COVID-19 Has Changed Everything, Including Consumer Behavior

COVID-19 is changing consumer behavior across all industries. Some of those changes are easy to see, and others were easy to predict. Who could miss the worldwide shortage of toilet paper that we’re still experiencing, even today? We probably could have predicted the increase in online shopping and stockpiling our pantries as well.

We don’t know yet how permanent these changes will be, though we can take a few hints from history. For instance, smart gyms and telehealth services were already on the rise before the pandemic. Continued popularity with consumers once life returns to “normal” isn’t hard to foresee.

Marketers can learn some important things from this pandemic, like changes in product choices, generational purchasing habits, customer engagement, and how brands can adapt.

Understanding these changes can help determine which trends will stick around long after the pandemic ends, and which were only popular because consumers had no other viable choices.

Consumer Choices

As one would imagine, necessity product sales have gone up. Preventative health and wellness products have become more critical. These are items like food, personal hygiene, cleaning, and medicine. But it’s not just sales for preventative medicine and healthy diets that have increased.

Consumers have also increased their consumption of “sanity” products, including books, streaming services, electronics, and alcohol. We don’t just want to survive; we want to be as happy as possible while doing so.

Consumers have also increased demands for touchless transactions outside of the products they choose whenever possible, with 87% of shoppers saying they prefer tap-to-pay or other non-contact options. More than 66% prefer to use self-checkout options when they have no choice but to enter a physical store.

Then, there are the new demands for brand behavior. A recent study shows 90% of consumers believe brands are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and suppliers, with 71% saying a misstep in how these brands treat employees could ruin their trust.

Generational Change

It’s interesting to note how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that different age groups spend their money.

Generation Z is directing more of its budget toward tools and education that will give them an edge in the current and future job market. This makes sense, as the generation was born after 9/11, grew up during the recession, and now faces uncertainty as the pandemic continues to grip the world.

We can expect to see some of their spending habits carry over after the pandemic ends, as many say they plan to maintain emergency stockpiles of food, masks, gloves, and cleaning and medical supplies in case we experience something like this again.

Millennials are also choosing to shop online now more than ever. According to a Prosper and Analytics Survey, 25% of polled Millennials responded that they had begun shopping online due to concerns over the virus. Overall, 43% of new sales in March were online buyers.

However, Millennials and Gen Z now prefer buying in bulk, especially since Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery has prioritized relief deliveries over consumer needs. Costco has already seen a 13.8% boost in sales.

Consumer Engagement

Email marketing continues to remain a viable way to connect with buyers. Still, the pandemic seems to have spurred even more recipients to read and engage. Email deliveries have increased, and so have open rates, click-throughs, and conversions, by 21%, 14%, and 8.5% respectively.

As for social media, numbers are soaring—not surprising, with so many stuck at home. Even before the coronavirus slithered into the U.S., 86% of people said they used social media regularly. Now, 66% say they expect that use to increase over the coming months.

Some of the trends from various generations make themselves apparent on social media, too. On Instagram, higher education institutions have seen an enormous increase in engagement, lending more credence to the idea that Gen Z is focused on self-improvement.

The increase in alcohol and other “fun” purchases are also reflected in social media use, with engagement rates for alcohol brands skyrocketing on Facebook.

What This All Means for Marketers

The most important takeaway for brands and marketers is this: everything is fluid. While there are some emerging trends we will likely see stick around—specifically those that revolve around convenience—others could disappear the moment life returns to some semblance of normal.

Behaviors we’ve expected and even helped to cultivate have changed and will continue to change. Marketers must be fluid, too.

Consumers are placing a much higher standard on employee treatment than ever before, which means brands must answer the call with increased health and safety policies and procedures. Whatever you can share with the world about how you plan to keep your staff members safe, by all means, share it.

Just be sure your intentions are noble as you continue to share your message with consumers. Opportunism, a tone-deaf approach, or misplaced humor won’t win you new customers—and this during a time when new customers may be critical to keeping your business afloat.

If you would like some assistance navigating your marketing and branding with empathy during this time, reach out. We’re here to help.