I had the opportunity to attend a webinar recently, where we discussed findings on consumer preferences in food labels. In this Webinar, we analyzed a study from as recent as February 2020 but there was a general yet surreal pattern in the questions the participants asked — “This was then, what about now?” The coronavirus pandemic has flipped the world as it stood and has given rise to behavioral changes among consumers. What started as disbelief quickly changed to panic and we’re now seeing an acceptance of the situation. Many of us have become acclimatized to staying at home but we’re also looking forward to life after corona — whenever that is.
The pandemic affected how millions of people around the world went about their day. Even when this is all an event in the past, the changes that it has fostered will remain and will need to be analyzed. Some of these are:
1. Choosing between availability and loyalty
From groceries and housekeeping items to self-care products and cosmetics, customers are now compelled to buy brands that are in stock as opposed to their preferences. In the process, they are discovering alternatives that are driving changes in brand loyalties. Experts suggest it takes 21 – 66 days to change a habit but new tastes can get ‘acquired’ in just a week or two!
2. Shifting from offline to online
This is the biggest and most obvious change of all. Consumers today are working, studying, and entertaining themselves at home, mostly online. While the current digital consumption is a matter of circumstance, these habits are fundamentally rewiring the way we interact with each other and with technology. As some get comfortable with a digital lifestyle, others miss the human quotient and worry about the risks of addiction to gadgets. As current behaviors evolve, they will continue to shape consumer sentiments and choices.
3. Changing lifestyles
Many of us are now taking a DIY approach to things that were earlier outsourced. Fitness no longer depends on gyms and people are now either working out independently or with the guidance of an online trainer. We now see the whole family making their meals together and this, in turn, is changing food shopping habits. Many of us now depend less on food delivery apps and fast food. Further, with the time saved on commute and other outdoor activities, people are spending more time doing what they love or learning something new – be it binge-watching shows, spending more time with loved ones, or exploring hobbies. And this forced change in lifestyle is making us all reconsider what is important and how best we can spend our time, even in a post-lockdown world.
4. Lower dependency
The instantaneous disruption of essential services has led to a desire for lower dependency on some of the not-so-essential products and services. Once the current situation passes, consumers are likely to reconsider what they would like to buy and keep in their homes and offices. In many cases, consumers no longer feel tethered to a brand or product and have opened up to new, fewer, meaningful connections.
5. Consuming less in the face of uncertainty
Consumption habits during a social lockdown have changed, albeit temporarily. Yet, purchasing habits when we emerge from the current landscape is still an uncertain equation. It will depend as much on income and affordability as it will on perceived fear or confidence in the future. Understanding the consumer, allaying fears, and providing the right offers will become more important than ever in the coming months.
As for the industry, while many businesses are temporarily or permanently shutting down, a few industries, such as gaming, OTT, and pharma, are flourishing! Time will soon tell how these changes may slowly mature into habits and become the ‘new normal’.
While the current pandemic will eventually pass, its effects will be unpredictable and may become long-lasting. Consumption and purchase patterns will fluctuate and will crystallize over time.
In this scenario, it will become imperative for brands to conduct market research on their target audiences and understand their emerging sentiments and preferences. Brands that stay on top of their consumer’s transformative journey are likely to be able to serve them better and eventually become the new habits of a ruffled world.