Change or be changed: How substitutes and hybrids are altering consumer markets

The last 12-14 weeks since the pandemic began has brought about a tremendous period of change. We’ve changed where, how and when we work. Commuter, transit and driving patterns have been impacted. How and where we learn has shifted. Dining out and dining in has changed. Our entertainment options have been impacted, as have grocery shopping patterns and overall consumption. And we’ve found new substitutes for sport, recreation and fitness. Our lives have been dramatically disrupted due to health concerns, and the ripple effect on the economy have been profound. But in these changes, consumers have found new options, and in looking at original research in this area, we’ve found two remarkable statistics:

“73% have changed products, suppliers or services they were previously loyal to”


“65% of those pleased with the alternatives found are likely or strongly likely to continue the behaviour in the future”

The data was gathered through an online survey May 22 – June 2, 2020 fielded to connections through social media, as well as subscribers to my Five-Minute Marketing Tips weekly newsletter. There were 100 respondents, and although the sample was not huge, and it wasn’t selected from a diverse cross section that would represent a national sample, it still delivers some insightful learning – from an age range of adults, representing different educational backgrounds, cultures, professions and industries.

I had assumed that the pandemic had shifted many behaviours, and my hunch was that some of those changes could become permanent. But the degree of shift and the desire to continue left me a bit shocked. At the very least, this is a wake up call to businesses that maintaining customer connection during this time is critical, in order to continue nurturing the relationship. But what it really drove home was the potential for new product and service offerings as well as new emerging customer segments.

“People who change behaviour due to an external force, seldom shift back, if they discover something of value, and have the option of keeping it”

If loyalty has been squandered, especially during a time of consumer upheaval, the likelihood of substitutes taking hold goes up significantly. Think of it from the consumer perspective. If they’ve been forced to find a new provider or offering, they may well have experienced something unexpectedly good in your absence, and their loyalty may be at risk. At the very least, they’ve been challenged to reevaluate the relationship. Are you positioned to win them over again? Even if you assumed they would never leave?

We have collectively been pulled (and in some cases pushed) into new ways of doing things, and with that has come new alternatives and substitutes. Before I get into sharing the data from the survey, I’d like you to consider these questions as you review it:

– How might new alternatives and substitutes impact your business going forward?

– What opportunity might you find in capitalizing on the emerging trends taking shape?

– What new market segment might you be able to help by meeting their new needs or preferences?

– How might hybrids, combining digital and in person interaction, play out in your industry and business offering? What are the opportunities and threats in that?

– What are you doing currently to nurture relationships with those who have been exposed to new alternatives?

A top line summary of significant findings

  • 73% have changed products, suppliers or services that they previously had been loyal too
  • Of those who have been pleased with the alternative or substitute found elsewhere, 65% said they were likely or strongly likely to continue buying it in the future
  • 73% had altered where, when or how they work
  • 65% said they were likely or strongly likely to maintain these work related changes going forward as the economy opens up and normal work patterns return. It should be noted however that 13% said they were unlikely to maintain the changes, and 22% were sitting in the middle, neither likely nor unlikely to maintain the change.


