There is no doubt that we’re currently living through one of the most pivotal chapters of human history. Everything we once took for granted has been transformed in some fundamental way, driven by three powerful events: COVID-19, the resultant economic standstill, and now a global movement in pursuit of racial equality and justice.
This confluence of crises, each extraordinary in its own right, has set new forces into motion within individuals, society as a whole, and business. From our personal psychology and how we interact with others, to our life and work styles and how we shop, to the ultimate mission of our businesses – these events are rapidly reshaping our world.
The following is our latest report stemming from ongoing discussions with our Consumer Advisory Panel. We’re covering how consumers are responding to these confluent crises – the shifts in their attitudes and opinions, and changes in needs, motivations, and shopping behaviors.
Amidst the tripartite crises, Americans are awakening to themselves. Established routines and habits have been bulldozed by lockdown restrictions and – for the privileged among us – our free time has increased significantly. We’ve reconnected with loved ones, honed new skills, and rediscovered suppressed parts of ourselves that were side-lined in pursuit of “success” and productivity. This new abundance of quality time has offered some of us a rare opportunity to slow down and reflect, to redefine our lives, goals, and ultimate purpose.
New Lenses Guide Shopping Choices
We spoke further with our panelists about how these shifts have impacted their shopping habits and choices. One of our biggest findings is that old consumer regimens are giving way as newly emergent lenses increasingly drive their choice of brands, products, and services.
- Contribution – how can I do my part? How are the businesses I buy from doing their part?
- Introspection – what do I really value and need most in my life?
- Caution – which choices are safest for myself and my family?
- Personalization – how does the delivery and/or configuration of this product/service fulfill my needs here and now?
As one panelist, Martin, explained, “Corona really scared us and changed our outlook. We decided to hold off on the new SUV purchase. We’re going to do a multi-point inspection and repair of the old Subaru and drive it to Utah to visit our kids for three weeks. We’ll pack most of the food we’ll need for the drive and reduce our contact with other people to only gas pumps.”
Companies responded vigorously to COVID-19 and the flailing economy, presenting a united front. Thousands upon thousands of businesses launched communications and health and safety initiatives, pivoted with new delivery and distribution models, and offered financial assistance and promotions for the common good. Businesses broadcasted their readiness and ability to make fundamental changes to their offerings and operations, intuiting the impact on brand perception. And rightly so, as – if you’ll recall our first Consumer Advisory Panel report – consumers were quick to judge brands based on the speed, sufficiency, compassion, and authenticity of their responses.
The latest crucible to test America, which has galvanized millions of people of color as well as white people (in numbers previously unseen) to speak out emphatically against racism and police brutality, builds on this trend. Brands big and small (ie. Nike, Lexus, Thinx) have come out in support of the movement, sharing anti-racist content and educational links, as well as announcements of donations to relevant organizations via social media and email campaigns.
Consumers like Chris, are “holding brands to a higher social standard than ever before”. Many consumers are blasting brands they feel to be disingenuous (ie. Reformation, Bon Appétit) and are urging them to publicly acknowledge racial bias within their organizations and commit to new HR standards. Several executives have stepped down in the last few weeks while protesters have called for boycotts of hundreds of companies seen as fractionally supporting the movement (ie. Starbucks, Amazon, the Guggenheim Museum).
Our panelists report taking their business to companies with whom they feel ethically aligned. Vast lists promoting black-owned brands and restaurants have been virally circulated on social media. Consumers are also lauding white-owned businesses (ie. Ben &
Jerry’s, LEGO) for their direct language and bold championship of the cause, as well as thoughtful changes to their product lines in solidarity with the movement.
There appears to be a reckoning in which it is becoming unacceptable for brands to ignore political topics or performatively share a hashtag to indicate support. Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to patronize companies that share their values and beliefs; especially now, with limits to spending amid a recession and an uncertain outlook.
Category needs and motivations, in general, are holding steady. Our panelists are booking flights to visit family and travel domestically. They buy their favorite food products for enjoyment and nutrition. They socialize with friends and go out to eat in restaurants.
But now, there is one huge, new factor that drives how they want to consume and interact:
Above all else, they are resolved to make smart decisions that will safely guide them as normalcy returns by shades and degrees. And, it appears every category has a different twist in terms of how “safety” can best be executed.
