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How Consumer Behavior patterns will shape in the post COVID-19 Scenario:Anupam Narula, Professor of Marketing, Amity University Noida

Companies need to prepare at an unprecedented pace to cater to this shift to remain relevant and authentic to their customers writes Anupam Narula.

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Economic crises bring about lessons for companies to adapt and reinvent themselves to come out as winners in the long run. Particularly during this time companies are required to put their customers’ interest first, which can create long-lasting memories about their brands in customers’ mind. Consumer behaviour is undergoing a significant change amid this crises and this shift is here to stay for another one or two more years. 

Companies need to prepare at an unprecedented pace to cater to this shift to remain relevant and authentic to their customers. Companies have an opportunity to build strong long term relationships with customers during this period by innovating their customer service models, being transparent and flexible to quickly solve the real life problems of their customers. In order to understand how consumer buying behaviour will shape in the post COVID-19 scenario, the companies have to introspect and realign their current marketing strategies by finding solutions to the following five questions:

*Which factors do crises hit consumers prioritise the most? 

* Which habits had shoppers changed over this period of crises and which did they expect to change?

* How has technology such as the internet and smartphones impacted on shopper’s buying during the crises?

*Are shoppers becoming less loyal towards brands during this period?

*How influential are electronic word of mouth (e-WOM) and referrals?

1. Safety, Hygiene, Security, Access, Availability, Convenience and Trust will be the main priority of crises hit consumers: As customer anxiety has risen during the pandemic, so marketers have to be sensitive to solve their fears and not talk about brand differentiation or varied experiences of their products or services during this time. The consumer mindset has changed from the one seeking experiences in the pre-COVID times to seeking safety and security in the current, post COVID situation. There is shift to a more cautious, conservative and risk-averse consumer buying approach. Companies have to gear towards solving real-life problems of the customers- like providing safe, hygiene and secure products/services, make consumer’s life easy and more convenient through contactless door step delivery, and offer genuine support to make their switch easier to contactless commerce. Overall the companies have to be empathetic to their customers, reassure, empower, and support them by creating trust and safety in consumer’s lives. The role of safety and trust will play a very crucial role in this uncertain environment and consumers will gravitate towards most reliable and trusted brands in the post COVID-19 era.

2. Shoppers habits have changed from reformatting physical touch points to low-touch activities, which led to evolution of new needs and choices: COVID - 19 has made consumers change their shopping habits and preferences faster than marketers could imagine through marketing communications. The current pandemic has changed the mindset of consumers and shifted their buying journey from physical channel to online low-touch activities. Contactless commerce adopted by consumers as enforced behavioural change could become the permanent everyday habit for consumers due to convenience, time and cost saving attributes even after the crises. Consumers have shifted to new ways to learn, work, entertain themselves, connect with others, and increase wellness while at home. This has resulted rapid increase in usage of services like videoconferencing for work, online streaming for entertainment, personal video chats to connect with others, online fitness including the use of wellness apps for physical and mental health and this is expected to continue in the next normal. This pandemic has made consumers to differentiate between lifestyle and life. As more consumers are experiencing a decline in income and savings, resulting in cutting back on spending across most lifestyle categories such as vacations, automobiles, home décor, luxury goods etc. except for life categories like household essentials, over-the-counter medicines, and health supplements. Consumer needs and choices evolved as they got more health and hygiene conscious, enabling availability for newer categories in healthy, organic, fresh and regional selection.

3. Technology such as the internet and smartphones has led to adoption of new customer service models: Technology has led companies to set up alternate remote service access and infrastructure to provide anytime, anywhere service model to customers. We are presently seeing many traditional brick & mortar companies adapting to this model in last few months and it is imperative to ensure these models become scalable and sustainable as recovery approaches. The new customer service model in the world of social distancing has to be agile to provide superior and customized service levels but at reduced cost. For example, using Augmented Reality (AR) to walk customers through procedures with easy-to-follow visual instructions has been successful, especially in field service. Setting products up for use, installing spare parts, and maintaining products can all be done by having experts in a central location working via AR. Brands need to consider equally investing in adoption of the new models by repositioning themselves and shifting to digital channels, products, and services.

4. Customer retention has become more challenging due to the imposition of social restrictions amid the crises: Consumer behaviour has suddenly changed, especially after lockdowns and shoppers are focusing on cheaper products and store brands. They are prioritizing their spending on basic needs and health products. Shoppers are in need of faster and easier ways to shop and if they find it hard to purchase a particular brand, they might look for other options that provide better shopping experience. In order to maintain customer loyalty towards brand, companies have to adjust to the new behaviour of customers by staying engaged in a personalized way and provide a shopping experience with multiple layers of value.

5. e-WOM and Referral are the most trustworthy form of marketing during the crises: At the time of crises customers need extra information, guidance and support from authentic and trustworthy source to navigate through a set of challenges. They are spending more time online and at home than they usually would, which has changed the way consumers are making purchase decisions. They look up reviews on sites, find more product information or check customer testimonials on e-commerce websites, look at other people’s recommendations, etc. In other words, they are turning to e-WOM, which has become a powerful market force because consumers find it an unbiased and trustworthy source of product or service information during the crises. So brands that are following more purposeful, practical, pragmatic, and values-based communications and marketing initiatives will certainly flourish in the post COVID-19 Scenario Companies need to adopt a mix of above five marketing strategic solutions for their customers in order to return to growth and to provide excellent value to their customers in the post COVID-19 scenario. Is your company ready to face the challenge of changing buying behaviour of consumers in the post COVID-19? If Not, Now is a time to look at that, and to factor the above solutions into future offerings roadmaps. Those companies that will be able to realign their current marketing strategies with the above five solutions will be rewarded by customer loyalty and trust in the long run and emerge as winners.



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