Change is hard, usually. Most people will not change long-held attitudes, habits, or preferences — unless they have no choice. And that’s what happened in the past few months. The Coronavirus pandemic led to widespread social distancing and shelter-in-place norms, disrupting stocks, sales, and supply chains — and thereby, consumer purchase patterns. Brands and retailers scrambled to optimize inventory and rethink delivery. Meanwhile, consumers all over the world had auto-embarked on one of the most significant mass transformations in modern history.

For the last decade at Course5 Intelligence, we have been monitoring and enabling global clients, and closely tracking consumer insights using our Audience Graph solution [A global macro and micro-segments monitoring platform at scale]. We found that consumers are evolving with each passing week of the pandemic, moving from an attitude of resignation in the initial weeks to a resurging agency in recent weeks. Meanwhile, something changed unalterably. The consumer experienced and realized basic needs, new products, an altered lifestyle, and new attitudes to life. Brands need to understand these changes to be able to cater to and connect with the late – and post-pandemic consumer.

Here are some of the critical ways the pandemic has affected consumer preferences until now –

1. Affinity vs. Availability –

Across groceries, home cleaning products, and other essentials of daily life, consumers found that the brands they loved, preferred, or were accustomed to, were often out of stock and inevitably started using brands that were on the shelf. In many cases, the new brands have stuck.

Over ~35% of consumers said they would continue to buy new products they started using during the crisis.

Consumers who shopped online for the first time or shopped more extensively online during the pandemic mostly said this would continue to do so for at least some of the purchases that were previously offline.

One brand’s (or shopping outlet/platform’s) loss is another brand’s gain. Both brands that lost and gained customers during the pandemic will need to understand and address consumers very carefully in the coming months to either hold on to newly acquired customers or woo back old ones.

2. Localism –

Localism

With restricted global movement and a sharp urge for self-preservation in the rapids of the pandemic, consumers globally started falling back on their local communities and championing local produce. The trend could mean consumers opting for products made locally and buying from community stores.

The takeaway for brands here is to highlight their local connection and community engagement in meaningful and resonant ways. In the coming months, brands will need to follow consumer sentiment carefully as they make production and marketing decisions. Brands would need to look at their entire supply chains and marketing value chains to reach out to more local and micro-communities rather than focussing on national or a broader ecosystems. The better brands than can address exact consumer needs, the better their chances of winning consumers’ hearts. As Zig Zagler said, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” More or less.

3. Safety Over Comfort –

Consumer Preferences in Pandemic

Safety has been one of the biggest concerns on consumers’ minds in the past few months, and continues to remain so. Critical trends in the safety needs based on our ‘Audience Graph’ –
(a) shopping at local stores,
(b) choosing to go to a superstore optimized for social distancing to complete all purchases at one go,
(c) making purchases online
(d) opting for contactless delivery – are some of the critical micro trends that we predict will continue in the foreseeable future.

As a brand or shopping outlet, this means you need to optimize your business model for safety and communicate the measures you have taken to your target customers.

In our recent Compass Virtual (Digital) Conference, Alex Robertson shared: when David’s Bridal reopens:
(a) they will be sanitizing outlets regularly
(b) meeting clients by appointment only, and
(c) organizing home trials in addition to shifting parts of the purchase cycle online.
In short, doing everything they can to assuage customers’ fears and ensure a safe shopping experience.

4. Prioritizing Health –

Socially distanced fitness routine

Factors like:
(a) being physically confined (restricted movement and socializing),
(b) spending more time online (being sedentary),
(c) worries about possible infection (need to build immunity) and
(d) growing anxiety about economic depression (need to stay positive) has made health a top priority for consumers.
From taking up some form of indoor or socially distanced fitness routine to home-cooking healthy meals to overall slowing down and reconsidering life priorities, consumers have distinctly become more health-conscious. More than ever, they carefully examine their product and lifestyle choices in the context of their health goals.

It is increasingly crucial for brands to support healthy lifestyles for their customers and employees, stay carefully tuned to the apprehensions of consumers, and find ways to assure safety. Having a ‘health strategy’ will be a strategic differentiator for brands in the foreseeable future.

5. Patience and Value-Consciousness –

Consumers say price matters

Consumers amid a lockdown and economic uncertainty are turning both more patient and more demanding at the same time. They are patient with delivery delays and logistical inconveniences, but they are more demanding in terms of quality and the value they are getting for their money. A growing number of consumers say “price matters” and may matter even more in the coming months if the economy worsens.

Many consumers expect brands to help them by offering discounts and promotions. Brands will need to explore new ways to enable this. Sarda Farms, a local Milk supplier in India, changed its packaging to cut costs, which, in turn, lowered the price of milk. Similarly, technology companies offering their solutions free or at highly discounted rates to students, universities, and business organizations right now which would help these users adopt their solutions and price would not be a hindrance later.

One of the trends accelerated by the current pandemic is also a rise in mindful consumption. Consumers are more attentive to what they’re buying, and strive to limit food waste, shop more cost consciously and buy more sustainable options. Brands will need to weave one or more of these considerations prominently into their offerings.

These are some of the trends we can see and predict for now. But just as the pandemic situation remains in flux, consumer preferences will continue to change and evolve in the next 12-18 months. These are crucial habit-forming months for consumers, and brands will do well to continuously monitor consumer sensibilities and adapt their offerings to provide maximum comfort and utility in challenging times.

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