Rapidly changing behaviours in 2020 are accelerating consumer embrace of digital, health, and sustainability trends, says PwC

Ploy Ten Kate Marketing and Communications Director, PwC Thailand

Rapidly changing behaviours in 2020 are accelerating consumer embrace of digital, health, and sustainability trends, says PwC

  • 45% of global consumers say healthcare is one of the top three reasons for living in a city
  • 69% of global consumers are more focused on mental health and well being
  • 43% of global consumer expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact

BANGKOK, 30 July 2020 The acceleration of consumer trends and behaviour that was already underway prior to the COVID-19 outbreak has taken another leap forward and will spark consumer-facing companies and retailers to reinvent the way they do business, according to a new PwC report.

The findings from two surveys taken before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published earlier this month in PwC’s 11th consecutive Global Consumer Insights Survey focus on urban consumer purchasing habits and behaviours, and how global disruption has forced the acceleration of a more digital way of life. Billions of people worldwide live in cities, and this concentration has created a new era in global consumption; cities are the hubs where economic activity happens.

The survey results reveal that the pandemic and the ensuing social distancing measures put in place have led to fundamental changes in how consumers work, eat, communicate, and take care of their health.

Consumers have adapted how they shop

Social distancing measures put in place because of the coronavirus have affected consumers in all aspects of life, including how they purchase groceries. While in-store grocery shopping is the main channel of choice, over a third of consumers (35%) are now buying food online, with 86% of those who shop online planning to continue after social distancing measures are removed. For non-food items, prior to the pandemic in-store shopping was still dominant compared to online shopping with 47% of consumers saying they shopped at brick-and-mortar stores daily or weekly compared to shopping via mobile phones (30%), computers (28%) and smart voice assistants (15%). Since then, online shopping for non-food items has seen a substantial increase (mobile phone 45%; computer 41%; tablet 33%), the trend is especially pronounced in China and the Middle East, with 60% and 58% of respondents respectively saying they’ve started shopping more on their mobile phones.

The importance of connection, community and self-care is clear

Fifty-nine percent of millennials and 57% of those with children are placing a greater focus on their wellbeing than other groups. Focus on self-care has increased, with 51% of urban consumers agreeing or strongly agreeing that they are more focused on taking care of their mental health and wellbeing, physical health and diet as a result of COVID-19.

Urban dwellers surveyed after the outbreak, viewed safety and security, and healthcare just as important to their quality of life as employment prospects, with 49% and 45% of respondents saying so, respectively, compared to 45% for employment.

Consumers and sustainability

Our research showed a clear embrace of sustainability and a sense of civic duty. For example, in survey results taken prior to the pandemic, 45% of our global respondents say they avoid the use of plastic whenever possible, 43% expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact, and 41% expect retailers to eliminate plastic bags and packaging for perishable items. Interestingly, when we asked consumers who were most responsible for encouraging sustainable behaviours in their city, 20% chose “me the consumer,” while 15% chose “the producer or manufacturer.” When we asked consumers about their willingness to share data, 49% said they were willing to share their data if it helped improve their city.

“While certain trends have been on the upswing for quite some time, our research shows that the pandemic has sharpened consumers’ desire for transparency, sustainability and convenience. The companies that will reap the most rewards are the ones that have established trust with the consumer, invested in a seamless and frictionless end-to-end customer purchase journey and prioritized the consumers’ health and safety,” says Steve Barr, Global Consumer Markets Leader, PwC US.

In addition, Oz Ozturk, Global Consumer Markets Advisory Leader, PwC UK said, “In our 11 years of surveying consumers around the globe, we have never documented such a clear convergence of themes around transparency, sustainability, and social consciousness. At such a pivotal moment, the need for consumer-facing companies to establish trust with potential customers could not be any clearer.”

Commenting on the survey results by PwC Global, PwC Thailand’s Consulting Lead Partner Vilaiporn Taweelappontong added:

“The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted Thai consumers to be more digital in just the blink of an eye.”

“Very quickly online shopping has become a lifeline for people during the lockdown. E-commerce sales in this period are expected to double and drive the overall e-commerce market in Thailand to reach more than THB200bn this year. 

“The goods people are buying are also increasingly health-focused, from facial masks and hand sanitiser to organic food and health gadgets. All because the pandemic has made them more cautious about their health and well-being.”

“More Thai consumers are also going cashless. They’re using e-payments not just for the sake of online shopping convenience but also safety, as they could potentially catch the virus from touching cash.

“Shopping malls and supermarkets are adding more digital payment channels as they resume business.  Retailers that focus on online marketing will have to put in place data and cyber security systems to build trust and confidence from customers,” Vilaiporn concluded.

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