As we sit locked away in our homes, with our loved ones or isolated far from family, a lot of us have dusted off our crystal balls and tried to imagine what the world after this crisis will be like. Maybe it’s a way of seeing ourselves through it psychologically, actualising the ‘brave new world’ to bring it that much closer. On the sound business principle that if everyone else is doing it, why can’t I, here are some thoughts on how consumers might react to a retail landscape when lockdown and social distancing are only bad memories.
Many people are indeed worried about how the pandemic will affect their lives further than it has already and there’s general anxiety on a collective level to avoid the risk of being exposed to the virus. The impact of the crisis therefore is bound to be felt not just in how we function as human beings, but also as consumers. We have seen great shifts in consumer behaviour since the pandemic started at a local and global level. With people being confined to their homes, the focus has turned to e-commerce and the adoption of new technologies that are helping consumers to satisfy their needs and desires in new and different ways.
Main drivers for change
As the pace of life has slowed down, these new shifts in behaviour are definitely more orientated toward wellness, health, DIY, home-made food, less consumption, embracing more meaningful experiences. Will these changes last? To some extent, probably yes, because one of the main drivers for change will be consumers’ increasingly pressing need and desire to protect their health, both mental and physical. Will we see the rise of more ethical consumers seeking ethical products and generally a higher increase in consumers focusing on sustainability? These and similar questions are becoming a basic platform from which different sectors will try to look for answers.
Brands will need to innovate in a variety of ways if they are to accommodate the new consumer behaviours and expectations, now and post-crisis. As the extent of the pandemic is unprecedented on a global level, there’s a high probability that we are going to see new consumer behaviours, such as seeking stronger relationships and better communication with brands where they will serve as a reliable source of support and information to the individual consumer and to the wider community.
Different industries will encounter different challenges as a result of the changes in the way consumers travel, shop, eat, look after their health and relate to the world around them while in the lockdown. Consumer habits are changing and, as many of us are questioning how our lifestyles are going to be affected in a long run, there’s an opportunity for retailers and brands to look into how they can attract new customers and keep the existing ones.
Ultimately, that consumer habits have been forced into change by the lockdown and the psychological impact of the pandemic is not in question: they have. The central question is how far these changes will stick. My hunch is that our world has changed so radically and so thoroughly—challenging the very foundations on which our assumptions about behaviour and actions are based—that some of them will prove lasting, even if only in fainter tracings.
Some are simply amplifications of emerging trends: the greater emphasis on sustainability and ethical production, and the move towards a greater use of e-commerce. Some may spring much more directly from the circumstances of the pandemic, such as a concentration on local goods and services, and operating within a system in which you can see all the links.
One final thought, to which I’m sure I’ll return: the behaviour of consumers after the pandemic subsides will be considerably affected by how brands and companies act during it. Reputation and conduct will matter, and memories will be long. Those who are perceived to have acted as ‘good guys’ (like supermarkets making accommodation for the elderly and for key workers) will benefit, and those who are deemed to have acted badly or in an opportunistic manner (think Wetherspoon or Ryanair) will be held to the ultimate account of consumer choice.