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Monday, October 3, 2022

Pandemic lifestyle: How COVID-19 impacts consumer behavior

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“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is,” once said by mathematician John Allen Paulos. Seems paradoxical but true. Just imagine a few months back, you are probably splurging unthinkingly on designers’ clothes or a pair of expensive kicks. Or perhaps, you are planning for a trip abroad over a long holiday or eyeing for the best spot where you could start up your own business before the year ends. Then the COVID-19 outbreak came. Plans intercepted. Momentarily, you see life turning into a limbo. 

The truth about this new pandemic took the entire world by surprise. Though you have already heard about some other major events of the last 50 years such as the global economic recession, Al-Qaeda invasion, or September 11 attack, you cannot deny the effects of COVID-19 across the globe. No one knows what the future holds, even if you ask the experts.  

As we try to adapt the idea of the “new normal”—prolonged indoor stays, social distancing, and lockdown—the way our behavior and psyche in a time of crisis also change. This “new normal” generates impactful disruptions on consumer behavior until it catapults us to improvise and adjust to new habits. But reality bites, humans are not so good at sticking to new habits. So, the question is: Will this new kind of adjustment establish a long-lasting habit? And how will the old habits recover once after the pandemic has abated?

Change in Spending Behavior

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, purchasing habits and consumer behavior are transforming. A lot of businesses are starting to close, which in turn makes the unemployment rate higher. Many consumers are expecting to see how income falls, getting stagnant wages, and feeling less optimistic about the economy. As consumers realize how the pandemic negatively impacts their finances, purchases shifted on the most basic needs such as household supplies and groceries. This also means cutting back on non-essential categories. People are more conscious of their spending habits, patronizing local brands, and shopping for needs rather than wants. Thus, the outbreak paves a way to a new age of frugality and lifestyle changes where consumers become less materialistic and opt-in to less expensive products. Would this mean that consumers began to see products and brands through a new kind of lens? If so, should we expect this enlightened consumption to continue post-pandemic?

Heightened Focus on Health

One profound impact that this new pandemic created is how we view health and personal hygiene at a different level. Reactive health management, where consumers focus on buying products needed for infection containment such as face mask, sanitizers, and other PPEs, becomes a priority. More active cases are reported, which in turn leads to hospital congestion and a lack of medical personnel. So, given that the situation predisposed us to isolate ourselves from the crowds, consumers are embracing technology more than ever to adapt to our new realities. With this, an explosion in telehealth services occurs to address the need for in-person visits. Teleconsultation provides convenience to seek medical help without the need to go outside. Through telehealth services, consumers can get consultation not just for an occasional rash or cold, but also to assist them in managing chronic medical conditions during the pandemic. 

Homebody Economy

The COVID-19 outbreak strengthens a new kind of workforce, but this time it is virtual. As more businesses close doors while consumers feel uncomfortable to resume the normal out-of-home routines, we are seeing an increase in the virtual workforce and remote work. More consumers are working from home as government restrictions and safety measures are already in place. Consumers of the working sector are starting to appreciate online learning to hone existing skills or reskill for their next job roles. Furthermore, the work-from-home setup addresses the need for businesses to stay in tune with the consequences of the global health crisis. Based on studies, some companies began to recalibrate the way branding messages are designed and communicated. On the other hand, LinkedIn reported a 26% growth in user sessions in response to this crisis. With this, the work-life balance came into the picture again. 

The Surge in Online Consumption

Lockdown measures such as travel and transport restrictions have changed the way consumers spend their leisure time. As consumers spent more indoors, spending more time on home entertainment has become universal during the pandemic. Netflix, Disney+, and any other digital platforms are widely used to connect, play, and learn. These same digital channels provide consumers a helpful relief to manage isolation. Consumers have become more acquainted with downloading apps related to health, entertainment, education, and news. It is with great anticipation that the surge in media consumption will be more likely to sustain even post-pandemic.  

Switch to Digital Commerce

The shutdown of brick-and-mortar stores due to the COVID-19 outbreak has triggered consumers to question their shopping habits. Thus, digital commerce becomes a novel way to shop during the pandemic. With almost 22 billion visits generated in retail websites in June 2020, E-commerce platforms, and other digital, contactless services remain the best options even after some physical stores decided to reopen. In effect, a new buyer’s persona occurs as the older generation starts to see the value of online shopping. And once they get the taste of online convenience, they may never switch back to the traditional ways. Shall we then see Baby Boomers and Gen-X emerge in online shopping after the pandemic?

If You Have It, You Can Make Anything Look Good

Final Thoughts

It might be too early to gauge how the COVID-19 outbreak greatly impacts consumer behavior. It can also be presumptive to conclude that old habits may just die and will not recover at all. But what we have discovered is that during a period of uncertainty, like this new pandemic, can reshape our behavior and individual psyche. And whether we accept it or not, it is still up to us how to handle these changes effectively. Just as how Paulos stated, “…knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”

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