New Delhi: Persistent safety concerns, financial pressures, and sticky new behaviors mean consumers will not return to pre-pandemic behavior any time soon. Marketers will need to pivot to finding growth in recession; delivering increasing value in the short-term to address growing economic concerns while innovating their way to sustained relevancy as behaviors and priorities change long-term. These are the findings from the fifth wave of Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, the largest global study tracking people’s attitudes, behaviors, and expectations across more than 50 markets.
Post-pandemic recovery delayed
Only one-third of people (37%) expect to return to non-essential consumer behavior before 2-3 months. Even as many countries relax lockdown laws and commercial businesses reopen, across the world 66% of people say they will continue to avoid busy places, meaning a drag on physical retail environments. Beyond mandated hygiene and social distancing measures, 50% of people want regular testing for all, and 43% want mandatory facemasks, led by demand in Asia, but more reluctance in western markets. Nearly everyone is experiencing increased anxiety over money. 56% of households across the world have now experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19. In India, the impact is even more acute, with 74% of households have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19. This rises to 68% of the Millennial generation and 65% of GenZ. A further 19% expect an impact on their income in the future.
In the short-term brands and retailers need to prove their value
As the financial impact of the crisis becomes increasingly apparent, across the world consumers consistently speak of a sense of pride in finding value, making smart decisions, and quietly enabling their own long-term success. 53% of consumers are paying more attention to products on sale (vs 36% in wave1). Offering discounts and promotions is now the third-highest expectation of brands, (vs 5th in wave 2). 69% of consumers say a shopping list is more important now globally as well as in India. Beyond pricing strategies, consumers expect brands to keep advertising and acknowledge the crisis; three in four (74%) are happy with the volume of advertising, and only 14% want to see pre-pandemic ‘normal’ advertising. Two-thirds of consumers are looking for help and advice – for themselves (64%) and their communities (65%) in the adverts they see and in actual brand behavior. In India too, more than half of consumers would like to see a lot more of advertising which shows what brands are doing to help the community (57%) and the people themselves (54%).
Grocery stores are recognized as delivering value in the short term. 40% of consumers globally and 60% in India perceive their grocery store experience to be more positive while 69% perceive employees to be friendly and helpful and grocery stores to be acting on their promises; both metrics significantly outperforming CX benchmarks. Ecommerce usage continues to soar. 40% (vs 33% in wave 3) of consumers now say they have increased or significantly increased their online purchasing, rising to 48% for households with children and millennial households. India too shows a positive trend for Ecommerce usage (45% vs 40%) in Wave 3). Low pricing and promotions rank as the biggest reasons.
Innovate to align with the new rhythms of life
People have started to like their lockdown habits. More than half (52%, 57% Millennial, 55% GenZ believe they will maintain lockdown behaviors post-pandemic. In India too, (53%, 56% Millennial, 61% – 35+-year-olds) likely to maintain behaviors adopted during the pandemic. Increased hygiene, healthier eating, spending time with the family, and personal development are most likely to be maintained. More than half the world (51%) now claims to be trying to exercise more. These changes all lead to different needs and spending patterns, and with more than half the world also feeling financial pressure, brands need to ensure their products make the cut in being considered vital in the new rhythms of life. This is amplified by the increase in willingness to switch. 45% (rising to 50%+ of households with kids) of consumers say they are prepared to keep using products and online stores they found while in lockdown.
Soumya Mohanty, Chief Client Officer, South Asia, Insights Division, Kantar, said “Indians are still in the phase between a lockdown and unlock. Some habits are starting to stick – eating healthy, hygiene while new ones around social distancing are emerging. The way we shop and interact will change but in an emerging, aspirational market the meaning of sustainability and responsible consumption differs. Brands will need to move from emotional succor and social solidarity to fundamentals of value, functionality, innovative delivery, and simple mental availability. Simplicity could well be the new mantra as we navigate an uncertain world.”
Commenting on the findings Rosie Hawkins, Chief Innovation Officer, Kantar observed, “Adapting to life post-pandemic, we’ve started to appreciate, and want to maintain our newly formed healthy behaviors, our more considered and purposeful personal connections and our online shopping habits. Brands and companies first and foremost need to ensure that their goods and services are safe to use and that precautions have been taken to guarantee this. As lockdown restrictions lift, consumers’ lives will continue to change and so brands will need to reassert their relevance in these new environments.”