The global health crisis due to Coronavirus has now changed into an economic crisis. COVID 19 has changed the consumer preferences to a level that no advertising could have done.
--BY KRISHNA KHANAL
People are buying differently and are looking at brands with a new lens. Human preferences are normally very difficult to change. These changing preferences, attitudes, and behaviours will remain in the post-pandemic as well. It is also an opportunity for retailers to reevaluate their operations.
Many traditional shoppers moved to online shopping in no time. This new normal has accelerated a move toward the digital world. While physical retail has been a disaster, online has exploded. Nepal’s leading online shopping platform, Daraz, logged record sales this year. Another online shopping company Sasto Deal, which recently partnered with India’s Flipkart, is also showing tremendous growth with every passing year. In India, food and household categories have seen an average growth of over 30% in the online customer base. Customers relied on e-commerce players like never before as they maintained social distancing and practised self-quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19. The e-commerce sector is poised for further growth. Localised business has been deeply impacted which has pushed them to go digital more aggressively.
Though online shopping has accelerated all over the world, people have started spending much lower. Consumers are shopping more consciously, buying local, and embracing digital commerce. We can see the rise of conscious consumption. There is a shift in the preference for purpose-driven brands. Online shopping has now become more of a lifestyle change than just a necessity. Consumers will demand contact-less retail in the future. This pandemic is rewriting the rules of retail. Not only the stores come home, but also the work and education. More inclination towards digital adoption is a new reality post-COVID.
This COVID-19 and the isolation have led more people to embrace technology. To keep up with the shift in customer preference, core business models should be digitised to remain economically viable in the post-pandemic world. Digital technologies and the fear of the virus have changed the way we interact with friends, families, and communities. This can be the start of a new digital era.
The consumer’s priority has changed. Personal health has become the top priority. People are becoming more health-conscious. They are improving their eating habits and buying items related to health and wellness. Consumers are striving to enhance their immunity. Weight management and metabolic health are being discussed in the open which was quite unheard of in the past. More people are buying health insurance plans. The money is going away from luxury brands and travel to health and personal care.
Consumers are spending more time viewing online videos. Video consumption has skyrocketed since the outbreak of COVID-19. Consumers are clicking videos and uploading them on Instagram and TikTok. With decreasing attention span, these platforms are becoming popular in no time. These platforms have fewer distractions and more authenticity. At the same time, daily online content consumption around the world has soared. Consumers are heavily influenced by the advertisements made on such platforms.
Economic insecurity will lead to price sensitivity. Needless to say, COVID-19 has made consumers more price sensitive. People are cutting back on non-essentials. They seem to be unsure regarding economic recovery. There is a dip in customer confidence and the worry regarding the second and the third wave of the pandemic persists. Consumers are looking for cheaper and local brands. They are delaying big purchases. Cautious spending, it seems, is the preferred option till the economy recovers fully.
As customers will value those companies that deliver exceptional experiences, companies need to be proactive and nimble in the next normal. They need to spend more on data and analytics. The post-COVID customers will be different and the companies need to understand them. The companies that understand them faster and better using data science and analytics will be the next customer-experience leaders. At the same time, they also need to incorporate safety into the customer experience. Contactless commerce to promote safety will be very critical.
The other notable change in customer behaviour is in mobility patterns. There is less use of public transport. Employees are working remotely. There is a spike in demand for used cars both in India and Nepal. At the same time, there are also changes in interpersonal behaviour. Increased rates of divorce and pet adoption are some of the changes seen in this period.
All these changes provide companies with an opportunity to offer innovative and value-based products that meet customers’ needs. Companies must understand customer preferences and stay relevant. They need to evaluate their business decisions right from the fundamentals and keep up with the changing market conditions. That is because we can expect these changes to be permanent.
(Khanal is an Assistant Professor of Marketing and Ethics, at Westcliff University.)