Skip links

How COVID Has Irreparably Changed Consumer Behavior

COVID changed how we did most things. Streaming usage soared across nearly all platforms – Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook video views were all up between 15 and 30%. Video chats dramatically increased – Zoom usage alone tripled. Video games served as a distraction during quarantines with Twitch streaming up 20%. TikTok emerged as a real player in social media in the United States, becoming the most downloaded app for months. 

And it wasn’t just entertainment that changed, our work lives also changed. According to a study from McKinsey, respondents said their companies moved to remote work 40 times more quickly than they thought possible before the pandemic. A year of sweat pants, Zoom calls, AirPods, ring lights, and remote work was born. For many businesses, most of the changes that occurred in remote work, sanitation, work flexibility, and COVID-related changes weren’t considered a top business priority – until, all of a sudden, they were. As consumers and businesses went digital, more goods and services were pushed online, “raising e-commerce’s share of global retail trade from 14% in 2019 to 17% in 2020” according to UNCTAD (the UN Center for Trade and Development).

Before the pandemic, many businesses didn’t seem to trust their own technological competence and doubted the skills and adaptability of their own workforces. And yet, we thrived. Healthcare saw surges in telemedicine. Telecommunications soared with Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet emerging as part of our lexicon. Media and entertainment evolved, becoming more global (with The Squid Game and Parasite leading the way), more user-generated content (TikTok penetration in US markets across broader age ranges), and more accessibility to all. Stay-at-home orders, quarantines, and new habits have changed consumer behavior irreparably. 

So what does that mean for the average small or medium-sized business? It comes down to value. Consumers aren’t worried about prices as much as they’re concerned about value. A Louis Vuitton handbag comes with a hefty price tag, but it provides value by lasting for generations. I have one of my Grandmother’s Louis Vuitton bags from 1970 and it looks incredible, even at the ripe, old age of 51. 

With experiences in a post-COVID world, businesses need to offer incremental value in order to make a change permanent. For example, grocery delivery will be here to stay. It provides value for busy families, people who hate grocery shopping, and people with sensitive immune systems. Poor experiences, however, can result in a rapid reversal to previous behaviors. Adding e-commerce to a site that is now slow, sluggish, or with supply chain problems will not create lasting change. Fear of catching COVID-19 may fade (at least, we certainly hope it will), but the higher perceived value from the convenience of delivery, e-commerce, or other experiences may make those behavioral changes permanent. 

Which changes are likely to become permanent? I think some of the following changes in consumer behavior are here to stay. 

  1. Increased digital usage. More and more, people are using digital tools and platforms for day-to-day needs. In classrooms, it’s tools like Canvas, Blackboard, or Google Classroom. In workplaces, it’s Zoom, Asana, and Slack. There is no longer a fear of technological barriers. To quote an old commercial, “There’s an app for that.”
  2. Changes in purchasing behavior. If you can buy it online, there’s a good chance that you will. Online shopping was powerful before; it’s unstoppable now. Immediacy is key – you must be found at the right time, in the right place, for the right customer. 
  3. Increased awareness of health and safety. Heavy crowds were never fun; they’re untenable now. Masks, however controversial they may be, are now something we’ve experienced firsthand. While we won’t have mandates forever, I suspect the desire for hand sanitizer, fresh air, frequent cleaning, queue spacing, and increased hygiene will be here to stay. There’s also been a marked demonstration of preference for healthy brands, healthier food preferences, and anything to help increase our chances of fighting off infections. We’re more aware of our mortality than ever before and that’s reflected in our purchasing choices. 
  4. Preference for local. While we know that e-commerce has soared and fast fashion and using Amazon for everything was absolutely a by-product of COVID, shopping local has also grown dramatically. Problems in the supply chain precipitated a need to shop local and that will be here to stay. 

So what changes do you think will stick around? How has COVID changed your business or your personal consumption habits? What do you hope goes back to normal? How are you building trust with your customers? Remember, it all comes back to the idea of value. How are you presenting the value you provide to your customers? Let us know on social media what you think about this crazy world we’re living in and how it’s impacting you! 

Leave a comment