Earlier this year, my newly enlarged family and I moved from two apartments to a house just outside Stockholm. The pandemic did not drive our decision, but it was really nice to have more space as we all worked and occasionally did school from home during the spring; and spent more time at home rather than going out. A bigger place to live also means you need new furniture and stuff.
But we wanted to be very careful when buying, only getting items we really needed and wanted. With all the enhanced online offerings and flexible delivery options, it was an easy decision to buy online rather than wandering around in unfamiliar stores in our new neighborhood.
During this time I was working as a researcher on Life Reimagined: mapping the motivations that matter for today’s consumers. I noticed that I’ve gone through a similar process as many of the 25,000-plus consumers we heard from for our report. Although Sweden wasn’t ever in a hard lockdown, I recognized that some of my consumer behaviors were similar to others.
We all had very personal experiences during the pandemic — everybody has their own story. The actual virus has heavily impacted some; for others it’s the restrictions in society to control the virus that have hit the hardest. It was truly fascinating to watch consumers explain just how different their lives have been over the past 1.5 years and to note shifts in the way they think about their relations, exercise and homes.
Some common traits emerged, regardless of where people live and what their lives looked like before it all started. Below are three questions to ask to see how well your business is tracking with recent changes in consumer values.
Have your customers’ values shifted?
The consumers we researched said they started to put a much higher value on the time spent together with near and dear ones. In lockdown, they rediscovered old hobbies (such as puzzles and board games) and found new ways to connect online in meaningful ways.
It’s been a time for many people to reset expectations and appreciate things in life they didn’t have time to think about or have taken for granted before. The consumers who’ve completely revised their personal purpose — the Reimagined Consumers — said they expect companies to understand and address their new needs and priorities.
The consumers who’ve completely revised their personal purpose — the Reimagined Consumers — said they expect companies to understand and address their new needs and priorities.
So, companies need to ask themselves if they really know the best time and place to connect with their customers; how their customers are thinking about their products and services these days; and how messages resonate with their customers’ new interests and priorities.
For example, do their customers currently spend more time and money on gardening, or cooking, or board games? Are they taking an evening walk in the neighborhood or setting new exercise targets? Are they still worried about going out to public places, or did they ever even feel this way? All these activities and thoughts came through very strongly in our research.
Are people more conscious consumers now?
In our online focus groups, some consumers told us they think more before buying something now, asking themselves, “Do I really need it?” The reason might be poorer financial status as many people lost their jobs or saw their income drop.
But that’s not the only reason.
During the pandemic, many consumers realized they’re not happier accumulating more stuff. We saw variations on the theme of becoming less materialistic, thinking before spending, and considering health and the planet before buying. And another group may have increasing concerns about the environmental impact of buying. We heard things like, I’m “being more environmentally conscious and trying to recycle more.”
What does this mean for companies? They need to get better at ensuring there is value for consumers in their products and services, again meeting evolving consumer preferences. What is increasingly valuable to consumers is to know that their favorite products are also sustainable.
The circular economy examples are growing, from refurbished electronic devices offered by so many companies now, to clothing rental services (not just party clothes), and furniture as a service (or refurbished furniture, like the chairs I bought in IKEA’s second-hand store this summer).
What does the future hold?
Finally, consumers across the world have taken online shopping and flexible deliveries to heart. Because it makes so much sense from a health perspective (minimizing exposure to COVID-19), from a time perspective (shopping when it suits you, not when the shop decided to open), and from a convenience perspective (products delivered in a way that suits you).
But does it mean physical shops should all close down? Consumers told us they still appreciate the in-store experience. Many people — particularly in some countries in southern Europe — long for the social element of meeting shop assistants and other customers while shopping. But some of the benefits of shopping online will also be expected in physical shops in the future. Waiting in line to pay feels very old-school or not getting the complete overview of the product range in a category. So, the way forward will be a mix of online and offline, not limiting purchases to just one channel but making them accessible across both digital and physical worlds.
This pause in daily routines forced upon us by the pandemic gave many people the chance to stop and think. And I believe some of these changes will remain, particularly when it comes to consumers, simply because they have made many people feel better.