

In terms of how businesses have been affected, it’s the brick-and-mortar stores that are among the hardest hit. Forced closures, reduced opening hours, and a housebound customer base have impacted food and personal care product stores, with 20-40% of people across Western Europe saying they’re now buying these goods online more frequently than before the pandemic. This figure is slightly lower in Czech Republic, however, at 19%.3

To meet this rising demand, online businesses can prioritize the most popular items and, where possible, optimize delivery times.

Consumers are postponing big purchases

Shoppers are also delaying the purchase of bigger ticket items until after the crisis. In the clothing sector, for example, around 30-40% of people are putting off purchases — with Italians (55%) among the most cautious, and the Dutch (28%) the least.4 What can businesses do to stimulate demand and tempt shoppers over the line? Limited time product discounts could be an option. Monthly installment plans are also popular with consumers, particularly as the majority of those surveyed say they favor businesses who are offering flexible payments and perks during the outbreak.5

Cross-border purchases remains strong

Before the pandemic, cross-border shopping was commonplace throughout EMEA and beyond, with 46% of Italian and Polish consumers purchasing from abroad at least once a month, and 41% of shoppers in Spain.6

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One of the most popular categories was clothing, with around half of US (48%) and Polish (51%) consumers buying fashion/outerwear from abroad. Likewise, roughly a quarter of US (24%), Italian (22%) and Spanish (22%) consumers bought electronic goods from retailers outside their own country.7

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How has this behavior changed since coronavirus? In EMEA, around half of international shoppers haven’t changed their behavior at all — despite disruptions to global logistics chains which have led to extended shipping times and growing unease. This is especially so in Germany and the Netherlands, where almost 60% of consumers have made no changes to their cross-border shopping habits. France, Poland and Spain, however, all report the largest drop in consumers buying from abroad — while 1 in 4 Italian consumers (26%) have actually increased their frequency of cross-border acquisitions.

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It’s a similar story in the US and Canada too, where a third of consumers say they’re now purchasing from cross-border stores more often than before the outbreak. The key factor driving here is that many consumers simply have more time on their hands to browse the web and shop online8 — particularly in the Netherlands, where 50% of people cite this as the main reason for buying more products from abroad.9

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For consumers who stated that they are buying from abroad less often, the top reasons include slower delivery times (cited by 49% of UK shoppers); a willingness to support local stores and products (say 43% of Italian shoppers); and an overall worsening in people’s personal finances.10 For exporters, promoting products through prospecting and affiliate advertising could help buck this trend, along with price promotions. Where possible, you could also explore quicker delivery options, and you’ll find more details about those in this article.

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Additional resources for exporters

As the pandemic continues, make sure you stay on top of the latest consumer trends and are ready to adapt your tactics accordingly. For example, Market Finder is a handy source for logistics and audience demographics, and you might find this article on marketing through changing times useful, too. For a better idea of what consumers want right now, try Shopping Insights and track the fast-rising retail categories in Google search via Rising Retail Categories tool. There’s also Google Trends which can help you track consumer search patterns as they emerge — plus Find My Audience is a useful tool for discovering new ways to reach your target audience.


  1. GfK Consumer Pulse Study 

  2. GfK Consumer Pulse Study 

  3. GfK Consumer Pulse Study 

  4. GfK Consumer Pulse Study 

  5. GlobalWebIndex (GWI) 

  6. Covid-19 impact on cross-border shopping, Kantar market research study, n=500 per each country, online population 18+, April 2020 

  7. Covid-19 impact on cross-border shopping, Kantar market research study, n=500 per each country, online population 18+, April 2020 

  8. Covid-19 impact on cross-border shopping, Kantar market research study, n=500 per each country, online population 18+, April 2020 

  9. Covid-19 impact on cross-border shopping, Kantar market research study, n=500 per each country, online population 18+, April 2020 

  10. Covid-19 impact on cross-border shopping, Kantar market research study, n=500 per each country, online population 18+, April 2020