The coronavirus pandemic has impacted most areas of our lives. Health and safety concerns have altered the way we interact with each other, how we work, spend our money, choose to commute, and, more generally, how we consume.
As we are now moving towards the "new normal", questions are arising about how consumer behavior will be impacted long term. Initial research already suggests that the new habits formed during the crisis will endure. There is little doubt, therefore, that the way consumers choose to behave will adjust for good.
This article will consider the effects on consumer behavior in the retail, financial, and transportation industries.
In this article:
- Buying behavior
- Focusing on the basics
- Moving online
- Managing money
- Getting around
Focusing on the basics
As mentioned, concerns over safety have fundamentally changed consumer priorities, and this change has had a direct impact on shopping habits. At the height of the pandemic, hygiene, cleaning, and grocery products soared. In Italy, personal health products rose by 37%, and in the UK, 34% of consumers bought more long-life groceries than they had previously. On the other hand, the crisis saw non-essential products slump. In the US, data from analytics platform 1010Data shows that sales of clothing in May were down 51% compared to the previous year.
Moving past the height of the pandemic, the question for retailers is whether these trends will continue. With the COVID-19 crisis causing mass unemployment, consumers expect a long-lasting impact on their finances, and CNBC suggests that a generation of risk-averse supersavers could emerge. For these reasons, many experts believe that in the short-medium future, shoppers will remain cautious of overspending on items they do not immediately require.
Physical contact concerns and the temporary closure of brick-and-mortar stores moved a large number of shoppers online. In fact, at the pandemic's peak, online retailers such as Amazon, had to increase workforce size to meet the increase in demand.
Post-pandemic, consumer research suggests that the move to digital commerce will remain. A recent UK survey indicated that of those asked, 2 in 5 of shoppers will make more online purchases. The move to online is even truer for younger consumers as 59% of 25-36-year-olds stated they will purchase online more. With a younger generation leading the way for e-commerce, this type of purchasing will likely dominate future shopping habits.
Regardless of how consumers decide to spend their money, how they choose to manage it is changing. COVID-19 forced bank branches to close, and caused health concerns surrounding physical cash. The result of this? A boom in the uptake of digital financial services. Undeniably, a shift to digital banking has been taking place for some time, but the crisis is believed to have resulted in it growing much faster than anticipated.
Even with the passing of the lockdowns, consumers may believe that using traditional banking practices, like visiting cashiers, is not worth the risk. In a recent survey of US banking consumers, 45% of respondents said they have permanently changed their interactions with their bank since COVID-19, and 31% of respondents stated they will use online or mobile banking more in the future. It's therefore unsurprising that KPMG predicts that areas of the financial market like digital payments and e-wallet services, will boom. For banks themselves, this shift to online may favor virtual banks who, with less bureaucracy limitations, can purely focus efforts on digital innovation.
It's well known that the crisis has had a profound effect on the transportation industry. For air travel, the impact has been almost catastrophic. In fact, flight data from The International Air Transport Association shows that passenger demand in April declined by 94.3% compared to April 2019.
When air travel does return it is also uncertain in what capacity. Short-haul trips, may, for instance, rise in popularity, as they are considered safer than longer ones. One thing is for sure, airports and planes will be forced to transform. CNN speculates the possibility of "touch-free travel", as well as the use of advanced cleaning technologies, such as robots.
In the case of public transportation, COVID-19 caused ridership levels to deplete to those previously unseen. Although usage is increasing again, safety concerns have seen a rise in the popularity of alternative travel options. These include:
- Active travel: The pandemic caused walking and cycling levels to climb. Numerous cities have introduced measures to broaden sidewalks or extend cycle paths, and in Denmark, the Government actively encouraged consumers to avoid higher-risk travel modes and walk and cycle instead.
- Shared micromobility: During lockdowns, safety concerns over shared micromobility meant many devices were temporarily removed from cities. At this time, consumers are again choosing to travel with shared devices, and it is suggested that by 2024, 4.6 million shared scooters will be in operation (up from 774,000 in 2019).
- Private cars: With the environmental benefits of the pandemic witnessed, cities such as Milan, want to continue to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads. According to a recent AA survey of drivers, 22% of those asked said they wanted to drive less post-lockdowns. In contrast, however, nervousness surrounding the potential of virus spread may instead see the use of private cars temporarily increase. This has already been experienced in Wuhan, China, where traffic levels almost doubled after lockdown.
- Smart shuttles: With concerns over public transport safety, businesses will want to provide employees with alternative ways to get to workplaces. Corporate shuttles are a convenient option to transport large groups of employees to workplaces. With a smart shuttle management solution, like the one offered by HERE Mobility, employers can even manage all their employees' shuttles digitally. This solution allows them to control essential safety requirements such as the number of passengers on each ride, making sure social distance is respected. On their side, employees enjoy an intuitive app to book and track their ride in real time - and see who's commuting with them at any point.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused a shift in consumer attitudes and behavior. Firstly, the kind of goods consumed and spending priorities have been drastically affected. But most importantly, with lockdowns in place everyday normalities like heading to the stores, or banking a cheque, became almost impossible, and it was technology that filled this void. Technology has allowed consumers to conveniently order groceries, commute, or make financial transactions.
For many consumers, this new way of life will be permanent. After all, why would they go to a bank branch when they have experienced making a payment seamlessly from an app? Why battle with heavy groceries when they can be delivered to their door? In this way, by helping to show consumers that technology can make daily life more convenient, the crisis has inadvertently accelerated the digital revolution.