Digging deeper into the changes being made

  • 62% had altered their commuter, transit or driving patterns
    • Of those who had altered their patterns, comments included:
    • Work from home instead of 2 hour daily commutes
    • Working from home so drive way less.
    • Worked from home.
    • Going nowhere
    • Only needed one tank of gas in 5 weeks vs 1 tank a week usually. Mainly not driving to Whistler on weekends
    • Planning trips to stores and other locations.
    • All my meetings and networking are virtual now
    • Less driving and not as far
    • Completely nixed my commute
    • Less travel
    • Cycle now
    • No longer use transit, do not wish to go back
  • 85% had altered their dining out or order in activity
    • Of those who had altered their patterns, comments included:
    • My choices are driven by safety
    • More home cooking
    • Dining out replaced with home cooking
    • No dining out even considered and less ordering in as well
    • Only take out.
    • Much less dining out
    • Never have eaten out a lot but did nine in 12 weeks
    • Mostly cooking at home.
    • Not going out and minimal orders. Trust home cooking more.
    • A little take out once a week.
    • Can’t eat out.
    • No fast food
    • Making all food myself
    • Stopped dining out
    • Ordered more delivery services.
    • Eat home more
    • The changes made were in adapting to the restrictions – not being able to eat in
    • Ordered pick up more
    • Fave pub food is Earls (also bought groceries from them, my daughter is employed there so we get discounts)
    • Yes, less dining to stay safe
    • Miss going out for dinner with friends
    • We rarly dine out and live too far away to do delivery.
    • Much less restaurant food, 90% home cooked
    • Restaurants are expensive and if I’m not getting the experience I don’t bother often with take out
    • One fav pub with live music closed (hoping it’ll reopen & we’ll support it!) Otherwise, take-out only of course … supporting the restaurants we love as much as possible.
    • Delivery several times and using skip the dishes every time. The service is great.
    • Haven’t been out to eat or even eaten take out. Normally go out 2x/week
    • Not going out to restaurants, but ordering in more
  • 89% had altered their entertainment options
    • Of those who had altered patterns, comments included:
    • Home entertainment movies
    • Reading
    • Family time
    • Online streaming events. We miss live events and social time around them
    • Can’t go out to concerts sporting events museum gallery
    • Home only entertainment. Netflix
    • No movies or concerts
    • I like live performances
    • Reading and Netflix and Acorn. No dinner parties.
    • Yes but not a lot as we didn’t frequent that much.
    • Used to go to one movie a quarter.
    • No more concerts or community events
    • All indoors at home
    • Subscribed to more streaming platforms that I didn’t have before.
    • Gardening
    • Only because movie theaters have not been open.
    • I go out every day: walks and hikes, less Netflix
    • At home only – cannot attend any live events
    • Been home ALL the time
    • We have been watching concerts, and visiting via Zoom etc.
    • No going out, more home Netflix, lots of news
    • No musical gatherings, or family and friend gatherings
    • Not having friends over, parties, concerts.
    • All concert & sports venues have been closed – so missing live in person events. However have loved virtual & video music performances from comfort of our home. Would pay to buy tickets in future.
    • Watched many many Hallmark movies to maintain joy and love in watch we consume. Hope is everywhere even though they follow a predictable diet
  • 73% had altered their grocery shopping
    • Of those who had altered their patterns, comments included:
    • Shopping less frequently, but buying more
    • Use of delivery service
    • Going to independents close to home
    • Changed stores due to line ups
    • Our choices are less driven by cost and more by safety
    • Wearing protective gear when shopping
    • Only one of us goes shopping – usually my husband
    • Drop major grocery store. Shop small independents
    • Way fewer shops.
    • Using grocery delivery service.
    • Shop less frequently
    • Ordered delivery a few times but will return to local shopping myself
    • Once a week or less.
    • Yes but it’s getting closer to normal since I’m going once a week out, way less trips. 1 time a month to Costco and 1 every 10 days to superstore or alternate. Used to be weekly to Costco
    • Once or twice a week to grocery store. Now that farmers market opening up getting fresh produce once a week what we can.
    • I purchase dairy/veggie and meat packages from Earls grocery
    • Essential needs
    • My husband is the designated shopper
    • One person shopping and less often
    • My husband works out and about so has been responsible for more of the shopping. I now only shop local, I can’t be bothered to drive to, and line up to get into Superstore (where I used to do my big shops)
    • Less frequent and more local Canadian
    • Previously walked to various stores & shopped every few days to pick up what’s fresh or what we’re hungry for v. weekly grocery purchase.
    • Going less often and wearing a mask
    • Wear a mask (earlier gloves, too)
    • Don’t shop as often
  • 81% had altered their recreation or fitness activities
    • Of those who had altered their patterns, comments included:
    • Using online options – work outs lead by instructor online
    • Walking more, the dog is happy
    • Biking more
    • No commute has allowed way more time to get fit
    • I’m a lethargic lump of lard
    • Stopped attending yoga classes
    • Hoped to work out more at home but that didn’t happen.
    • Cancelled weekly pilates
    • No spring skiing lots of running biking and pickle ball
    • Working out at home. No gym. Saves a lot of time and still feel I’m fit.
    • Daily yoga online now instead of studio
    • Longer walks because we are eating more
    • No spring ski season
    • Fewer walks/hikes with friends
    • Much more walking and steps per day
    • I miss the YMCA fitness center most of all.
    • Less gym more at home resistance
    • Had to exercise at home using a DVD
    • Hiking and walking daily, no gym. Cant wait for gym four nights per week is normal for me plus hiking/walking
    • Because I have recovered 2 hours a day, I run about 6-10 miles every other day
    • I was seeing a Personal Trainer, and now I am doing things on my own
    • Hikes, runs and walks have been it
    • Bought a bike last week
    • No gym.
    • Extensive gardening and catching up on household renovations
    • Yoga at home
    • More biking
    • No public swimming, no gym.
    • Y is closed … No deep water aquafit available … Increased yoga via DVDs
    • A walk every day and once a week a really long walk…all because the gym is not open
    • My local state park closed. Just walked neighborhood or skipped

There’s LOTS more in the comments sections which I will share once I write this up as a comprehensive blog post after the survey closes, but we can start to see how potentially vulnerable some businesses might be to shifts in behaviour, if something of value has been discovered in the process.

What behaviours would consumers like to keep?

