It’s been a year filled with trials and tribulations, and the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on nearly every corner of the globe. The subsequent lockdowns and social distancing mandates have disrupted our every day lives to an extent few could have imagined. And with that, consumer habits have also undergone substantial changes.

Much in the way we have all made changes to our everyday routines in the wake of the Coronavirus, consumers are also learning to improvise and learn new habits as well. For example, as a result of government mandates that have all but shuttered many brick and mortar establishments, consumers cannot go to the store in the way they once could. In turn, the store has come to our home now more than ever before.

While lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease and consumers are returning to old habits, it is likely that the idea of “old habits” will be just that; old. The “new normal” will be anything but, as modifications to our everyday habits continue to evolve. Whatever the future brings in terms of new regulations and procedures will have a dramatic effect on the way consumers shop and buy products and services. New habits will begin to emerge as technology advances, demographics begin to shift, and consumers come to terms with the blurred line that represents the boundary between work, leisure, and education.

Let’s examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is having on consumer behavior, and discuss whether consumers will permanently change their consumption habits due to lockdown and social distancing; or whether will they go revert to old habits once the global crisis ends. Will consumers develop new habits? Will it change the future of shopping centers, and attending concerts and sporting events? To some extent, this has been happening for decades. In the example of sports, for instance, have been broadcasting on television and radio for decades – all with the intent to distribute their product to those who were unable to physically attend.

 

How Much Have Consumer Behaviors Changed?

In the most general sense, the answer to this question is unquantifiable, as COVID-19 has swept across the globe like a tidal wave, leaving a relentless feeling of economic uncertainty in its wake. But as restrictions begin to ease as it pertains to lockdowns, consumer behaviors are beginning to revert to some sense of normalcy. But how have they changed since the onset of the pandemic?

how much did consumer behaviors change?

More And More, Consumers Are Embracing Digital Technology

As a result of pure necessity, consumers have adopted many new technologies and applications in recent months. One of the most notable examples is Zoom, the videotelephony and online chat service. Most households have learned to operate Zoom simply as a means to keep up with family and friends. But the practice has been extended beyond that, with the growing necessity of remote learning for schools and colleges and even for virtual visits with your doctor or physician.

Social media is also an intrinsic element of our society in 2020. Most consumers like platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp, WeChat, and others. Social media provides a universal medium for global reach. If you think about it, the largest nations in the world (in terms of population) are no longer India and China. They are places like Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp. Each platform has well over a billion users each, and they are places where people spend many hours a day perusing their feeds, engaging with posts, and shopping for products and services.

digital around the world in 2019

Additionally, social media usage has dramatically changed the nature and scope of word of mouth recommendations. Influencer marketing is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world today, and for good reason. Influencers have a powerful voice, and most importantly, they are (no pun intended), influential. They can have a profound impact on the buying decisions of their audience, and many of them have millions of followers.

The impact of digital technology on consumer behavior, in general, is quite substantial. However, it’s particularly profound as it pertains to social media. It’s become something that is pervasive in the average consumer’s daily life, and it will be interesting to observe if the continued adoption of technology will be able to break old habits and sustain these newly developed practices in the long term.

Online Delivery and Click-And-Collect Services Continue To Attract New Users

This particular data set applies to Canadian consumers but still applies to U.S. based consumers from a trend perspective as well. Let’s begin by first examining a survey conducted with Canadian consumers, which found that two-thirds of participants stated that they had placed an online delivery (ship-to-home) order in recent weeks, with another 40% saying they had placed an online order for pick-up (click-and-collect).

COVID-19 impact on Canadian consumer behavior

Additionally, 17% of those who placed an online ship-to-home order indicated it was their first time ever purchasing something online, or at least the first time in the past six months. The onset of COVID-19 has brought about a dramatic shift towards online shopping, specifically among Canadian shoppers who had previously been more apprehensive to utilize these services. In turn, retailers must continue prioritizing and investing in both their delivery service and click-and-collect options.

covid-19 online shopping impacts

 

Will We Revert To Old Habits, Or Create New Ones?

Scientists, economists, and experts alike all seem to believe that over time, most habits will return to normal, as “regular” life returns once we have developed and administered a vaccine on a global scale. With that said, it is all but inevitable that some habits will fall to the wayside, as consumers living under government-mandated lockdown conditions have discovered alternatives to their everyday routines.

For example, streaming services such as Netflix and Disney have seen huge surges in user growth as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. In particular, Netflix revealed that it added more than 10 million global subscribers in the second quarter, surpassing both Wall Street estimates and its internal forecast by several million.

