Being brave: Customer behaviour, consumption and expectations and COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of life including how people consume products and services.
  • For brands, these changes in behaviour, expectation and consumption should be embraced for the opportunities within.
  • Business should be prepared to adapt in line with habits formed out of necessity during isolation.

From hand-washing to social distancing, basic routines have changed for many people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve seen human behaviour change in response too, and the way people consume move in unexpected directions. New, isolation-induced habits are having a short-term impact on consumers and business, and we suspect such impacts may also have long-term consequences. 

The digital world is thriving, and with many staying at home, digital technologies have created a semblance of normality — such as in viewing media and purchasing food. For consumers and businesses alike, digital has been accelerated.

The question is, will these habits remain post-pandemic and lead to a new normal? Below we look at three areas where we’re seeing changing behaviours in the market, from behaviours and consumption, all the way through to consumer expectations.

Changing behaviours

With many people unable to leave their homes except for essential trips, or if outside of lockdown, hypervigilant towards exposure, people have had to become braver. We feel this bravery, whether from stepping outside the house or going back to the workplace, may lead people to take leaps in areas outside of personal safety — and when pushed to do things differently begin to accept new habits and behaviours as the norm. 

Remote working is the obvious example of this. Many have become used to the perks of working from home such as no commuting and more flexibility. The use of online meeting tools have skyrocketed, with conferences and strategy meetings taking place using virtual tools. Companies are now finding that when asked, a significant portion of their workforce say they would like to work from home permanently.1 

For business, the opportunity to cut back on costly physical space combined with the challenging task of making those spaces safe in the era of COVID-19 means the benefits of considering this request are tangible. Society too reaps the rewards, as cities find their livability scores improve greatly when reduced commute times are taken into account.

In our recent Global CFO Pulse surveys, more than half of CFOs indicated they plan to take steps to improve the remote work experience and make remote work a permanent option (both 52 percent). Positively, these findings correspond with the 75 percent of CFOs who say the increased flexibility developed during the crisis is a factor that will make their organisation stronger over the long term, and the 65 percent who cited the resiliency and agility they have built.

Remote working

Changing consumption

The impact of the pandemic on people’s lives is also being reflected in consumption patterns. It’s likely that with the economic downturn experienced in many countries people will likely become more frugal in their spend in coming years. Respondents to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey, which was conducted pre and post the beginning of the pandemic, told us that they were likely to spend less in the next few months — however that figure varied greatly across different countries. 

During nationwide lockdowns, consumers have been spending the most on groceries, in-home entertainment and home projects. In fact, over a third of those surveyed in the Consumer Insights survey said they have increased their spend on entertainment and media while social distancing. 

At the same time, many respondents found that their household bills have gone up. More than two in five say they have experienced a decrease in household income due to redundancy or loss of working hours. It’s unsurprising then that consumers are decreasing their household spend — sometimes dramatically — in areas such as clothing and footwear and sports and outdoor equipment.

Being economically lean seems likely to already be the new norm when it comes to consumer spending, with less being spent on big-ticket items towards a prioritisation on the products and services that serve to fill basic needs and functions.

Additionally, given the limitations on mobility during the pandemic, online shopping is on the rise, with an increase in online purchasing of groceries and non-food items that we expect to continue.

Changing customer behaviour

Changing expectations

With changing attitudes and consumption, it is not unexpected that customer expectations and priorities are also in flux. Organisations have had to make alterations to business models and, when faced with the reality of an upswing in online shopping, their approach to customer service.

In PwC’s previous 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey, respondents had already indicated that buying online was becoming more of a priority for them, with 36 percent saying that they shopped online monthly, and a quarter doing so weekly. Mobile shopping in particular was on the rise, but just because a retailer enabled mobile shopping didn’t mean that customers would flock to them. Our research found that the less friction in the purchasing journey, the more consumers would shop — and the more they’d spend.

In a world dealing with a global emergency, however, customers (and indeed, employees) are in need of even more when it comes to their relationships — in particular, a certain amount of compassion and care will go a long way to gaining loyalty. This means businesses being present when customers or staff need them, and supporting them in meaningful, human and relevant ways

Even as customers go digital in how they shop, the need for the human touch remains, and may be more important than ever as we socially distance or work from home. Therefore the ability to remain human in a digital environment is of ever increasing importance, and businesses must think about how they come across. Are they honest, transparent, caring? In both intent and communication, particular care must be paid to ensure customers understand that the relationship is more than financial.

A new playground for exploration

It’s almost cliché at this point to talk of a new normal, but there is no easy or quick return to the way things were before COVID-19. However change is not only inevitable, it is ongoing, and our ability to adapt  every day is central to who we are as humans. 

As we come to terms with the ways in which life has been altered, both as consumers and businesses, being open to the possibilities in uncertainty will go a long way to lessening the psychological impact of the pandemic’s disruption. 

To understand further ways in which customer behaviour consumption and expectations are changing, download the  latest thinking from our PwC Turkey Experience Consulting team, Brave New Consumer.