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JUNE 11, 2020 //     

Key Consumer Trends in a Post-COVID World

By: Jill Coomber

It is too early to know every impact of ‘life after lockdown’ – no event in living memory has had such an abrupt and sudden change on the way we work, play, think, finance and consume. So it is vital to focus on the key influences we as consumer marketers must bear in mind. 

According to research by University College London (UCL) its takes 66 days for a new consumer habit to form.  Given that many of us have been in lockdown for at least as long as this, which behaviors stay and which disappear?

Kantar’s Nicki Morely recently summarised this very well.  People will adopt new behaviors when they are easier to maintain, more convenient, more satisfying and more rewarding than previous behaviors. 

So as well as new behaviors we are also yearning to go back to past behaviors to reassure ourselves that life can indeed go back to ‘normal’.

Whilst this situation is unique, we have lived through past disasters and uncovered useful insights...  A good example of this is the BSE crisis in the UK in the 90s which saw beef sales fall by 40%.  However, within just six months the industry pivoted adding in sourcing and tracing to reassure consumers, and beef sales were back to normal levels. This highlights how entrenched habits, in this case Brits love for beef, are fundamental to our lives and our culture, and they can be difficult to break.

So what trends are we bearing in mind?

A desire to have more fun

Many trendwatchers have identified a pent-up demand for rewards and special treats after this period of forced abstention.  We have witnessed in the last decade a rise in the treat and experience culture.  Many major luxury brands, for example, have tapped into this desire with ranges or tasters at lower price points to satisfy this demand. Think Karl Lagerfield vs H&M and Kate Moss vs Top Shop that inspired many a fashion related collaboration. 

To ensure fun continues – we are seeing brands across consumer categories get a virtual makeover. Sports, virtual experiences, and creative innovations like ‘cocktails to your door’ as growing markets will continue. With a long-term impact on live events and concerts it will be interesting to see how the industry responds.  Certainly, Sony is already predicating a final coming of age for virtual reality.

Thinking forward for trends

Covid has made the consumer pause and think inward – how do I care for myself and my community and what habits do I want to change. Many are rethinking how they travel to work in cities and big towns and how they enhance the quality of life around the home. Not surprisingly perhaps, among the latest trending items are garden furniture, bikes and electric scooters. It will be critical for marketers to not only stay on the pulse, but also anticipate how their products and services can best support the consumer in the near and distant future. 

Supporting our local enterprises

We have also become ultra-aware of the fragility of our economy, businesses, and jobs.  Many local enterprises that we took for granted are now struggling to create a profitable future in a changed world.  Small businesses account for three fifths of employment – they are vital to the economy.  We’re seeing a positive, rising trend on social media to call out and support these local businesses and entrepreneurs who literally won’t survive without our support.  Britain, our small businesses need us!

A rush to comfort brands

There is a need for familiarity in a crisis – comfort food, recognizable brand advertising, brand communities and known CSR-friendly brands. Now people will be even more focused on these and will be specifically looking out for brands who are supporting key workers and the environment.

A good example of finding comfort in what’s familiar – the rise of watching out box sets. We’re seeing consumers reach back into the noughties and nineties for gold standards like The Godfather, Friends, Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.

The role of online

There is no doubt the Internet has ‘saved’ many in retail through this period.  There is data everywhere on the superfast growth in mobile payments, contactless delivery, online health services and ecommerce for non-traditional items like furniture. Online sales at Majestic wine, for example, has increased by over 200% year on year. Whilst it’s clear there is a need to focus on the online offer more than ever before, this will be a high-water mark for online shopping.  We will be left with a permanent increase. However, given most consumers already shop omni channel, this is unlikely to change in our new normal. 

Will the office as workplace ever recover?

For those of us who normally work from an office, the sudden and prolonged lockdown has shown what can be achieved remote.  It is an amazing and powerful argument for many companies to rethink.  Twitter, for example, has already announced a permanent shift to homeworking for those who can.  With social distancing measures dictating the short-term –many offices cannot go back to the old normal. And with these measures in place, what is the value of a physical presence?  A more permanent change is likely on the cards for many companies. 

Work-life balance is shifting

For those who can work from home there is a new challenge of creating a good work-life balance. Perhaps the gain in commute time has allowed some to take on new hobbies.  It certainly relieves some of the monotony.  We are seeing a visible growth in hobbies on social media like baking, gardening, painting, drawing, photography, dancing, home cooking, fitness, and gaming.  Where passions have been ignited, we expect these trends to stay. On the other side, people are finding it difficult to step away from their computers – many working much longer hours and starting to feel a sense of burn out.

A new respect for key workers

We see every day a new respect for key workers. Not just those in the health services, but shop workers, refuse collectors, delivery services –everyone who is supporting the household in these challenging times. We might see a shift in brands starting to tap into these groups as the face of their brand vs celebrity tack. Only time will tell.

A new level of care for the environment

Images showing environmental recovery – clearer skies in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and sheep wandering around towns – continue to go viral. With everyone at home, the environment has benefited, and it is continuing to spark global conversations around the importance of sustainability measures. Will these images inspire a meaningful change in behavior?  The previous recession nurtured a mass acceptance for less ownership and possession, particularly amongst millennials, and out of that came the sharing culture of Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar and others.  Given the complexity of this issue, the jury is out on this one.

Final thoughts

The economy will recover and we will get back – we just do not know the timeframe. It will be dictated in large part by events outside of our control, like a vaccine or a resurgence.  So for now, uncertainly will remain the new normal.  However, based on data from the previous recession, brands that implement a longer-term view, building plans around the right future trends and implementing growth strategies in markets with potential, have the opportunity to come out much stronger than their competitors.  

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Jill Coomber is Managing Director, Integrated Marketing at Allison+Partners.

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