The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies and marketers alike to be much more creative and flexible in operating and promoting their businesses, as many of the traditional ways went by the wayside once in-person interactions came to an end.
Many of those consumer behaviors will endure after the pandemic, Anjali Lai, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, asserts.
“Many consumers have invested in their homes; more than half have upgraded their technologies,” Lai says, pointing to increased internet speeds, updates to computer/mobile technologies, etc. These upgrades mean that consumers will continue to conduct much of their shopping online (including buying online and picking up in the store), so marketers will need to consider this as they plan their marketing strategies for the near future.
“You have to think about the context of the consumer,” Lai says. “You have to think about how consumers are using certain tools, like smart speakers, to engage. Consumers are using different devices for different tasks. It’s quite a big issue.”
Consumers expect companies to deliver value to them more directly, Lai adds. Slightly more than one-third (34 percent) of consumers recently signed up for multiple online streaming services, and 21 percent added more premium networks to their programing packages, which Lai says is evidence that they want convenient access to what they want (e.g., new movies) when they want it, and have no plans to change their online habits once the pandemic ends.
With the technology upgrades consumers are becoming more empowered, according to Lai. Also contributing to consumer empowerment are improved self-help tools provided by many companies. Now more than half of U.S. online adults feel they can solve difficult problems themselves.
During the pandemic, consumers demonstrated an increased willingness to experiment, according to Lai. “While some consumers adopted a risk-averse, comfort-seeking, conservation-oriented mind-set during 2020, the thirst for novel experiences persisted,” she says.
According to the Forrester Consumer Energy Index, the onset of the pandemic drove U.S. consumers to feel more isolated, skeptical, and vulnerable, but consumers still craved adventure. So they were willing to try new solutions to fill their needs in unconventional ways.
U.S. consumers also showed an “almost infinite appetite for distraction,” stimulating their search for learning and entertainment to fill the social void, according to Lai.
Lai expects companies to service customers more holistically, offering consumers health and wellness tips. Consumers will continue to migrate to those companies and to other ones that commit to employee experience and consumer outreach.
Consumer behavior was also changed by social and political crises in 2020 that sensitized individuals to their surroundings, according to Lai. “The number of values-based consumers has been steadily rising for the last decade. More consumers are scrutinizing brands’ social, moral, political, or environmental values and use their purchases to signal which values they stand for and which they oppose. Our research shows that values-based buying is changing as consumers broaden their expectations, reorder their priorities, and face new tensions.”
Lai adds that consumers’ heightened social consciousness is driving them to reward companies that care for their people. Thirty-nine percent of U.S. consumers expect to seek out companies that treat their employees well, and 35 percent will look for companies that actively help their local communities.
Consumers will continue to experience a tug of war between their fees and desires, Lai adds, noting the intensity and length of the pandemic have combined to take a toll on consumer emotions.
More than six in 10 (61 percent) of consumers are concerned about a severe economic depression, while 47 percent are actively saving due to economic uncertainty, Forrester found in another study.
“Persistent fears around their physical and financial health will compel some consumers to pull back from in-person interactions and discretionary spending and build cocoons of safety,” Lai predicts. “At the same time, others will want to immerse themselves in experiences that erase the memories of often-oppressive isolation.
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