Consumer Behaviour and Perception post COVID-19: Shaleena Kaura

What remains to be seen is that in the aftermath of the pandemic will be which new habits and behaviors will be ingrained and which will be transient writes Shaleena Kaura, Senior Vice President, Hansa Research.


“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes – chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion and desire.” Aristotle

Clearly ‘compulsion’ is the key driver for the current consumer behavior in this Black Swan Event that is playing out across the globe. What remains to be seen is that in the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic which new habits and behaviors will be ingrained and which will be transient. So even though the buzzword ‘new normal’ peppers every conversation these days, the jury is out on how NEW the ‘new normal’ be.

There has been rapid acceleration in the digital adoption with an increase in e-commerce customers and certainly Tech First companies have benefitted by being an option for the first time consumers. Flipkart, Amazon, Big Basket, PharmaEasy etc. have all seen a sharp surge in demand for staples. But it is equally true that given the initial hiccups of stocking of staples by e-commerce players to meet the unprecedented demand and the limited/ delayed deliveries in the early lockdown phases, people also went hyperlocal and physical. They went to the local neighborhood grocer / general store / chemist/ and used them as a conduit to receive the rations/ staples/ medicines required. So consumer behavior is also showing a return to old but dormant behavior of relying on the ‘nukkad ki dukaan.’

The financial pressure has led to cut backs on non-essentials but the new sensitivity to hygiene means that even if the essentials are purchased from the local store the brand picked up is not local. There is even more reliance on picking up Brands that are of a certain standard and quality. Price sensitivity is low. For example, rather than picking a locally packed snack the consumer would likely pick up a Haldiram snack.

Price will play a role is on higher ticket items like appliances, gadgets. Despite the stated Anti-China sentiment and vocal for local narrative, given the value that a Chinese product like Realme and Xiaomi offer it could tip the consumer in favor of value for money.

Indeed where all things remain equal, the brand decisions will be based on relevant empathy, authenticity, and brands looking to solve a consumer problem and not sell to him.

It may seem like what the ‘Swachh Bharat’ could not enforce Covid 19 has. The focus on sanitization was at an all-time high and there is enough data to show the rise in the purchase of products such as sanitizers and household cleaners but studies that have mapped retail behavior will say that there was a decline in the later phases of the lockdown. Clean is the new Green may be an overstated theme in the post COVID world. Given the muscle memory, an average Indian is likely to revert to the degree of sanitization he has practiced all his life, perhaps slightly enhanced.

Social distancing may point to a future where we will be moving towards a contactless world of home deliveries, virtual parties and work from home. But humans at their core are social animals. Even the Spanish flu that killed over 50 million people couldn’t change that instinct.

Understanding consumers and their behavior is a slippery slope in the best of times but in these unprecedented times where the visibility of the future is compromised and the consumer behavior and decision making could be an aberration it has never been truer to put out this disclaimer, in the words of David Ogilvy that “Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

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