Consumers show resiliency and adaptability

The world changed forever in 2020 with the onset of Covid-19, both negatively and positively. Consumer behaviour was affected as people acclimated to the new reality. While the pandemic may have had some short-term behavioural effects (such as the return to disposable rather than recyclable cups in coffee shops and cafés for hygienic reasons, hording toilet paper and cleaning/disinfectant products, etc), some effects are longer lasting, even permanent (digital adoption for example), as the way consumers think, feel, act, and spend, has been forever altered. The changes are reflected in Euromonitor International’s “Top 10 Global Consumer Trends 2021,” in which consumers are adjusting and refining habits and behaviour developed in 2020.

Per Euromonitor, the Top 10 Global Consumer Trends in 2021 are:

  • Build Back Better
  • Craving Convenience
  • Outdoor Oasis
  • Phygital Reality (physical + digital)
  • Playing with Time
  • Restless and Rebellious
  • Safety Obsessed
  • Shaken and Stirred
  • Thoughtful Thrifters
  • Workplaces in New Spaces

In describing the trends, the authors of the report, Gina Westbrook and Alison Angus, write, “We [consumers] want to make the world better — either for our own sake or for humanity. We want new ways to make life both convenient and safe, inside and outside. Where we have the ability, we are balancing our time creatively. Amidst the anxiety and turmoil, we seek holistic, resilient solutions, more thoughtful consumption and, in some cases, ways to fight back.”

They note that resilience and adaptability are the driving forces behind the top global consumer trends in 2021. The pandemic created, influenced or accelerated each of these ten trends, forever altering consumer behaviour. I won’t go into detail on all the trends, but some require comment.

Regarding “Build Back Better,” consumers are demanding that companies care beyond the bottom line. They believe companies should help reshape the world in a more sustainable way, leading a shift from a volume- to a value-driven economy while reforming social inequity and limiting environmental damage.

“Craving Convenience” may not seem to be a new trend, but Covid-19 reduced impulse shopping, forcing consumers to plan “walk-ins.” Furthermore, the pandemic accelerated digital adoption, which sent e-commerce soaring. “Businesses are under pressure to rapidly adapt their operations to develop a resilient customer experience while maintaining convenience. Companies must preserve the swift and seamless shopping journey across all channels,” explain Westbrook and Angus.

Consumers embraced internet-connected devices to maintain their daily routines amid Covid-induced lockdowns. According to Euromonitor, video conferencing, smart appliances and technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) helped consumers form new habits around working, learning, exercising, shopping, and socialising (e.g., 34% of consumers take part in online video gaming at least weekly). These digital tools enabled “Phygital Reality,” which is a hybrid of physical and virtual worlds where consumers can seamlessly live, work, shop and play both in person and online. “Businesses can integrate virtual processes into their physical spaces to give consumers who prefer to stay home the comfort to venture out instead. Delivering virtually enabled at-home experiences remains imperative to drive e-commerce sales and gather data,” note Westbrook and Angus.

Now, consumers are both able and forced to be more creative with their time in order to get everything done, hence, “Playing with Time.” Per Euromonitor, businesses should provide solutions that address the consumer desire to maximise time, offering increased flexibility, especially with products and services that can be accessed from or near the home.

“Consumers are fed up. Distrust in leadership has become the norm. Bias and misinformation are causing a crisis of confidence,” write Westbrook and Angus. They explain that companies can cater to the “Restless and Rebellious” via more precise marketing on social media and gaming, where they can give consumers a voice and pressure social giants to take on misinformation.

The report finds that “Safety Obsessed is the new wellness movement.” Consumers demand touchless, cashless and clean. The fear of infection and increased health awareness drive demand for hygiene products and pushes consumers towards contactless solutions to avoid exposure. Euromonitor advises companies to implement enhanced safety measures and innovations that target concerns to reassure consumers. (Pursuant to “contactless,” the report reveals that 44% of consumers would be comfortable receiving a delivery via drone or robot.)

“Shaken and Stirred” is an interesting trend. The authors explain that the global pandemic reconfigured daily lives, testing mental resilience, restricting experiences, and provoking economic shocks (per the report, 73% of consumers rate depression and mental health as currently having a moderate or severe impact on their everyday life). As a result, consumers have a new understanding of themselves and their place in the world in pursuit of a more fulfilled, balanced and self-improved life. “Businesses must provide products and services that support resiliency for mental wellbeing and to help Shaken and Stirred consumers weather adverse circumstances to gain trust.”

Euromonitor says that companies offering digital products and services are best equipped to help Shaken and Stirred consumers access information and virtual engagements to promote self-improvement and lifestyle balance. The report finds that pre-pandemic, 46% of Generation Z and 50% of millennials preferred spending money on experiences over things, but restrictions on large gatherings are generating interest in at-home events (such as at-home coffee and tea tastings).

With incomes being impacted by Covid, consumers are cautious and frugal (e.g., there was a 10% growth in sales of discount retailers like Aldi and Lidl from 2019 to 2020). “Discretionary spending is declining due to the uncertain economic environment. Thoughtful Thrifters are prioritising value-added and health-conscious products and services,” writes Westbrook and Angus. Euromonitor suggests companies pivot towards value-for-money propositions, offering affordable options without sacrificing quality. Premium attributes should be reinforced with a new empathetic story and have a strong tie-in with health and wellness, self-care or mental wellbeing.

“Workplaces in New Spaces” seems to be an obvious trend as working from home is not a new concept, but Covid refined it. The authors note that Covid had “a rippling effect on consumer life, from clothing choices to technology spend to eating habits and beyond. Consumers are searching for new ways to define the beginning and end of their workdays, as they struggle to manage their time.” According to the report, 64% of professionals think work from home will become a long-term change. Businesses must support work-life balance, productivity and communication needs. Understanding the benefits and challenges of working remotely allows companies to bring the best of the office into the home.

Consumers – people – are resilient, they will acclimate and adapt. As Westbrook and Angus state, “purpose-driven initiatives will resonate with consumers in 2021. Amidst social unrest, consumers want the facts and expect brands to act. Communicating with compassion and supporting mental wellbeing are critical attributes to drive brand loyalty. Flexibility, agility, transparency, and technology will pave the way forward. With mounting uncertainties reshaping the world, businesses should prioritise and reinforce consumer, environmental and safety needs to foster a brighter future.”

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