CES: 4 new Covid consumer behaviours marketers need to know

A new consumer survey reveals the key trends in consumer behaviour going into 2021

This past year upended how people work, are entertained, consume and transact. Yet most of these trends aren’t being disrupted, they are accelerating in a direction already anticipated pre-COVID-19.

The Harris Poll has tracked consumer behaviour and reactions since the pandemic first sent people home to shelter. At this week’s CES event, Mastercard Worldwide EVP, North America marketing and communications, Cheryl Guerin, and Harris Poll CEO, John Gerzema, discussed the consumer surveyy's four key trends in pandemic-related consumer behaviour.

The touchless revolution
The Covid pandemic has accelerated the shift away from cash and toward digital payment and along with this has been the rapid adoption of no-touch retail. Mastercard Worldwide EVP, North America marketing and communications, Cheryl Guerin, explained touchless has become the preferred way consumers do most things, from payments to pickups.

“There's a ‘no contact’ lifestyle that's become increasingly prevalent as consumers seek to minimise activities, certainly those that are risky for their health,” Guerin said.

So important are touchless transactions that consumers are willing to switch to brands that are offering the safer experiences. “We've seen the rapid adoption of a digital life. And it's not only digital commerce that's accelerated, but also social connections, entertainment, banking and more,” Guerin continued.

Furthermore, these trends reflect new habits that are here to stay, according to a Harris Poll survey of consumers, said Guerin. "It cuts across generations and consumer categories, with people planning to continue their online shopping habits. All the final holdouts have moved online, out of necessity, but they've learned new behaviours,” she noted.

“We've seen things like click and collect takeoff. And in entertainment, we're seeing how people sign up for three to five new streaming services. They're gaming, they're ordering pet food, and grocery has taken off in the online space. They're using fitness apps and more; digital banking has surged."

A crucial point in the touchless revolution, however, is that while brands need to provide touchless options across all channels, as the pandemic subsides there will be a need for some human interaction. The key is striking the right balance.

“Brands will need to find the balance between touchless while providing some human touch when it comes to servicing. And those that do this will emerge as the winners,” said Guerin.

The betterment boom
From home renovation to personal renovation, while people have been sheltering at home they’ve had time and a renewed need to take a look around at their surroundings and themselves. This has prompted another key trend in self-care, self-improvement and home adjustments for working, living and schooling from home during this time.

“A lot of people are tuning into that betterment,” said Harris Poll CEO, John Gerzema.

Gift giving, online courses, fitness, health, wellness and fitness are just some of the areas that have seen an uptick in demand during this time. “There's going to be at this focus and attention on personal wellness and health as we move forward, which is a big opportunity for marketers,” Gerzema said.

Revenge spending
When Covid hit, consumer spending showed people turning to small indulgences and shopping for comfort. Sales of ice cream, chocolate and alcohol all jumped. And almost a year into the pandemic, the survey has found a pent up demand for splurge spending to bring a bit of joy and happiness to people’s lives.

At the same time, people have also been saving while looking forward to a time when they can spend, particular on the thing they can’t do at the moment - travel. “We're seeing a rise in people's intent to purchase due to the inability to actually be able to do so. So that, coupled with when the savings dam breaks, we see that the number one splurge purchase desired by North Americans is travel,” said Guerin.

“It's not just travel. There's pent-up demand that's going to lead to increased spending across many categories, electronics, clothing, technology, luxury goods, cars and even home renovations to create more space. And over half of people in the survey are looking to buy something that's just for them to treat themselves."

Reinforcing purchases as safe, as OK and creating opportunities for fun, flexible rewards as incentives for people spend make be effective tactics. “And there’s the effect Pinterest. People are excited to pre-plan all of these, all of the things that they're thinking and dreaming about. And let's enable them to do that,” Guerin said.

The un-calendar year

The shifting of the entire calendar of events - from major sporting events to horse races - from its usual schedule to something very different is another trend that's had a major impact.

“This upending, uprooting has rearranged our natural rhythm,” explained Gerzema. “That's going to continue throughout 2021 as consumers become more opportunistic, and they become more sort of flexible and agile moving around the return of society,” he said.

From waiting for a vaccine to postponing seasonal celebrations and events being deferred without a clear end-point to the crisis is changing the standard markers of the normal year. Long-term AirBnB stays while people are working and studying at home or travel in off-peak times are making for less certainty around standard signpost events and this impacts of the way marketing campaigns will run. For the time being, these routine events can’t be relied upon to tether campaigns to as they once have been.

“The implication is don't think in conventional timelines,” said Gerzema. In response, marketers will need to be agile to adapt and respond to things as they are happening rather than relying on the usual way of planning, he added.

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