Pandemic, Lockdown and Consumer Behaviour: Now What?

Over the past several decades, the world has become more connected through the internet and transportation. People have been able to reach information easier, experience a wider array of services and have gained access to social media to express their opinions. Over the same time period there has been an overall rise in GDP. A more knowledgeable, demanding and powerful consumer archetype has emerged as a result. The implication on companies has been wider and tougher competition in relation to customer experience. Today, across industries, companies strive to distinguish themselves by providing seamless, omnichannel and delightful experiences to the consumer archetype of the new era.

What’s ahead?

Over the past couple of decades, as part of efforts to offer great customer service, we have witnessed a proliferation of digital channels and enrichment of products and services on each channel. It’s been increasingly important for companies to establish a strong presence on the web, mobile and social media. Today, still, providing a seamless experience across channels is a major challenge for many organisations with many initiatives intended to save customers time and effort. Today, we are faced with a global pandemic and it is likely to have an major impact on consumer behaviour. How companies will react to consumers or, more importantly, how they will support, accompany and guide consumers in these difficult times is vitally important.

The most immediate effect of the pandemic on consumer behaviour has been an increase in the take-up of online services. As per containment policies of governments and fearful of getting infected, people have stayed at home and limited physical contact. This has led to an increase in the need for online services with last-mile delivery of retail goods and mobile financial transactions correspondingly and immediately becoming centres of attention. Customers who have been reluctant to use such services in the past – due to various reasons such as feeling uncomfortable with technology, having security concerns, etc.- are now prone to step into the world of digital services. This presents an opportunity to companies to migrate non-digital customers to digital. Crafting simple educating content on how to use digital services and their benefits would create value. Well-designed and intuitive interactions on digital channels are likely to be appreciated by previously non-digital customers and get them to adopt digital. Such an adoption, if compounded by a prolonged duration of pandemic, could lead physical components (brick-and-mortar stores, cash use, etc.) to fall out of favour.

On the other hand, the economic impact of the pandemic is just beginning to become apparent. Production and services across various business lines have halted, putting a significant pressure on income of certain segments. The situation might worsen if there is an interruption in the supply of essentials, like the breakdown of food supply chain. This, in turn, causes people to feel a sense of insecurity on the basic level which is likely to continue for a while and fosters the purchase of essential goods and materials that somehow serve feelings of “in control and secure.” On the other hand, spending on recreation is inevitably ceased which, for a certain segment only, might mean a temporary increase in savings.

It is hard to foretell when overall consumer confidence will recover. Depending on the duration of the pandemic, some sectors will recover more quickly due to the kick-in of delayed demand and some will need more time to get back on track. Just like delayed demand, we could be witnessing the impact of “delayed social interactions”. Therefore, once and if people are convinced that the threat is over, brick-and-mortar business could take off, serving the more basic need for human touch.

A litmus test: real friendship or just interests

For companies, these are testing times where the leadership, strategy and culture will show whether they are true friends of customers or they only have business interests. Those companies who truly care for people, sacrifice profits and craft their offerings to make life easier for customers and employees will be the winners.

Empathy is a key skill during times of crises. Being an empathetic company includes ensuring safety for staff and customers, revising contract terms if necessary, re-evaluating pricing, and maintaining the quality of existing products and services, whilst developing new and relevant and accessible ones. Equipping and empowering both the employees and customers with digital capabilities is going to show that a company really cares about their well-being. It is the right time to focus, invest in and develop omnichannel service capabilities.

Keeping the pulse of customers and understanding how their needs are shifting are important to adjust investments. Organisations need to establish a long-term trust through initiatives that cater to people’s needs. Thinking long-term is sure to create business value in the aftermath of the crisis.

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