COVID-19 is accelerating digital and self-care trends

PwC compares attitudes and behaviours from before and during the pandemic, finding which ones are here to stay.

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According to the latest global report from PwC, social distancing measures have affected consumers in “all facets of life,” and new behaviour patterns will linger as we emerge from the crisis.

For its “The Consumer Transformed” report, PwC surveyed approximately 4,500 respondents across regions that were differently affected by the pandemic, comparing the findings to a late 2019 pre-COVID survey of 19,000 people, which included Canada.

According to the latest insights, while in-store grocery shopping remains the channel of choice for shoppers globally, 35% of consumers are now buying food online, with 86% of those who shop online planning to continue shopping for groceries that way after social distancing measures are removed. For food items, they are making fewer shopping trips — 45% say they are shopping less often for groceries — but online shopping is leading to bigger baskets: 63% of online grocery shoppers are buying more groceries than before social distancing. Also, 38% of survey respondents said they would pay for delivery of groceries that took less than two hours.

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In addition to the spike in grocery spending, 36% of consumers are spending more on in home entertainment. However, these increases have been largely offset by the decrease in spending in most non-food categories. Apparel and sports equipment have seen particularly large declines, with 51% and 46% of respondents reporting they have decreased spending in these categories, respectively.

Outside of food, pre-COVID, 47% of consumers reported shopping at brick-and-mortar stores on a daily or weekly basis, compared with 30% who did so on their phones and 28% on a desktop computer.

But since the outbreak, PwC’s research again shows that 45% of consumers say they’ve increased their mobile shopping, with 41% increasing shopping via computer. That’s compared with only 16% that have increased their in-store shopping. And more than 90% of online shoppers say they are likely to maintain current increased usage. Consumers also plan to maintain current increased use of messaging apps (91%), social media (86%) and video chat apps (74%).

PWC says brands will have to get the balance right between digitization and the traditional store formats, as consumers experiment with and accelerate use of these new channels.

Sustainability and self care are also top of mind for respondents. Thanks to COVID, more respondents report being focused on their mental health and well-being, physical health, medical needs and diet. And regions hardest hit, not surprisingly, are the ones most concerned about self-care going forward.

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Before the pandemic, 43% of global respondents said they expected businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact, but PwC says consumers’ focus on sustainable business practices “has surged during the COVID-19 crisis,” despite the fact that many environmentally friendly practices had to be suspended due to public health concerns. As customers become more interested in caring for both themselves and the planet, they’re also gravitating to models and systems that have less of an impact, but also making their lives easier and less stressful.

PwC recommends that brands innovate to meet the expectations and retain the loyalty of these customers. As an example, it cites Dutch online grocer Picnic, which uses custom-designed electric vehicles for precisely scheduled door-to-door deliveries. The company married environmental concerns with addressing customer pain points around convenience.

The report says that brands can develop these kinds of new, sustainable products and services, including by working together with stakeholders like NGOs, the media, trade associations and academia, to re-examine the values they espouse and actions they take and increase R&D investments into the future of food and nutrition.