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Consumer Behavior: 13 Post-Pandemic Trends to Watch

Jaime Lee

Head of Content Strategy @ AdRoll

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The world after the coronavirus will be a very different place. As the shockwaves subside, people everywhere are debating what the new “normal” will look like. The big repercussions for globalization, urbanization, and foreign trade will take years — if not decades — to unfold. In the meantime, brands are focusing on better understanding what consumers want and need during this time of transition. Here are 13 ways that consumer behavior is evolving post-pandemic, and the standout trends that every marketer should look out for.

Less Enthusiasm for In-Store Visits

The lockdowns and social distancing rules that have characterized the COVID-19 period worldwide created a surge in online shopping and the mass adoption of digital-based shopping consumer behaviors, such as curbside pickup, grocery, and restaurant deliveries, and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store). According to a survey by Global Web Index, nearly 50% of respondents say they won’t visit stores “for some time” or “for a long time.” While it’s reasonable to expect that consumers will return to brick-and-mortar stores after restrictions ease, it’s also safe to assume that in-store visits will be reduced overall, perhaps even into next year, as consumers wait to see how the situation pans out. 

For more on how D2C brands are making their mark on the new world of retail:

Consumers Are Concerned

The coronavirus has been a worrying period for consumers worldwide. Recent research by Ernst and Young identified four types of consumer segments that emerged during the crisis, and five ways they could transition to post-coronavirus spending habits. These cover the spectrum from cautiously extravagant spenders who are waiting to let loose a little once restrictions are lifted, all the way to consumers who will continue to cut back on spending in the face of unemployment and economic uncertainty. However it plays out, consumer concern is very real, and brands will need to accommodate it.

Workplaces Shifting to the Home

2020 was the year that “work from home” (WFH) went mainstream. And it seems to have caught on in a big way. Twitter, for example, recently announced that it’ll allow its employees to work from home “forever.” Many will surely follow. In a survey published by eMarketer, more than half of respondents indicated they’ll continue to WFH or prefer to if possible. This massive shift in the workplace also brings changes to consumer behavior, including increased use of desktop rather than mobile devices, more flexibility in time management, and increased demand for remote work products and technologies.

For productivity tips when WFH: 

Contactless Payments

During the coronavirus period, consumers are looking for ways to reduce the risk of contamination, like wearing gloves in the supermarket or moving to online shopping to minimize physical contact with merchandise. Another consequence has been a trend towards contactless payments, such as e-wallets and tap credit cards. This is the preferred payment method for many stores and their customers. Until the virus is completely eradicated or controlled, safety measures such as these will become more commonplace, and may just stick even after the crisis is well over, thanks to their convenience and ease of use.

Focus on Self-Improvement

The pandemic brought an unprecedented period of self-introspection and self-improvement for millions around the world, as they were forced to slow down and take stock while sheltering in place. This led to increased demand for products in the health and wellness categories. Yoga equipment, for example, saw growth of 154%. But it also goes beyond physical wellbeing. One forecast says there will be a new trend towards M2P (Mentor to Protege) services, where consumers connect online with experts, teachers, and mentors to advance their skills and achieve their personal goals.

For more on why consumer behavior is shifting toward the health and wellness industry:

Interactions Go Virtual 

This year, people turned to virtual meetings and video conferencing tools in a big way — and not just for work. During the social distancing period, over 47% of U.S. adults surveyed said they used Apple’s FaceTime app to connect with family and friends, while just over 44% turned to Facebook Messenger, and 31.5% used Zoom instead of in-person social interactions. The convenience of these tools in social settings may well be here to stay, as people become more accustomed to virtual interactions and the convenience they offer. This provides an additional channel that brands can use to interact with customers and build stronger customer relationships.

