During the week of March 7, I was lucky enough to enjoy a holiday skiing in the French Alps with a group of friends. 

Before we left, I’d managed to unearth two old bottles of hand sanitizer from under the bathroom sink, which I made sure we all used as we went through the airport. And yet, COVID-19 still felt like a distant problem. Certainly not a material threat. 

Upon return to work the following Monday (from the comfort of my home office), it was clear that everything had changed. This holiday would be the clear marker for me between life pre- and post-COVID-19. This photo would be the last normal one I’d capture on my phone. 

My #LastNormalPhoto 

A radically accelerated trend  

We all had our own moment in which we realized that COVID-19 would fundamentally change life as we know it. From how we shop and what we buy, to how we live, work and connect, COVID-19 has forced us not only to adapt to the current circumstances we find ourselves in but also to re-evaluate our attitudes, priorities — even our values.  

As a consumer researcher, exploring the impact this situation has had on every aspect of peoples’ lives has been thought-provoking.  

In my post-holiday, post-COVID life, I have been leading our consumer research programme into the impact of the pandemic, understanding how consumer behavior is changing, what the long-term effects will be, and the implications this has for our clients. 

The title of our first report is conclusive on just how profound the change is: COVID-19 will permanently change consumer behavior. Yet none of the changes we’re observing are new. Instead, they’re an acceleration of underlying trends that have been in motion for some years but have rapidly gathered new momentum as a result of COVID-19. 

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It’s the changes that will outlast this pandemic that are most important to understand.

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Take digital commerce as an example. The sudden surge in digital sales was well documented by the media, taking everyone by surprise and forcing retailers to scramble to meet demand. Even in China, the most digitally advanced market in the world, there was still significant headroom for further growth. Alibaba’s online supermarket, Hema, reported that orders were up 220 percent year-over-year during Chinese New Year when the virus started spreading. In Channel shift: Prioritizing digital commerce, we explore in further detail the actions that companies can take to respond to this change, and sustain these new behaviors. 

Our consumer research provides a richer picture of what is going on behind the sales figures.  

One in five consumers who ordered their last grocery shop online did so for the first time — but for consumers aged 56 years and above, this was one in three. New users have had positive experiences and expect to continue buying online in the future. But, high-frequency (and therefore high-value) consumers are likely to reduce the amount they buy online in the future, reverting to shopping locally instead.  

It’s clear from our research that consumers expect these changes to become embedded in their routines after this pandemic is over. This means companies will need to reconfigure their route to market and channel strategies accordingly to meet their consumers’ new preferences. 

Change becomes a constant 

As humans, we are all grappling with what our ‘new normal’ will look like. My observations of the differing reactions I’ve seen have certainly helped to provide ideas for the research. However, everything we’ve done has been led by the different forms of data we’re looking at, to allow us to properly explore the consumer change happening in differing situations across the globe. Truly meaningful insights only surface when we look at all kinds of data from across the globe, not just one data set. 

In doing so, we have aimed to identify the critical shifts in underlying attitudes, needs and values that reflect a longer-term change in consumer behavior, to help our clients prepare for the future. Whilst understanding what has happened is interesting, it’s the changes that will outlast this pandemic that are most important to understand — a new holistic, multi-dimensional approach to health, increased needs for personal connection, a more mindful approach to consumption, to name a few.  

And as for me, what does my new normal look like? Well, coming back from holiday also coincided with the arrival of our new puppy, Norman. 

I’ll admit to a low level of panic buying in those first few weeks to ensure we had enough cleaning products to be able to handle the mess that has ensued. I will continue to explore how consumers are changing and shape our understanding of the new normal. The beauty of human-centric research is that it’s always evolving. 

This document is intended for general informational purposes only and does not take into account the reader’s specific circumstances, and may not reflect the most current developments. Accenture disclaims, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, any and all liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information in this presentation and for any acts or omissions made based on such information. Accenture does not provide legal, regulatory, audit, or tax advice. Readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel or other licensed professionals.

Emma Blackburn

Research Senior Manager – Consumer Insights

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