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In lieu of this substantial user growth, Netflix will be pulling more and more consumers out of the movie theatre and onto their couch at home. In theory, this bears some similarity to ride-sharing services such as Uber, which is more a user-friendly option in the modern world than calling a traditional taxi service. For companies like Netflix and Amazon (and countless others), the silver lining to the pandemic may be that consumers find it easier to work, learn, and shop at home. Activities once considered an alternative may now become the “norm”, and the created habit now becomes the core habit. And as this becomes the core habit, the latter (ex. going to the movies, or shopping at a store in person) becomes peripheral.

changes in the where, how and who of grocery shopping

There is one seemingly universal law of consumer behavior, and that is when an existing habit is given up, it always comes back as a hobby or form of recreation. Some great examples of this would include activities like fishing, gardening, and even cooking. It will be interesting to see what existing habits which are given up by adopting the new ways will come back as hobbies. Will shopping become more of a form of nostalgic recreation than a practice of necessity?

Modified Habits

Our existing habits, like grocery shopping, for instance, will be modified as a result of COVID-19.  New guidelines and regulations that require us to wear masks social distance from one another have impacted both our desire and overall experience. Modified habits are more likely to be seen in the services industries, particularly as it applies to personal services provided at places like hair salons, gyms, and even physical therapy establishments. These are just a few of the examples of industries on the verge of a massive shift, as consumer habits continue to be modified as a result of the coronavirus.

A New “Normal” Means New Habits

As mentioned earlier, a primary driver of consumer behavior is technology. The advancement of technology has transformed consumer behavior significantly over the years. It can be seen as early as the Industrial Revolution with the invention of automobiles, airplanes, and appliances. These advancements were followed by inventions like the telephone, television, and eventually, the internet. And with the internet came social media. And now more than ever, digital technology is transforming wants into needs.

new risks and opportunities in the consumer industry

For instance, there was a time when we didn’t miss our cell phone when it wasn’t on our person. These days, the idea of being without it can induce anxiety for some people. In 2020, the internet can be seen as a utility that is just as important as electricity. In fact, nowadays it’s even more important than TV.

The point is, when technology transforms wants into needs, it has a significant impact on how we develop new habits. This includes consumer habits like online shopping, online dating, or basically online anything.

 

Big Changes Are Expected In The Coming Months

The coronavirus has created a huge disruption to our everyday lives, and these changes in circumstances have a significant impact on our changes in behavior. And much in the way that we have seen these changes firsthand over the past few months, many consumers are anticipating significant changes in the coming months, as well. In the same survey conducted on Canadian consumers, 80% of participants believed that there will be a widespread increase in COVID cases in the winter months, with 75% believing it will lead to further lockdown measures, including the closing of schools and universities.

If this is to happen, as many experts seem to think will be the case, it could both greatly contribute to an increase in at-home consumption. Over 50% of consumers believe the government will extend further benefits for COVID-19 financial aid, and 40% think that a vaccine for the virus will be developed in the coming months.

The idea of purchasing revolves around consumption, and all consumption is location and time-bound. Consumers develop habits over time about what to consume, when they consume it, and where they choose to do so. This can be seen directly in consumer habits that develop as technology advances. For example, searching for information and reviews on a restaurant on Yelp.

Consumer behavior is often highly predictable, and data-driven engineers have made millions off of creating predictive models and consumer insights based on past repetitive buying behaviors. But with the onset of a global pandemic, predictive models can only do so much to predict the behaviors of individuals whose lives are seemingly changing by the day. Wave 7 data revealed that 40% of the global population have delayed big life events such as marriage/children and job changes until 2021 due to the COVID-19 crisis.⁠

Marketers Must Continue Being Attentive And Flexible

We have arrived at the burning question, which is “what does all this mean for marketers?” Well, advertising dollars are rapidly shifting from print to digital media, as they have been for the past few years. The only publications that will be able to weather the storms of COVID-19 will be those with the highest traffic and the most targeted audience.

From a digital perspective, nearly every channel will likely continue to see an increase in usage, with the greatest increase in consumption to be seen with mobile, social media, and video. With that in mind, it may be best to modify your media mix appropriately and as always, use data to drive your decisions.

In terms of messaging, consumers are leaning heavily on brands that focus on value, authenticity, and social awareness. Brands that are clearly communicating a sense of purpose and are proactive about taking a stance on social issues will continue to generate greater consumer loyalty, while also minimizing the negative impact of the pandemic.

Regardless of what industry you work in, the impact that COVID-19 is having on consumer behavior is changing by the day; and much of this change will likely be permanent. Ensure your products, services, and messaging all bear these changes in mind. Modify your marketing plans if necessary and ensure you are tuned into those changes and remain dynamic with your strategy moving forward.

 

Looking Forward

Due to the fast-changing nature of the Coronavirus outbreak, we anticipate continued fluctuations in consumer behavior and growing levels of concern in the coming months. As we’ve seen recently, lifted stay-at-home orders will not be the end-all-be-all solution for businesses or consumers. These reopenings bring along with them the significant risk of rising infection rates and the increased likelihood of reimposed restrictions. It is now more important than ever to monitor consumer behavior and brand sentiment, in order to adjust to this new normal.

Viral Nation will continue to closely monitor the pandemic to ensure brands have the most up-to-date information on consumer behavior.

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