According to Shanise of Chicago, IL, “I used to hop on the ‘L’ and run all my errands in town without a second thought. Now I have to weigh every decision with, ‘will this street be blocked here?,’ or ‘if I touch this pole am I gonna be in the hospital next week?’”
It is important to note, however, there is a striking variance between young and healthy consumers and their older, more vulnerable counterparts.
Many of our Boomer panelists reported decision-making centered strictly on health and hygiene. “I’ve read a handful of studies about COVID-19 transmission in restaurants – it has mostly to do with airflow and time of exposure – which means most of the measures they’re proposing won’t be effective. [My wife] and I won’t be dining out until there’s a vaccine,” said 61-year-old Graham. Their physical wellbeing is top of mind and they are making an effort to eat healthy, home- cooked meals, socialize through video calls and/or with limited “isolation pods”, and spend time in nature.
Millennials share these inclinations but are generally less concerned about their personal risk. Many, like Carly, are eager to date and resume socializing as before, “A few of my friends are still wiping down their groceries but I’ve stopped [doing that]. At this point, I feel it’s not a matter of ‘if’ [I get the virus] but ‘when’. There couldn’t have been worse timing to go through a break-up and I’m ready to be out there and play the field like never before.” Furthermore, a majority of the millennials on our panel told us they have participated in at least one of the recent protests.
Perhaps the most transformative impact on our economy has come from surging demand for services delivered through non-traditional, online channels, such as online education/learning, medical checkups, and virtual tours of museums and zoos.
During the pandemic, consumers hunkered down and sought to avoid
retail trips and exposure in public places. They spent this time experimenting with grocery delivery and curbside pickup, purchasing from new brands and websites, trying out telemedicine, and engaging with friends, family, and coworkers via videoconferencing services, while their children finished out the school year online.
Now, despite the lifting of restrictions, consumers indicate a strong likelihood that many of their COVID-19-related behavioral changes will carry over into a post-pandemic world. As one of our millennial panelists, Linda, told us, “With so many new online experiential options, like virtual tours of museums and cities, TikTok challenges, [and] fitness, I’ve been pretty okay with not leaving my apartment. Also, grocery delivery has improved my life tenfold. Definitely will be keeping this up.”
1. Your consumers have changed; don’t get caught with the “same old offerings” that are irrelevant for the time.
It is vital that you remain abreast of changes in shoppers’ needs and expectations within the category and for your brand specifically.
- Implications: It’s more important than ever that brands assess needs and respond with appropriate products, services and communications. Consider category and brand insights research. It’s likely to make all the difference between staying ahead of the curve by tapping into emergent modes or falling out of step with the “same old” offer.
2. Consumers are using a new set of lenses to evaluate their choices: Introspection, Personalization, Contribution, and Caution.
Consumers are hyper-aware of the transformation they themselves are undergoing, as well as the world around them and the responses brands offer. It’s critical that your brand and product offering remain “fresh” and relevant.
- Implications: Study the new lenses consumers are using and align your communications and “go to market” strategies in the most authentic way possible.
3. They also hold brands and their actions to an increasingly imperative set of standards: Speed, Sufficiency, Compassion, and Authenticity.
- Implications: Respond quickly with meaningful, thoughtful action. Dig deep creatively and give generously if you have the means. Consult with target consumers, health authorities, diversity teams, and other relevant voices. Embrace a flexible mindset and prepare your business to evolve more rapidly than you and your team could have possibly imagined just a few months ago.
And that’s a wrap.
Amidst the stream of reports and news blasts flowing in from all directions, the last thing we want to do is flood your inbox. We’ll deliver our shortlist of key findings from our Panel to your desktop (or kitchen table…or closet office) once every few weeks. We hope that this small gesture supports you at this time.
Stay tuned for the follow-up to this report: How Brands Are Evolving In Response to Confluent Crises.
We’re taking your suggestions for future panel discussion topics. Which questions are most pressing for you in your industry at this time? Reply to this email with your input and we’ll work your questions into our discussions with the panelists.
Our best to you and those whom you hold dear – keep well in mind, body, and spirit.