As the coronavirus swept the globe, brands and companies changed how they interacted with customers due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Consumer buying patterns also shifted with fluctuations in the stock market, skyrocketing unemployment and supply chain issues. While many brands made short-term changes during the initial crisis, companies must now look longer term and build the foundation to stay connected with customers.
Yes, it’s a different world, but “these are not unprecedented times,” Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and The Infinite Game, says. “The invention of the internet put many, many companies out of business—the ones who could not reinvent their companies for the internet age but rather doubled down on the old way they did business,” he explained.
The opportunity is to shift from survival mode to reinvention mode, to focus on what will be instead of trying to preserve what we had.
As stay-at-home and social distancing orders took hold in the spring, customers relied even more heavily on digital and mobile platforms as their smartphones became a lifeline to the outside world. New virtual behaviors emerged and expanded as consumers completed their daily tasks digitally, such as curbside pickup, telehealth appointments, online workouts and contact-free delivery. And as many people worked from home, went to school online, and connected with family and friends virtually, video chat use exploded. The video chat platform Zoom saw a staggering 418% growth in adoption rate in two just months.
Even as physical businesses open up, the influence of social distancing is likely to stay with consumers longer term. Many of these new behaviors may turn into long-term habits instead of short-term solutions executed in crisis mode. It’s important to take a fresh look at what people are searching for, where they’re going, what they value and what they’re finding.
Consumer needs are changing as a result of the pandemic. The way people interact with brands—and how they view themselves as consumers—is fundamentally different than it was pre-quarantine. There have been three major shifts in consumer buying habits:
Home: People are spending more time in their homes, which has both practical and emotional effects.
Nostalgia: Change gives rise to anxiety, and anxiety triggers consumers’ nostalgia for happier times.
Self-reliance: The typical consumer is taking on more responsibility for tasks they would normally hire someone to do for them or outsource. As consumers realize everything they can accomplish themselves, brands will be pushed to actively show why their product or service is valuable and worth paying for.
Consumer shopping habits and behavior shift constantly, but in pre-COVID times, brands could normally pivot on smaller scales to make a difference. Coming out of the pandemic, people are thinking about their role as consumers differently, which will force brands to make larger fundamental changes to anticipate new consumer needs.
Brands now have an opportunity to revise and rebuild their relationships with consumers.
Physically, people are now on devices and networks that weren’t previously commingled—such as work computers on home IP addresses. More existentially, people are craving relationships and connection. They’re likely not expecting brands to fill that need, but any brand that does will be rewarded for its efforts.
Because COVID-19 impacts consumers differently across states and geographic areas, you must carefully think through how a range of consumers will react. Concern over health and safety, especially personal contact and large groups, will likely remain with us for months and possibly years. While some pre-COVID-19 behaviors will return at some point, many of the changes that occurred during the pandemic are likely to become permanent, especially new habits like video chats with family, telehealth visits with doctors and virtual workouts at home.
The pandemic created a new world where relationships with both people and brands became more important than ever. By closely monitoring ever-shifting customer sentiment and priorities, and leveraging tools to ramp up personalization, businesses can leave the crisis with new long-term customers.