This week I’ve been doing a round-up of studies about consumer behaviour during the pandemic. I’ve been digging into the McKinsey Report, Ernst and Young data, my own primary research, as well as reading papers and e-books by several respected thought leaders in the area. I’ve outlined a summary below. And just a heads up – they are valuable in terms of recognizing the threats and opportunities that lay ahead, but I consider #13 potentially the most powerful – simply because of its ability to be long lasting. Curious? Read on! (and don’t you dare skip to 13 first!!!)
13 Consumer trends to monitor during and post-pandemic
1. Workplaces shifting to home: This has resulted in less transit use, less demands on wardrobe and clothing purchases, less breakfast on the go and lunch out in downtown hubs. It will significantly impact downtown office space rentals longer term, as well as home design. It has also increased demands on at home internet connection speed – not only download speed for entertainment, but upload speed for online business video calls. Post pandemic, this is a trend which is likely stay for a significant part of the population, as employers now know that work can continue successfully from home for many, and not suffer a decrease in productivity – in fact early research indicates that productivity has actually improved. Working from home won’t be for everyone, but a significant enough number will want to maintain it, to cause an impact in some of the areas noted.
2. Online shopping increased: Contactless shopping and payment, as well as initial store closures drove this trend largely, but also the availability of options and ease of delivery. The online shopping trend was underway already, but it has definitely been accelerated. Gains are unlikely to go away post pandemic. Anyone buy Shopify at $340 when I recommended it last year? It’s at $1,030 right now! Maybe I should become a day trader…
3. Increase in online media usage: We have gone from spending on average 3 hours per day online, to over 10 hours/day tuned to media – as defined by work and entertainment activities. Social media and smartphone use gains are likely to stay post pandemic, at least partially, making it even more important to be on social media. While many have cut their social media ad budgets, and big brand boycotts of Facebook have added to the mix, the pressure on inventory is down, so it’s easier to get noticed with all the time being spent online, and spend less doing it right now.
4. Focus on self-improvement: Whether it’s increased time to reflect on what is of value, or a sudden discovery of additional time to devote to personal goals, self-improvement both physically and mentally has seen an uptake, exhibited through in-home fitness and yoga equipment sales increasing 154%, as well as an increase in sales for online courses and books for self-help.
5. DIY culture on the rise: We have seen an increased interest in do-it-yourself solutions, and a returning to the basics. Home cooked meals, baking bread, planting gardens and growing our own food have increased. But there has also been an increase in DIY projects and home improvement. In some cases, money that would have been spent on travel is being spent on making home more comfortable.
6. Hyper-localized focus: The pandemic seems to have accelerated this social trend, which was already favouring country and regional solutions, with an increase in nationalist behaviors. Products made in country are seen as desirable, and suddenly consumers care that their own citizens were employed in the process. We’re seeing an extension of this, this summer with localized travel and road trips. While there is pent up demand for international travel, a renewed interest in local and ease of doing it, is likely to be a consideration going forward in the face of the increased costs and complexity of international travel in the future.
7. Interactions have gone virtual: The pandemic also seems to have also accelerated this digital and technology adoption trend. Facetime, Messenger MS Teams and Zoom have enabled both social and work interactions to continue, and unite people in new ways. Face2face will never go away, but expect business travel for meetings to fall under major scrutiny in the future, since it’s now been proven that virtual can work for many situations.
8. People are looking to economize: There has been a shift to more frugal spending. Some of this is the result of job loss, but for others it is psychological. 60% of people report having cut back on spending. If a prolonged recession and a flat recovery, or a depression sets in, we could expect more frugality, and consumers seeking value for money and discounts.
9. Purpose and social good now matters more: It seems with a return to basics, focus on improvement, and to a certain extent fueled by the DIY culture, that purpose and values matter more now than ever. A brands authenticity and social values have always been important, but now that is even more so. 33% of an Ernst and Young survey respondents said they’d re-appraise the things they value, and not take them for granted going forward.
10. Changing attitudes to privacy: A recent study indicates that 50% of US consumers were willing to share their location data and health data, but 80% were concerned how it would be used after the pandemic is over. Essentially, we’re seeing consumers acknowledging how data could be used for collective benefit, but they are increasingly sensitive to the use of consumer data collection and targeting. This trend was already under way, but the pandemic has magnified it. Businesses will need to be hyper critical of how they use data and targeting, and always respect their customers.
11. Human connection and storytelling on the rise: Good storytelling will never go out of fashion, but the pandemic seems to have shined a light on the craving for human connection through stories. Perhaps it has been inspired by being separated physically, but connected in new intimate ways online through our homes. Or perhaps it’s been amplified by the collective acceptance of imperfection as we all muddle our way through learning new things, and adapting online. Whatever it is, brands who show up authentically, and tell very human stories to connect are being rewarded with sales and loyalty. Again, this trend was already under way, but the pandemic seems to have amplified the importance. In March 2020 alone, over 40% of Instagram users, and 34% of Facebook users watched people’s stories. There has been a shift towards more open communication and authenticity in brand storytelling that seems to be resonating. This trend is also likely to continue post-pandemic.
12. Socially distanced travel increases at expense of air travel: RV rentals are up 400% this summer, and car road trips, with the emphasis on local tourism seems to be a global trend. People are choosing the safety of their own vehicle over the risks of being pent up with strangers on aircraft and in airports. While there is no doubt pent up demand to return to global trips and vacations (Ernst and Young study said 70% plan to spend in cautiously extravagant ways once safe), this interest in local may well create a new trend, especially if global air travel has an extended period of recovery, or if prices increase significantly to remain viable.
13. Fear may remain long term: Martin Lindstrom, a well-respected behaviour scientist just published and e-book called “Buy-ology For a Coronavirus World” as a follow up to his earlier work. The thesis behind his book is that much of the human race has been exposed to so much pandemic-related fear, for so long, it will permanently re-wire many consumer patterns. Lindstrom contends that the coronavirus will eventually fade away, but the emotional impact of the virus is likely to remain, infusing itself into our subconscious minds as fear. And that fear will continue to impact our consumer behaviour longer term as we guard against fears about health, safety, separation, economics and change. If you had parents or grandparents who lived through the 1930s depression and WWII, who were cautious about borrowing money, or risky investments, who recycled wrapping paper, turned off the lights, turned down the heat, and were generally thrifty their entire life, their behaviour stemmed from something similar – a pivotal event based around fear, which impacted their actions throughout their entire life. It’s still early on, but he has some pretty compelling research already to support his thinking. While this prospect might be disturbing for some people, it can also be framed with optimism – if you realize what is driving behaviour and respond to it. Of course, you might also be that crazy parent or grandparent who will forever wash their vegetables with soap, use hand sanitizer, and give strangers distance, all the while embracing life for today – since you never know what could happen tomorrow. It’s all how you frame it, but I can definitely see longer term generational impact being seeded during this time period. Smart marketers will understand the importance of this fact – particularly for millennials and Gen Z, since they are in their formative and launching years.