September, 2021

Commercial Friendships During a Pandemic

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Although much of the nascent scholarship on COVID-19 has highlighted the tremendous health, economic, and social consequences of the pandemic, what has been underappreciated is the loss of commercial friendships due to the pandemic. Markets are social spaces where individuals can meet and form meaningful connections. But, because many market interactions that would have taken place in person before the pandemic moved remote and online, or were cancelled altogether, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of market participants to form and maintain meaningful social bonds. Indeed, we argue that COVID-19 is a disruptor of the formation and continuance of these commercial relationships. Specifically, we find that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) commercial interactions have become more anonymous and less personalized; (2) the formation and maintenance of commercial friendships are hindered because of the transition to virtual platforms, which are imperfect substitutes for in person connections; (3) during lockdowns, individuals spend more time interacting with closer ties rather than weaker ties; and (4) during the pandemic commercial settings are less likely to serve as social arenas.