The risky thinking that will define the post-Covid consumer: Wharton psychology guru – CNBC

Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk past a Lululemon store in San Francisco, California, on Monday, March 29, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Instead of jumping to a conclusion about the post-Covid consumer, revert back to one that psychology studies educated us on long before the pandemic. Individuals don’t change habits easily, and what they may stand to lose by changing behavior weighs more heavily on the mind than any potential gain.

“Breaking habits is hard. It is an uphill battle,” said Wharton professor of marketing and psychology Deborah Small at the recent CNBC Small Business Playbook Summit.

The idea behind that is known in the academic field as risk perception, and the pandemic did complicate it. An unprecedented event which suddenly forced consumers to go against their nature and into new behaviors, and out of many of the commerce interactions previously taken for granted: bars, cafes and restaurants, in-person fitness classes, and in-person education. Consumers have been exploring alternatives in ways they rarely do, and that occurred on top of a consumer landscape that is always changing, in recent years mostly related to digital buying and selling.

“Lots of ways in which people consumed pre-pandemic won’t return to those levels,” Small said. “We’ve been permanently changed by different experiences we had in the past year plus.”

But the Wharton professor also says it is unwise, based on all that we know about the consumer brain, to assume that the