Five months after Singapore’s first COVID-19 case, the economy is starting to show signs of a slow recovery: businesses are re-opening and people are adjusting to the Next Normal as the Circuit Breaker restrictions ease.
While COVID-19 has caused dire economic consequences, it has also shone a spotlight on the digital economy, and how consumers and businesses have adapted to the pandemic.
Accenture Applied Intelligence analysed 20.1 million online transactions and 3 billion online browsing sessions from our data partners, news articles and social media data. We have used this data to identify industry trends and shifts in digital consumer behaviour in Singapore in order to help businesses prepare for a post-Circuit Breaker era.
The following is a summary of the findings based on our analysis of data from 13 industries, which compares the percentage change of online transaction and browsing metrics during COVID versus pre-COVID.
Overall, as brick-and-mortar business activities slowed, businesses in some industries such as Investing saw up to three times their normal growth in online transaction volumes and/or revenues.
Source: COVID-19 Impact on Singapore Consumers’ Digital Behaviours by Accenture Applied Intelligence
Singapore consumers’ behaviour by industry
Groceries - As online transactions and revenues grew, demand significantly outweighed supply with consumers spending approx. 198% more time online.
Restaurants & delivery (Restaurants, cafés, fast-food delivery) - Revenues climbed more than twice as fast as transactions, with revenue per transaction approx. 50% higher as consumers opted for larger purchase baskets.
Consumer investing (Personal investments in stocks, bonds, funds) - Investing transactions increased by approx. 212%, but approx. 45% lower revenue per transaction indicates consumers are making smaller bets.
Insurance (Life, health, commercial insurance) - We observed a significant spike in online transactions and revenues for the four weeks following DORSCON Orange, with transactions reaching a peak of 196% above normal in the first week of March (see chart).
Telecommunications (Telecom mobile services, broadband internet, home entertainment services) - Transactions grew up to 29% – even as revenues fell – as organisations battled for wallet-share across mobile data, internet and home entertainment.
Consumer electronics (Communication devices, home electronics and electrical appliances) - Overall revenues shrunk by up to 9% as consumers cut back on discretionary spending; that came despite an increased need for equipment and devices required to work from home.
Fashion & apparel- Revenues dropped up to 25% during COVID-19 as cautious consumers reduced discretionary spending.
Beauty & cosmetics - A shift in consumer purchasing behaviour from offline to online resulted in a approx. 44% increase in revenues and an approx. 13% jump in transactions.
Jewellery & luxury products - Online revenues and transactions were largely up, catalysed by festivals and gifting seasons during this period.
Children's retail (Child apparel, toys, baby care) - Revenues and transactions were down since the start of COVID-19 as consumers cut discretionary spending but returned to growth one week before and three weeks into the Circuit Breaker.
Games (Live-streaming and online gaming platforms, board and card games) - A surge in revenues observed before the Circuit Breaker was unable to offset the overall decline in revenues compared to the pre-COVID-19 period.
Hobbies & leisure (Collectibles, crafts, outdoors) - We observed a one-off spike in revenues and transactions at the start of the Circuit Breaker as consumers sought out home-based activities.
Travel & Tourism (Airlines, online travel agencies, hotels, car rentals, attractions) - Revenues and transactions were down over 90% during the Circuit Breaker.
Seizing opportunities in time of uncertainty
Although countries like China, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Spain, US and India have begun to ease their lockdowns, fear and caution linger.
As Singapore embarks on a gradual three-phase approach to exit the Circuit Breaker, the effects on consumer behaviour in various industries remain to be seen. Different scenarios could emerge depending on the industry, evolution of the virus and the social response.
The scale of the changes identified in our data suggests a clear shift in Singapore consumers behaviour impacted by COVID-19. There is a strong likelihood that the shift may persist into Phase One of the post-Circuit Breaker period and beyond, as movement restrictions and consumer cautiousness remain.
In the long run, this shift represents significant opportunities. Our analysis based on data collated in this report shows that the opportunity is worth at least half a billion US dollars per annum in Singapore’s digital economy. Companies that accelerate their capabilities to stay relevant to digital consumers will be able to seize opportunities and emerge victorious as we move into a post COVID-19 world.
The re-opening of our economy marks a new beginning for both consumers and businesses alike while we navigate and outmaneuver uncertainty. As organisations reinvent themselves for the Next Normal, here are three “No-Regret” actions they should consider.
Action 1: Accelerate digital transformation and adoption of AI, automation and cloud
The technological infrastructure of many companies has suffered under the weight of the online surge. Organisations must be prepared to redesign their technical infrastructure, processes and systems to withstand future pressures.
Faster adoption of cloud platforms will provide resilience, reliability and the scalability needed to cope with traffic surges and volatility from the increased demand in digital services. Automation must be combined with AI, especially in essential services such as food, supply chains and logistics, to free up time for more complex decision-making. Firms can deploy virtual agents to handle routine customer enquiries, particularly in the finance, travel and tourism sectors which have seen an influx of calls since the outbreak.
Action 2: Gain deeper customer insights and trends
As more consumers go online, they leave larger-than-ever digital footprints like purchase patterns, online interactions and digital content consumption that can be collected and analysed to gain a deeper understanding of their behaviour.
It is more important than ever that organisations harness AI, data and analytics to monitor market trends, needs and sentiments in real-time or near real-time in order to seize opportunities quickly.
For example, organisations can leverage internal data, external data and machine-learning to generate “Zero Moments of Truth” – that point where the customer is at the very beginning of the decision journey – and identify consumer needs more rapidly in order to roll out relevant products and services earlier.
Action 3: Be a responsible business
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies in Singapore have stepped forward to help communities cope. Grocery retailers set up mobile stores to bring essential items closer to selected neighbourhoods, and supermarkets and banks launched priority hours for the elderly and disabled.
Banks provided liquidity relief support and loan moratoriums to small and medium-sized enterprises, while telco companies distributed laptops to lower-income students for home-based learning. More than 280 organisations onboarded onto the SGUnited Traineeships Programme to equip graduates with relevant work experience as the market recovers.
Organisations that take a leadership role in positively contributing to society will become trusted and respected brands in the longer-term. They will ultimately emerge as winners in the eyes of the consumer.