The final question asked, “Overall, if you could KEEP some of the changes made over the last 10-12 weeks, once the pandemic is over, what would they be?” I’ve pulled a sampling of comments below:

– Eating in, shopping independent retailers
– Being calm and more relaxed regarding work
– My priorities have changed – way more committed to a healthier lifestyle
– Saving money by not wandering around the shops
– Zoom and Face Time chats with family
– Less shopping more exercise
– Less driving
– Only spending time with those I want to spend time with
– Spending less money consuming
– Less trips to grocery store
– More online ordering
– Will continue more virtual yoga with interesting teachers from around the world
– Will continue networking and running meetings online as it saves time
– Using video more
– Keep up with walking
– Eating more healthy
– Planning meals in advance
– Taking time to prepare meals with found time from commute
– I’m spending so much less money on dining and entertainment, which has allowed me to save more money
– By spending less, my increased savings account makes me feel more secure
– All that adds tangible value will stay and discretionary activities must similarly be clearly additive
– Work more from home
– Cycle more
– Eat at home more
– I would not keep any of the changes – they were all because I was adapting to the restrictions
– Continue walking and hiking daily as well as gym
– Getting groceries from a new place – I like it better
– Watching less Netflix and Amazon Prime video
– I will continue to work from home and run my business
– Zoom meetings, and becoming more proficient with technology. I was intimidated before, less so now
– Less commuting
– Teaching courses online
– More walking/shopping local
– I will continue to search for local Canadian products and services
– Making our own bread
– Eating at home
– Less international travel
– Slower start to the morning
– Enjoying coffee at home in the morning instead of stop at Starbucks
– Yoga at home
– Not looking at a watch
– Would pay to enjoy live-streaming concerts from home
– Tighter family unit; more time together
– Walk every day
– Movies to buoy the heart
– Go out less often to the store
– Puppy time which will become dog time. She keeps me grounded and smiling
– I would keep staying at home more
– I’m more productive and got rid of a lot of projects left on the back burner working from home
– Work from home more
– Doing workshops virtually has opened up new opportunities which I love
– I need real social interaction, but the newfound freedom working online is great. I need a bit of both

Honestly, I find tremendous hope and opportunity in these comments. I can absolutely see new segments emerging, with new needs, new distribution model opportunities, new pricing structures, and new promotional and positioning opportunities opening up.

A note about hybrids

A hybrid is a bit of both – face to face and online. Since many people note having been forced to adapt their previous face to face activities to an online environment, we have segments of the population who may well have discovered a new offing they like – such as online coached fitness, live streamed concerts, online course delivery, online shopping and delivery services, take out and delivery options and working from home. While these options will not remain a preference for some, it is entirely possible that there will be some who will want them either entirely, OR have a bit of both. For example, perhaps work from home 4 days a week and go to the office for 1. Or take a course online with a face to face class at the beginning, middle and end. Or a fitness membership that includes some club access, but less than before in exchange for customized online coached session which they can access from anywhere. These preferences could be driven by time saving, convenience, lifestyle, variety of offering, or just the perception that it’s a “better fit.”

True hybrids allow for some people to be virtual and some to be face to face. In a work environment, hybrids allow for some workers to be based in an office, and some to be remote, or a mix of office and remote during the week. In a conference or educational environment, hybrids deliver content in “formats preferred by the audience” rather than everyone always being face to face. Hybrids allow technology to link those in the room with those online and visa versa. Hybrids allow asynchronous (on your own time) or synchronous (at the same time as others) options.

Hybrids offer the potential to expand reach and audience (and therefor revenue), and create unique experiences for all involved. Add a little VR (virtual reality) to the mix, and this stuff could be quite something! But seriously, can you imagine attending a concert or a sports event and interacting with others around the globe all watching together? Can you imagine “meeting” your safari guide or tour group members in advance, getting to know them, solidifying the friendship in person, and then continuing the experience virtually while you savour the memories, and plan the next trip? To a certain extent, we’ve seen experimentation with some of this via social media apps, progressive companies utilizing live feeds, or influencers. But what I envision is much more strategically engineered and executed.

Why hybrids are compelling

  1. Flexibility – when and how you want it
  2. Efficiency – time an cost saving
  3. Interaction – 2x interaction possibilities
  4. Cater to different work, learning and social styles
  5. Tech fear is gone – We’ve been forced on mass to meet and deal with the initial tech fear
  6. Technology innovation – tools to help are coming because the market is now proven. Tech companies have witnessed this change and will deliver tools to help do things we could have only imagined several months ago – just watch!
  7. We’re still social beings- we may want online, but many will crave in person connection
  8. Protection from future threats – hybrids will protect us against future threats

The new normal: Change or be changed

We would be foolish to assume customers who were loyal in early March are still committed to the marriage. They’ve been out shopping around, and we may need to think of this as dating again – showing them the love of a new found relationship, and recognizing their potentially changed needs. As for our altered work patterns and various other new habits, astute businesses will find opportunity for cost savings, employee retention, greater efficiencies, new product or service offerings, and new market segments to serve.

While the future is both scary and exciting right now, I hope you too can see where this could actually be the beginning of something great. We’re no doubt headed towards a recession, but the changes already present set us up for an incredible period of prosperity.

That gives me hope.


Mary Charleson

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