Published on March 17, 2021
By Ana Costa and James Brook
The impact the pandemic has had on consumer behaviour is unprecedented during peacetime.
From non-essential shops being forced to close on numerous occasions, the entertainment and hospitality sectors pretty much being mothballed for the last 12 months and social distancing here to stay for the foreseeable future, how consumers return post-pandemic will undoubtedly have changed. This article explores some of the key themes that are appearing and how brands can (should) respond.
Brand responsibility will be key.
In 2021, consumers will be looking for brands that are truly socially responsible. They will look for brands that actually care and that commit when society needs them the most. 56% of consumers want brands to put more focus on supporting people during COVID-19, 51% on being eco-friendly, 49% on offering value for money, 49% on producing high-quality products, 44% on treating staff fairly and 41% supporting local causes 2.
The world is shifting to the social enterprise: The social enterprise’s mission combines profit with societal impact. We see businesses trending in this direction as CEOs most often cite ‘impact on society, including income inequality, diversity, and the environment as their most important success measure. Millennials and Generation Z are most likely to support companies that share their values and walk away from those that do not hold themselves accountable to these values 10.
Consumers are looking to businesses for solutions.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveyed 34,000 individuals in 28 global markets, people see businesses as the most competent group to solve global issues, even more so than nonprofits and governments. Notably, respondents suggested that stakeholders including communities, consumers, and talent are most important to an organisation’s long-term success10.
Consumers want to feel valued and special.
A quarter of UK consumers say they want their favourite brands to make them feel ‘valued and special’ right now. A further 25% want brands to make them feel ‘inspired and motivated’8.
Good news is the order of the day.
People are looking for upbeat brand messages. Just over 45% of consumers are receptive to receiving good news and inspiration around the pandemic. Only 18% of people are bored by COVID-19 related messaging from brands8.
E-commerce is rising (unsurprisingly).
With the increase of e-commerce, the competition will be higher, and brands will have more difficulties standing out to guide consumers to the products that they want to sell. 49% of consumers expect to shop online more frequently, even after the pandemic. The 2021 GWI report found that 60% of consumers in 7 different countries say that they will be particularly encouraged to buy online if they can have free delivery and returns, 43% are looking for quick and easy check-out processes, 29% if the brand supports people during COVID-19 and 29% if the shopping experience is entertaining. Supporting social causes, live product demos, Q&A sessions by experts and recommendations from an influencer is also very important to encourage consumers in e-commerce2. 69% of British consumers are more likely to shop online compared with before the pandemic (including 31.5% who are “much more likely”)8.
As AI extends to all aspects of business and marketing, like R&D and production efficiencies, more and more organisations are developing customer data platforms to manage and analyse their behaviours. Deep Learning Analytics is now appearing in marketing and e-commerce research, providing understandable data-driven answers to research questions, working with better data, better machine learning, and better insights11.
Consumers are trying and learning new things.
A quarter of British consumers say they have taken up a new hobby since the start of the pandemic, 22% have shopped with a new brand and 22% have started learning a new skill, representing more of a willingness to try something new 8. People spend more time in entertaining activities 9.
With a wide variety of learning opportunities consumers now have a choice between standard solutions or tailor-made programs to further education. E-learning allows learning in multiple locations, on-demand, independent learning and at an individual pace 12 making it vastly appealing to those who may not be able to commit to travelling to a physical learning venue.
People are spending more time on social media.
73% of consumers say they are spending more time on social media than they did a few months ago. The most popular platform is Facebook8. From September to October 2020, people spent more time on more sociable activities – a total of 34 minutes a day socialising, spending time with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues9.
People are more interested in their home environment.
After spending weeks at home during the lockdown, nearly half of British consumers agree they are now more likely to spend money on items for their homes or on home improvements. People aged 18-40 are especially likely to do this (57%) 8. From March to April 2020 the amount of time on an average day that people put into gardening and DIY had increased by 143%, from 16 minutes in 2015 to 39 minutes in 20209.
Direct-to-consumer is on the rise.
Since the pandemic, 19% of people have signed up for a new subscription service. Meanwhile, when starting an online shopping mission, 20% of people aged 18-40 prefer to head directly to a brand’s website, rather than using a marketplace or multi-brand retailer8.
As the British high-street prepares to open its doors again on the 12th of April, they must ensure that they change at the same pace that consumers have changed over the last 12 months. How brands behave behind closed doors, whether it be on sustainability, employee well-being or how they support communities is being watched by consumers like never before, only those that ‘listen’ and ‘act’ will be able to meet the demands of today’s consumer.