People Are Looking to Economize

As consumers worldwide stare down a looming recession, there may well be a widespread shift towards more frugal spending. There were already signs of people economizing during the coronavirus period, with over 60% of consumers saying they have cut back spending, either due to concerns over the economy or the stock market. Even before the pandemic, deal-seeking was a popular consumer behavior, with 87% saying that a discount offer would strongly influence their decision to purchase a product online. If a deep recession sets in, expect more frugality and demand for discounted and value-for-money products.

For a guide on creating discounts and promotions:

Stories, Stories, Stories

Storytelling in marketing isn’t new, but when Snapchat launched its Stories feature, it set the ball rolling for a massive trend that has only gotten stronger during COVID-19. In March 2020, over 40% of Instagram users and 34% of Facebook users watched other people’s Stories on their respective platforms. In 2019, more than half of marketers surveyed said they use storytelling in their marketing, up from 42% in 2018. With the shift towards open communication and authenticity in brand marketing, storytelling will continue to drive consumer interest.

A Surge in Travel and Experiences

While caution will be the name of the game after the pandemic is over, consumers will return en masse to trips and vacations. According to Ernst and Young forecast data, over 70% of consumers plan to spend in a “cautiously extravagant” way in two categories: Activities/ Leisure and Vacations/ Holidays. These by far surpassed most other categories, with restaurant meals coming in at a distant third. Clearly, people are looking forward to returning to travel and other outings, and it is reasonable to expect a surge as soon as it is safe. Brands can plan to return to experience-based marketing initiatives when the all-clear is finally given and social distancing is a thing of the past.

For when you're ready to craft an effective campaign strategy for travel: 

Purpose and Social Good Are More Important Than Ever

From mass clapping for health workers to volunteer deliveries of groceries to people in isolation, there has been a drive towards community throughout the pandemic. Brand authenticity and social values have always been important to consumers, but now purpose and social good are becoming even more central to customer perception. In the Ernst & Young post-pandemic attitudes survey, a full one-third of consumers strongly agree that they will reappraise the things they value most and not take things for granted. Brands will need to reflect that sentiment to stay competitive in the months and years ahead.

Changing Attitudes to Privacy 

There’s been an interesting shift in consumer sentiment during the coronavirus, and that’s a slightly relaxed view of the issue of data privacy. Over half of U.S. adults say they’re willing to share location data and 84% are willing to share health data in order to help curb the spread of the virus. On the other hand, the vast majority (over 80%) are concerned about how their data will be used after the pandemic is over. Brands should be aware of and sensitive to consumer ambivalence toward data collection and targeting, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

For additional information on consumer behavior and consumer privacy:

Increase in Online Media Usage

This year, the average time spent by consumers with media has risen by one hour, to 13 hours, 35 minutes a day. This is clearly due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, when people turned to various media channels for something to do. However, there are indications that this trend will continue, even as the pandemic recedes and life slowly returns to normal. Emarketer forecasts that social media and smartphone usage will maintain the gains already seen this year, while the gains by TV won’t stand the test of time. Plus, the drop in consumption of audio media, probably due to the massive reductions in commuting as people turned to a work-from-home model, will also reverse once workplaces return.

On the Other Hand, Some Consumers Won’t Change

While 2020 has so far brought huge shifts in consumer behavior, it can’t be ignored that many consumers actually won’t change their habits, and will revert to their usual routines as before. This is particularly relevant in more traditional industries, such as banking. In fact, only one-quarter of consumers surveyed said that they would use more online services for their banking habits in the next year or two. Brands in all industries should be careful not to overreach with radical changes to their customer interactions. Otherwise, they risk alienating consumers who are slower to adapt to the new post-coronavirus reality. 

The Best Is Yet to Come

The worst has (hopefully!) passed, and nations and economies are taking tentative steps to reopen. However, the unexpected pandemic that caused the “Great Lockdown” of billions of people in their homes and the shuttering of entire industries worldwide is not going to walk out the door without leaving some huge changes in its wake. For companies in all industries — not just those that were hardest hit — it’s now time to start thinking about how business should be conducted differently in the post-coronavirus era.

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