'Desire for the past': COVID-19 pandemic forced buying habits to evolve

NOW: ’Desire for the past’: COVID-19 pandemic forced buying habits to evolve

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The effects of the pandemic are still all around us.

One familiar phrase to explain some of the chaos has been "supply chain issues." Why is that?

The answer is our changing habits, and they've been harder to predict than you might think.

Thousands upon thousands of trading cards line the shelves of AJ Collectables.

"Cards range from $50 a box to $9,000 for one box of cards right over there," Manager Kent Fritz said. "Can you imagine spending $9,000 on a box of cards? It happens."

Inside a box are packs of baseball, basketball, football and hockey trading cards waiting to be ripped open. Each card holding a different value.

"I call it legalized gambling," Fritz said. "I have also referred to it as just like the stock market. It got up, it goes down."

The decades-old hobby of buying, selling and trading cards started to gain renewed interest just before March 2020. Once the pandemic set in, it skyrocketed. 

"The pandemic caused people who had to stay home to go downstairs, to go into the attic, pull out their old cards, and they found a lot of gems," Fritz said.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Marketing Professor Parush Papatla explains the unexpected trend is part of consumer psychology evolving throughout the pandemic.

"The desire for the past, when things were better, safer, that is something that brands are really playing to in terms of how they promote their product," Papatla said. 

A desire for products that make people feel safe and can keep people safe.

"Everyone was just scared, panicked, and wanted to buy something immediately," Fletcher Arms Owner Megan Eaton said.

The line to buy a gun at Fletcher Arms on St. Patrick's Day in 2020 stretched outside the front door.

"We just had people lining the counters, people outside, we couldn't fit any more humans into the store," Eaton said.

Customers wiped out the store looking for peace of mind in uncertain times.

"They come in and they say, 'I never thought I would be here. I never thought I would want a gun, but I'm ready. I'm ready now to arm myself,'" Eaton said.

Papatla explains it's not just about the products. People are looking to do their shopping virtually, from a distance.

"Most people have shifted to online shopping because of the fears of shopping in person," Papatla said.

Grocery stores, like Metcalfe's Market, ramped up pick-up and delivery options at the beginning of the pandemic to provide customers with the safety bubble they were looking for.

"When the pandemic started, there was obviously a huge increase, a surge in shoppers looking to do pick-up and delivery, and what we've seen during the last 18 months is that shopper preference has remained the same," Metcalfe's Market Assistant Director of Operations Lisa Grudzielanek said.

Whether your shopping cart is in-store or online, it hasn't been easy to get certain items off the shelf. Grudzielanek predicts that won't change anytime soon.

"What we're hearing from our distributers is that it's going to get a little worse before it gets better," Grudzielanek said. "We're all trying to do the best we can with our teams in place to get these items on the shelf, but there will definitely be some shortcomings this holiday season."

The renewed popularity of trading cards allowed AJ Collectables to grow into a chain, with stores in Greenfield, Hartford and Kenosha.

Similarly, Fletcher Arms plans to open a second store in Pewaukee in December.

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