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Adapting to 'New Normal' of Consumer Behavior

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Like every other facet of life, consumer behavior has been impacted profoundly by COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing response to it. As lockdowns were announced, people rushed to hoard household essentials such as toilet papers, hygiene products and non-perishable food items. Everything in the economy, except for essential services such as household supplies, remained shut for months and are only slowly re-opening. Staying indoors for months resulted in people reassessing their needs and developing new consumption habits and preferences. Even as restrictions are lifted, levels of caution remain high among consumers and many are voluntarily staying out of the economy and public spaces. These voluntary changes in consumption behaviors may persist to varying degrees in the forseeable future. To get a deeper insight into the minds of consumers, we must look at some of these changes in their behaviors they we are observing as restriction are being lifted, as well as try to understand the emotions and attitudes that are driving these behaviors.

Consumer Emotions and Behaviors Post-COVID

Anxiety: There are too many uncertainties related to the pandemic itself, as well as it's impacts on the economy and our lives. People are anticipating loss of income sources, separation from loved ones, and loss of mobility and opportunities for recreation, among many other adverse impacts of the pandemic. These uncertainties and adversities are source of anxiety for many.

Loneliness and boredom: Shelter-in-place and distancing requirements have severed our daily connections with our loved ones, acquaintances, co-workers, and even strangers. Social interactions are key source of our emotional well-being and stimulation. The absence of these interactions lead to feelings of loneliness and boredom.

Fatigue and skepticism: There has been an glut of information regarding risk of COVID and mitigation strategies, both pharmaco-clinical and otherwise. Making sense of such voluminous and complex information is a difficult task, worsened by the fact that often new evidence contradicts prior knowledge and different sources contradict each other. This information overload has led to fatigue, lack of trust in information sources and certain amount of skepticism in evaluating any new information.

Caution and vigilance: Personal health and wellness have become a central concern in the context of this large scale health crisis. Perceiving high level of direct risk to their health, people are reevaluating their lifestyle choices, habits and consumption patterns from the lens of health risks and benefits. As a result, people have become more cautious and vigilant regarding factors that impact health.

Now, let's analyze some of the post-lockdown consumption trends and their long-term robustness in via-a-vis these emotions.

  1. Shutdowns, shelter-in-place measures and quarantine requirements have pushed work, entertainment, shopping and socializing online. The pandemic has proved to be an unprecedented catalyst of virtualization of economic, social and professional interactions. Very importantly, technology has proved to be a powerful tool of mitigating loneliness and boredom. An offshoot of the online surge has been an uptick in social media advertising, which is also likely to grow as more business advertise on line and delivery directly to homes. Once these new habits solidify, they are likely to persist beyond the lifecycle of the pandemic

  2. Consumer behavior has majorly shifted from luxury and comfort towards hygiene products and healthcare supplements and this change might last long. Consumers are being more mindful of what they’re buying in terms of the health and environmental impact. Locally and responsible sourced goods and sustainable practices are being favored. These trends are reflective of the caution about personal health and a growing consciousness about collective nature of wellness.

  3. Hoarding may not just be a phenomenon during the lockdowns. The anxiety caused by the experience of scarcity and under preparedness for crisis may make many consumers consider keeping safety stock inventory at home on an ongoing basis. Keeping home inventories also reduces the number of future shopping trips and thus limits the risk of exposure to the COVID‐19 virus.

  4. As people continue to stay at home voluntarily due to anxiety and caution, demand for indoor recreation products and services will continue to grow. This includes DIY, home gyms, gardening, cooking, pets, etc.

  5. 'Sin industries' such as alcohol and tobacco have benefited during economic downturns in the past, and are likely to benefit during the economic downturn accompanying the pandemic as well. These help people cope with the anxiety, loneliness and boredom at a low cost.

  6. Due to economic uncertainty, people are likely to continue to be cost conscious. As a result, demand for discount retailers, DIY repair products, used and refurbished products is likely to increase.

  7. Economic uncertainty will adversely impact discretionary, luxury and 'big ticket' purchases for some time. These include purchase of property, vehicles, consumer durables, lifestyle and fashion products, among others.

  8. As a caution, people are likely to limit outdoor recreational activity and non-essential travel beyond the lifting of restrictions. This is likely to adversely impact businesses such as transportation, tourism, hospitality, restaurants, nightlife, concerts, movie theatres, among others.

How Can Businesses Adapt

It can be tempting for brands to lie low and cut costs in times of distress, but they should rather see it as a unique window where brands can earn trust by maintaining presence and delivering relevant value in an uncertain period of heightened anxiety. By being present, responsive, empathetic, reliable and transparent, brands develop deeper consumer relationships.

  1. Establish and maintain a positive track record in the marketplace. Abide by all written agreements and verbal representations. Address marketplace disputes quickly, professionally, and in good faith.

  2. Be a trusted source of accurate information or consumer-centric counsel in uncertain times. Undertake initiatives in public interest to help stop the virus from spreading or to avoid other negative impacts. Honestly represent products and services, including clear and adequate disclosures of all material terms. Be transparent about business practices and safeguard privacy of customer data.

  3. Show empathy towards the hardships that everyone is facing and deliver hopeful messages to lift spirits.

  4. Go virtual - as the unknowns surrounding the spread of the disease remain, the future looks healthy for online businesses and companies that can market their goods and services online and provide home delivery.

  5. Rethinks your offerings in relations to new trends such as cost-consciousness, large home inventories, indoor consumption, etc.

  6. Make it a priority to support healthy lifestyles for consumers, shoppers and employees. and explore ways to connect locally – be it through highlighting local provenance, customizing for local needs or engaging in locally relevant ways.

  7. Help people make good use of the time they spend at home – and to drive internalization of new habits by helping them feel good about the way that time is spent. Communication campaigns as well as new product/service offerings can be designed towards this end.

  8. Recognize and affirm new social norms in communications campaigns. When trying new behaviors, people can often feel a bit self-conscious, as if they are the only people practicing them. But if people feel that others are doing this behavior too, they are much more likely to maintain it.

Lifebuoy's campaign in India promoting safety actions and mentioning competitor soap brands in public interest.

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