How COVID-19 Has Reshaped Consumer Behaviour

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  • The rapid global rise of COVID-19 has disrupted the way people live. These new behaviours will undoubtedly change the way we engage with experiences moving forward.
  • Brands need to react quickly to connect their physical and digital presence as customers become more accustomed to using digital technology to socialise and connect.
  • Consumers will seek brands that translate their experiences online, bring people together, facilitate participation and drive emotional engagement.
  • The spread of COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted peoples’ priorities. Individuals aren’t just concentrating on enhancing themselves, but the communities they live in. 

Over the past 12 months, creative agency Household has been exploring how modern wellness businesses can leverage consumer behaviour to create brand stories and experiential points of discovery for customers. But, as consumers navigate a new reality, many of those behaviours have since altered — some will never be the same again.

Expectations, values and lifestyles are all shifting, forcing businesses to adapt their models and reinvent brand experiences to more closely reflect and align these new demands and desires.

With that in mind, this month Household is breaking from its usual column to explore how the COVID-19 crisis has reshaped consumer behaviour, and what that means for brands, now and in the future.

Welcome to a new world                                                                                           
The rapid global rise of COVID-19 has disrupted the way we live our daily lives. We are self-isolating, working from home, and keeping to ourselves in order to slow down the spread of the disease.

Our new office is our dining room table. Our new cinema is our smartphone, and our new weekly hangout spot with our friends is Zoom. We’ve had to adapt to a new normal — and with adaptation comes new behaviours. 

The new behaviours that we’ve quickly ingrained in isolation have started to stick. And, as the curve begins to flatten in the UK and some countries move towards lifting restrictions, these new behaviours will undoubtedly change the way we engage in experiences moving forward.

New fluid shopping
E-commerce shopping is nothing new, but it’s something that has transcended generations, making everyone a digital nomad in current times. In response to the rise of panic buying and enforced isolation, we have been forced to adapt to using technology in daily life recently.

Whilst some brands are playing catchup to this new surge in e-commerce, others have dominated. 

Deliveroo and UberEATS have become leaders during this new era of buying. As customers became more aware of distancing and hygienic practices, digital services became the go-to model. And these brands used new customer behaviour to pivot their businesses to further bridge the physical and digital experience — some creating smart partnerships (e.g. with M&S) to become invaluable services. 

Some brands have also redefined the use of digital channels to allow customers to shop how they want to, bringing products to customers in innovative ways. Shanghai Luxury art Mall K11 in China, recently used VR to launch a virtual store via a WeChat Mini Programme that allowed customers to tour a virtual mall and purchase products from 46 different branded stores. 

And, as we move out of restrictions, we will see brands look to bridge the physical-digital gap better through the entire shopping experience. US retailer Kendra Scott recently announced that it’s turning on curbside pick-up for 21 of its 23 Texas-based store locations after shutting all 108 of its stores in mid-March. The virus has only accelerated the use of digital technology to enable the shopping experience, and customers will demand enhanced ways of shopping that fluidly adapt to how they want to shop. 

How COVID-19 Has Reshaped Customer Behaviour

Virtually connected
We are social beings. We crave connection, belonging and the need to participate. But with Covid-19 came isolation, stripping us of what makes us so human – each other. As we moved away from physical connection, we embraced social sites. Mentions of IG Live on Instagram and Twitter skyrocketed by 526% between March 8th and March 15th (Comperemedia, 2020). 

This move online and need to connect was further enabled by fast-adapting brands that facilitated connection and relationships to stay relevant. Take Très Bien, the global fashion brand is using Zoom consultations to connect customers with stylists, to receive guidance and advice on new products and items already in their wardrobes. 

Like Très Bien, brands need to react quickly to connect their physical and digital presence as customers become more accustomed to using digital technology to socialise and connect.

Open access to experiences
This newfound love and adoption of technology have only been made possible by its rapid development and integration into all forms of life. Prior to COVID-19, we nonchalantly engaged with it, but never fully understood its limitless potential. As we moved inside, our lives turned online, and through isolation customers still wanted to seek new ways to engage with experiences and stay entertained. 

With doors shut and borders closed, brands had to think fast to keep customers busy and inspired in isolation, using digital and social media channels to connect with their communities and find new ways to entertain and inspire them. Secret Cinema demonstrates this well. At 7.30pm every Friday, the immersive events company hosts ‘Secret Sofa’, virtual at-home screenings of its most popular films, with interactive elements and bespoke content.

Experiences still drive us – we long for connection to culture, finding experiences that engage and inspire us. But no longer will we see experiences as just a physical action. We will seek brands that translate their experiences online to bring us together, facilitate participation and drive emotional engagement. 

How COVID-19 Has Reshaped Customer Behaviour

Image: Secret Cinema

Back to practical
What we’ve seen as isolation has progressed is the renewed sense of improvement. This isn’t just from a wellness perspective, it stretches into the improvement of self through upskilling – be it learning a new language, a new skill, or picking up a new hobby. Compared to March 2019, there has been a 31% rate increase in people watching videos related to recipes and cooking (Google, 2020).

Brands across industries have been facilitating this, showing customers they can learn new skills wherever they are. The Chef and The Dish, an online cooking channel launched a new limited-time series called ‘What’s in Your Fridge?’ where surprise chefs from all over the world teach customers how to make a meal with ingredients they may have on hand.

Pre-Covid we were tracking the rise of the betterment trend. The increasing desire to do better, be better and feel better in all areas of life. It’s interesting to see that as customers have entered isolation, the need for betterment has translated again within this new environment. 

As more time passes, and isolation restrictions ease, this behavioural trend will become more important to people, and customers will continue to look to better themselves via both physical and digital channels. We expect to see physical sites becoming educational spaces as well as retail spaces, helping customers learn and grow as individuals. 

Betterment for everyone
The spread of COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted our priorities with short-term and long-term effects. We’re not just concentrating on enhancing ourselves, but the communities we live in. 

You just have to look at the news to see this take shape. Customers and brands have worked hand-in-hand together to support the communities they live in and protect the most at-risk and vulnerable. Supermarkets across the world have taken steps to support these groups through prioritised delivery slots, essential boxes and dedicated store times. Supermarket chain Co-op recently announced the launch of an online community platform called Co-operate, which aims to connect individuals to local and national organisations who need and can support, during the crisis.

Research has shown that 74% of respondents warned that companies placing profits before people will lose their trust forever (Edelman, 2020). Customers want betterment for everyone and expect brands to facilitate this now and going forward, acting authentically and with care for the greater community. 

How will these new behaviours shape the future of experiences? 

We’ve shown 5 behaviours that we will see stick beyond the pandemic: 

  1. New fluid shopping 
  2. Virtually connected
  3. Open access to experiences
  4. Back to practical
  5. Betterment for everyone

As we continue to isolate, these new behaviours will begin to shape our needs and expectations, changing the way we engage with experiences in the future. But where does this leave us? 

Time will tell. We are still living through a pandemic, but the longer we ingrain these behaviours, the more they will stick and dictate the response from brands moving forward. Brands need to pay attention to how customers behaviours are shifting and where their aspirations and desires lie, accelerating their use of digital to support and protect customers as they begin to move back to living daily life outside. 

We need to remember that these new behaviours are likely to stay, but it’s up to brands to support them. 

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