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How Adversity Shapes Consumer Behaviour

April 21st, 2020 5 min to read

Consumer behaviour has been altered by large-scale social and economic variables for as long as economies have existed.

I never once saw my mom buy a new roll of aluminum foil. She would use the same well-worn sheet for baking, clean it and then return it to the box. This frugality was passed on to her by a grandmother who lived through the Great Depression. It was a time when old butter wrappers were used to grease pans, and jam jars became drinking glasses. The Depression was a life-altering event and changed consumer behaviour for an entire generation and beyond.

A similar shift happened a little more than a decade ago during the Great Recession. Researchers discovered that consumers had become more value-focused during this global economic downturn. Big box stores like Walmart and Costco became commonplace for consumers regardless of their economic status.

With new adversity, comes new shifts in consumer behaviour

Just as our behaviour changed after these periods of adversity, researchers are now looking to see how COVID-19 is changing the way audiences make spending decisions and engage with brands.

In March, Ipsos published an article about changes in consumer behaviour during the pandemic. People are living online like never before. Consumers are focused on bulk-buying and engaging in low-contact commerce. They are adjusting quickly to the economic instability and companies are having to adapt on the fly. Despite the perceived gloom and doom, Ipsos argues that brands still play an essential role. The new challenge for businesses is to think about brand management in terms of these sweeping changes.

Can we still say the c-word?

We mean COVID-19, of course, and the short answer is yes. Businesses don’t have to hammer home the current hardships - but they don’t have to ignore them either. It’s a delicate balancing act. Companies must avoid appearing tone-deaf in their messaging. But they can still play what Ipsos calls “an enhanced role” in the lives of their consumers and their clients.

Now is not the time to cut costs and go into silent mode. Now is the time to be active, show empathy, build on your company’s trust and emphasize the value of that trust in these uncertain times. The audience is engaged like never before.

How businesses are responding to the new world around us

We see this expanded online audience as a tremendous opportunity for businesses. Bell reports that home internet use is up by 60% during the day and up to 20% higher in the evening. Now is a crucial time to provide customers with content of value and remind them you’re still here for them.

One of our clients, Stawowski McGill, is offering consultations with business owners to get them through these unprecedented times – no charge, no strings attached. They have been business advisors in Alberta for more than 20 years and have seen their share of ups and downs in the energy-focused economy. They’re providing stability in an unstable environment.

We’ve also seen several significant brands create similar messaging:

The common thread in these campaigns is trust. These companies are looking to show empathy, provide comfort and reiterate their service commitment during these difficult times.

What are the new emerging behaviours?

  1. Virtual Shopping Experiences – Businesses now have a unique opportunity to focus on the virtual experience. We’ve already seen the migration to online shopping for things like groceries, clothing, workout equipment and, as we saw earlier, vehicles. In China, online car sales increased during the first two weeks of the coronavirus, even when traditional dealership sales fell.

  2. Virtual RealityRevfine, the hospitality and tourism website, details how virtual reality technology is transforming the travel industry in the aftermath of the pandemic. They're offering a ‘try before you buy’ vacation simulation where customers can get excited about booking holidays again.

  3. Online Events & Meetings – In this new landscape of increased online meetings, events and virtual tours, B2B companies are also turning their attention away from traditional face-to-face interactions like trade shows and conferences. Companies need to bolster their delivery systems to meet these new challenges.

  4. Website Updates & Online Campaigns – Forbes reports that businesses are investing more in website updates, virtual events and social media campaigns targeted towards their online clients. These initiatives can also go a long way in preparing companies for the next period of adversity.

Businesses can learn a lot from this ‘new normal’ and emerge stronger than ever by engaging this increased online audience and building trust with their brand. As seen in other times of great adversity, audiences are seeking the utmost value from the brands they trust the most.