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The pace of digital change

has COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour forever?

Has COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour forever?

By Lee Cullen, Client Director 

We’ve written about the link between consumer confidence and marketing spend many times already, but when the Bank of England released a new forecast this week suggesting the economic slump might not be as bad as originally feared, it felt like there was a new reason to feel optimistic.

There’s no doubt that the last five months have been tough for everyone working in the worlds of PR, content and marketing. And although there are plenty of suggestions there could be more challenges to come, there’s still a sense of confidence that the country can, and will bounce back. The question seems to be more about when.

The other big consideration is what impact this period will have had on people – consumers, clients and customers. Habits have shifted massively, and the lack of face-to-face events and interaction have forced marketing managers and communications experts to rethink their strategies. The pace of digital change has accelerated massively in 2020 and it seems highly unlikely that we’ll go back to the way things were pre-COVID.

A desire to do more things online

A report from Brandwatch released earlier this month included some interesting data around consumer habits during the lockdown period. Just under 7,000 people were surveyed across several countries including the UK, the US, France and Spain.

This kind of data makes it possible for brands to begin formulating a clearer picture on what they can do now to ensure they have adapted to the changes brought about by COVID-19.

In retail, despite most shops now being open, only 20% of people said they now feel safe shopping in this way. Understandably, there’s still hesitation when it comes to shopping in person. With more localised lockdowns expected to come in the months ahead, online shopping is the new normal. Data released recently showed a surge in online shopping of 33.9% in June – the highest annual result since March 2008.

Having an online presence as a brand, is more vital now than ever before. SEO has become a fundamental part of any good integrated marketing strategy, with other digital channels like social media and e-newsletters also becoming go-to tactics.

The trends for DIY and staycations

DIY businesses are another to have benefitted from an influx of people taking the opportunity to make home improvements. Kingfisher, the owners of B&Q, posted incredible results this week including a massive spike in sales since lockdown was lifted. Online sales were a big part of that too and the reports suggest these have more than tripled.

Lockdown has clearly forced people to think more about their living spaces with many people committing to improvements they’d previously only thought about. According to Brandwatch, 60% of people who were initially dubious about making changes to their homes pre-COVID have said that they will now definitely go through with them. That will be coupled with fears that other lockdowns could come in the future, so people are thinking hard about making sure their homes and gardens are in top condition.

The pent up demand through lockdown was clear because when the stores did open for order collections, there was widespread media coverage about the huge queues at places like B&Q and HomeBase, with Warrington’s very own Ikea making international headlines for the same reason!

Maintaining experiences in a digital world

The number of people now shopping online and choosing to stick to this has also increased dramatically according to the Brandwatch report. It suggests that more than 50 per cent of new online consumers said they would continue shopping in this way having been impressed with the online experience.

There were also far more consumers opting for alternatives to their favourite brand, either because they felt the price was too high, or the product isn’t available. Out of those surveyed, 18 per cent said they’ll make a long-term switch, even when their original preferred brand becomes available to them.

This brings about the idea that brand loyalty is now going to be harder to maintain. The ease of online shopping has meant that consumers can now quickly compare prices to find the best deals, but that will go hand-in-hand with brands offering a great online experience and making sure they are front of mind for consumer needs – whether that’s food, DIY, retail or any other market.

We’re now past the phase of considering whether brands should be investing more in digital channels – the data speaks for itself. The new challenge is to figure out how to be creative in a crowded online market to really capture attention; win trust and convince customers to come back to you again and again.

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