The COVID crisis is having a pronounced—and potentially long-lasting—impact on consumer behaviour, and is likely to cause “lasting structural changes” to the consumer packaged goods and retail industries, says a new study from Accenture.
“The virus is reshaping the [retail] industry in real-time, rapidly accelerating long-term underlying trends in the space of mere weeks,” says the study. “Our research indicates that new habits formed now will endure beyond this crisis, permanently changing what we value; how and where we shop; and how we live and work.”
The company drew its conclusions from a survey of more than 3,000 consumers in 15 countries, including Canada, conducted between April 2-6.
The situation has also led to an increased interest in news programming and prioritizing family time, with 61% and 55% of respondents globally indicating that they will continue those habits after the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, the report also details a sharp rise in hygiene-related tasks like hand-washing—which has risen from an average of about six times per day before the pandemic to an average of 12 during the current situation. More than 85% of consumers say they plan to continue these habits post outbreak.
Accenture says that in addition to accelerating the “buy local” trend, the stay-at-home imperative under which most of the world has been operating this year has led to a shift to online grocery shopping that will likely last beyond the pandemic. It also notes a greater emphasis on basic needs rather than self-fulfillment objectives like hobbies and job satisfaction.
Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods practice, says that consumer habits that might otherwise have taken years to become engrained behaviour have been widely adopted in only a matter of weeks, and are likely to last for much of the current decade.
The study also concluded that the crisis is leading consumers to more seriously consider the health and environmental impact of their shopping choices, with nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) saying they are focusing more on limiting food waste; 50% saying they are shopping more health-consciously; and 45% saying they are making more sustainable choices.
And in an argument that would likely be embraced by the growing “open up” contingent, the research found that people are more concerned about the economic implications of COVID (88%) versus their own health (64%).
Through its research, Accenture has classified consumers into five different archetypes:
- Worriers: Representing 21% of consumers, this person is fearful of the future, anxious and reactionary—particular when it comes to purchases. They are worried about their health and are more likely to be stressed or anxious because of the virus;
- Individualists: Accounting for 22% of consumers, individualists look out for themselves, stockpiling essentials and trying to maintain the status quo;
- Rationalists: The largest consumer segment (39%), rationalists possess a “keep calm and carry on” mentality. They have increased the purchase of only advised product, such as personal hygiene, cleaning and staple products;
- Activists: The smallest consumer cohort (8%), activists are concerned with others, buying only what they need as needed. They are also 59% more likely to be shopping for people beyond their household;
- Indifferents: Representing roughly 11% of the population, this cohort is carrying out business as usual. They are the least informed and are unlikely to be aware of or comply with government advice. They are 39% less likely to feel stressed than other consumer types.
The designations are fluid, however, with the lowest proportion of worriers found in markets where the outbreak is stabilizing (14%) versus where it is advancing (21%) and developing (26%).
The emergence of consumer segments partially shaped by the pandemic is likely to have implications on CPG marketing strategies, says Accenture. “CPG companies will need to understand how their consumers are reacting and develop customized and personalized marketing strategies for each type of consumer,” the study concludes. “The days of one-size-fits-all marketing are over.”
Among the other findings:
One of the most visible manifestations of the crisis has been a sharp rise in online shopping. This is particularly true of the grocery segment, which has been the only retail segment to remain fully open—albeit with some modifications—during the lockdown.
One in five of respondents whose most recent grocery purchase was made online admitted to being first-time online shoppers. Among consumers 56 and older, that number rose to one in three.
Grocery delivery services have been a major benefactor of this trend. In the U.S., Instacart saw its subscription numbers grow 10-20 times in those states with the most reported COVID cases, and basket sizes have been growing steadily (by more than 50% in some cases).
In addition, while about one-third (32%) of current purchases of all goods and services has been online, that number is expected to rise to 37% going forward.
Among the findings from Canadian respondents:
- 83% are now limiting the number of times that they shop;
- 92% are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on the health system;
- 90% are worried about the impact on the economy;
- Only 40% of respondents say they feel more connected to family, friends, neighbours and the community, compared with a global average of 54%.