Has the pandemic changed consumer behaviour forever?

New study indicates Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how consumers shop, live and take care of their health.

Social distancing and economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 health crisis has forced the acceleration to a more digital way of life, a new study by PwC reveals.

In the same way that the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of businesses, including embracing remote working, the digital lifestyle of consumers has also accelerated.

“Customers don’t just want the retailer or brand to care about them; they also expect companies to care about the planet”

A global study of 4,500 consumers in nine countries and in 35 cities found that more than a third plan to spend less in the months ahead.

The shift to purchasing via mobile devices has increased with 45pc of consumers shopping via mobile for non-food items, up from 30pc before the Covid-19 crisis.

There has also been a seismic shift towards self-care with 69pc of consumers now more focus on their mental and physical wellbeing.

Four out of ten (40pc) respondents reported a decrease in income as a result of job loss or redundancy following the pandemic. These changing lifestyle and financial circumstances are resulting in less spending, more use of social media and more at-home entertainment.

Almost half (49pc) are spending less because of fewer social events and activities and 23pc have lost money due to cancelled events and activities.

Half are using social media more than they had been and 56pc are watching more television than before.

“Based on our experience, the position in Ireland would mirror these global findings,” said John Dillon, leader of PwC Ireland’s Retail & Consumer Practice.

“For companies that cater to the end consumer, the future is arriving faster than anyone imagined. Digital trends that had already been transforming consumer behaviour a few short months ago have accelerated. Businesses need to understand how the new normal affects all their customer touch points if they are to reinvent their own future, and not be at the mercy of external events.”

The big shop and the online drop

Social distancing measures put in place because of the coronavirus have also impacted how consumers purchase groceries. While in-store grocery shopping is the main channel of choice, nearly two-thirds (63pc) of consumers are now buying more groceries online than before the pandemic.

“Despite the digital shift, it would be premature to write off physical stores”

A massive 86pc of those who now shop online are planning to continue after social distancing measures are removed. 45pc say they are shopping less often for groceries — but filling up bigger baskets.

For non-food items, online and mobile shopping have also seen a substantial increase (mobile phone: 45pc, up from 30pc six months ago; computers: 41pc, up from 28pc six months ago and tablets: 33pc, up from 15pc six months ago).

At the same time, 36pc said their spending had increased in the area of entertainment and media; 26pc said their spending had increased in the combined area of DIY, home improvement and gardening.

While there may have been a belief before the pandemic that urban broadband networks were fragile and underdeveloped, the research shows that consumers have been satisfied overall with their broadband speed during their time in isolation — 69pc say they’re satisfied or extremely satisfied with the speed of broadband in their home.

“Despite the digital shift, it would be premature to write off physical stores — even though retail foot traffic has plunged during lockdown, our research shows that half (49pc) of urban consumers still say their in-store shopping activity for non-food items since the outbreak has stayed the same or increased,” said Owen McFeely, Director, PwC Ireland Retail & Consumer Practice.

“However, this pattern needs to be monitored in the coming months as we understand more about the virus and its transmission levels”

Focus on health

The survey results show a seismic shift towards self-care. As a result of Covid-19 well over half of respondents reported to be more focused than before on taking care of their mental health & wellbeing (69pc), physical health (69pc) and diet (63pc).

Urban dwellers surveyed after the outbreak also viewed safety and security (49pc), and healthcare (45pc) just as important to their quality of life as employment prospects (45pc). 

The survey also revealed a clear embrace of sustainability and a sense of civic duty with 43pc of respondents expecting businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact.  45pc of respondents will avoid the use of plastics wherever possible.  About half (49pc) are open to sharing their data if it helps their city.

“Customers don’t just want the retailer or brand to care about them; they also expect companies to care about the planet,” McFeely said. “While certain trends have been on the upswing for quite some time, our research shows that the pandemic has sharpened consumers’ desire for transparency, sustainability and convenience.

“The companies that will reap the most rewards are the ones that have established trust with the consumer, invested in a seamless and frictionless end-to-end customer purchase journey and prioritised the consumers’ health and safety. The need for consumer-facing companies to establish trust with potential customers could not be any clearer.”

Four key future trends for retail and consumer brands

The research outlines four key trends for consideration by retail and consumer brands and organisations as they navigate what is ahead:

  1. Expect market volatility and price sensitivity
  2. Consumer experience must be rooted in safety and accessibility
  3. Digital engagement needs to be robust and diversified
  4. Customers will become long time advocates if they prioritise care, well-being and innovation

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 20 July, 2020