How will we consume in the post-Covid-19 world?
May 25, 2020
Many European countries are easing out of lockdown, and consumers are expected to slowly recommence shopping in stores. This is therefore a good time to assess the lessons learnt from the situation we are currently experiencing, and try to understand future consumption behaviour. As many have observed, the current crisis has accelerated the development of several trends that were already visible. Two studies by market research firms WGSN and Euromonitor have analysed this specific issue, painting a picture of the pre- and post-Covid-19 world.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is the single biggest engine of global change the world has seen in a long time, and many consumer attitudes have evolved in its wake. Several sectors will be forced to adapt to it, since the reality we are confronted with means that both individuals and businesses need to be flexible, resilient and, above all, creative,” said Carla Buzasi, managing director of trend-monitoring firm WGSN.
“Once the crisis will be over, we know that we will emerge into a different world, meaning that the products and experiences we are currently planning to create will need to be different too. In this scenario, it is more important than ever to understand the kind of items people will still want to buy, and how to develop winning products. While we are relying on digital connectivity to survive this turbulent period, it is our need for human connections that will truly shape our lives,” wrote Buzasi in the ‘Future consumer 2022’ report, recently published by WGSN.
The firm has identified four main sentiments that will characterise consumers, defining them in turn as ‘fear’; ‘equitable resilience’, in other words, prioritising the ability to resist; ‘radical optimism’, a way to offset the prevailing scaremongering; and finally ‘desynchronised society’, one in which roles will remain the same but will be carried out independently and at different times, prompting the collapse of communities: as everyday interactions are lost, communities will be torn asunder abruptly. These four sentiments will apply to the whole world's population, and will translate into three consumer profiles: the ‘stabilisers’, the 'settlers’ and the ‘new optimists’.
Consumers identified with the first profile put stability in all aspects of their lives above everything else, a reaction to the current desynchronisation of life and the constant feeling of uncertainty. They are looking for streamlined shopping experiences, stability in the retail trade and a reassuring relationship with brands. WGSN’s advice is to “create comforting products and in-store environments, designed to alleviate stress and soothe anxiety.”
Fuelling consumer demand for exclusive, sustainable products
‘Settlers’ are instead looking to redefine the work cycle worldwide, aspiring to “work less, but better,” and introducing a sharp separation between private and professional life. ‘Settlers’ belong chiefly to the X and Y generations. They are keen to establish deep roots in their communities but do not want to be tied to their careers, heralding a new era of localism. ‘Settlers’ can be seduced using a variety of strategies: the study suggests brands should encourage them to shop at local stores, and they should fuel consumer demand for exclusive, sustainable products by drawing on their archives, creating stores and e-shops dedicated to past collections. WGSN also urges brands to identify the ideal social commerce platforms with which to establish strategic partnerships.
Oppressed by mounting fear and anxiety, ‘New optimists’ have a huge appetite for life's pleasures, and their profile refers both to younger and older consumers. To cater to the young generations, brands need to create products and services appropriate to their lifestyles, concentrating on ultra-local delivery and making the online purchasing process even easier. Retailers instead need to invest in live shopping events to boost sales, and to tap the New optimists’ penchant for bargains and limited-edition items. Contemporary culture is obsessed with youth, but brands need to update the way in which they portray ageing, in order to establish a dialogue with everyone and celebrate people of all ages, according to WGSN.
In conclusion, WGSN underlines three key elements. The first is simplicity, meaning the creation of in-store and online shopping environments that facilitate the purchasing experience. Secondly, the ubiquity of live-streaming technology will lead brands to invest in innovative live commercial events. Finally, the growth of on-demand shopping will boost those online platforms able to focus on a local dimension.
Exit from crisis will be staggered
Last January, Euromonitor International published a report identifying the 10 global consumption trends for 2020. The crisis sparked by the Covid-10 pandemic has led the market research firm to modify its forecasts. Notably, Euromonitor is predicting that exit from the crisis will be staggered in time. Right now, the world needs to manage a situation marked by extreme disruption. As lockdown measures will ease, travel restrictions and strict health protection measures will give rise to new habits, while other underlying trends will emerge in the long term.
As a result, Euromonitor has reorganised the 10 main consumption trend it identified for 2020 on a four-stage time scale. To begin with, five trends will experience an instant peak, and will then modify in the longer term. Euromonitor has identified them as the following: ‘Multifunctional Homes’, as homes become the hub for work, leisure, sport activity and other types of consumption; ‘Beyond Human’, the drive to heighten well-being and comfort via digital technology and artificial intelligence; ‘Minding Myself’, a new focus on the self and on products that are genuinely effective in reducing stress; ‘Proudly Local, Going Global’, in other words the preference for niche, locally relevant brands; and ‘Inclusive for All’, the drive towards inclusivity, pushing brands to place greater emphasis on diversity by rejecting prejudice, and to develop products accessible to everyone.
One trend in particular will enjoy an immediate boost, followed by a normalisation. Described as ‘Catch Me In Seconds’, it identifies the compelling desire consumers have for obtaining information quickly and accessing concise content rapidly. The web generates a deluge of data, and brands need to learn to communicate concisely, relevantly and in timely fashion in order to capture the attention of potential customers.
There is no change in attitudes towards the climate emergency, a trend Euromonitor defines as ‘We Want Clean Air Everywhere’. It is an established priority for the vast majority of consumers, and will continue to influence their behaviour as strongly as before, despite the fact that some observers thought the Covid-19 pandemic would overshadow the effort against global warming.
Recycling, sharing not an immediate priority
Finally, as lockdown measures ease, three trends are likely to experience an abrupt setback, before normalising again. Firstly, the demand for flexible, personalised forms of transport, identified by Euromonitor as the trend for ‘Frictionless Mobility’. Given the restrictions to travelling, a scenario in which transport modes will be tailored to our requirements in terms of time, budget and other factors, and in which cars are no longer the preferred vehicle, clearly isn’t realistic right now, though it remains possible in the long term.
Secondly, Euromonitor thinks that the recycling and sharing revolution advocated by those it labels as ‘Reuse Revolutionaries’ will no longer be high on consumers’ agendas, at a time when people are more focused on the health emergency and are less prey to “eco-anxiety.”
The third and last trend that will experience a slow-down in these crisis times is that of extreme customisation, identified by Euromonitor as ‘Private Personalisation’. Rather than focusing on bespoke products and services, many consumers currently yearn for sharing their experiences with others. Paradoxically, the need sparked by the Covid-19 emergency to trace the virus’ spread via digital technology is likely to reduce in the long term the reluctance of the general public to share personal data, which until now was hampering the personalised experiences devised by marketing departments.
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