Adopting a digital lifestyle eases sheltering in place

Consumers turn to tech devices to work, learn, play—or just tune out.

While hunkered down at home for the past several months—sometimes working, sometimes studying, most likely multitasking—consumers have become voracious tech and media hounds, seeking information, entertainment and solace online as never before. That was the main finding of a July 2020 PwC survey of 1,000 US consumers, aged 18 to 64, who have access to the internet.

We conducted the survey to determine changes in digital lifestyles in the wake of the pandemic. We also asked consumers about their current tech-related habits and purchasing behavior, as well as their future intent to consume and purchase technology products and services.

Tech usage sees boost amid pandemic

Across the board, consumers are using their tech devices far more than they did before the pandemic, with young consumers aged 18 to 24 leading the way. Avoiding crowds and adopting physical distancing, 18-24 year olds perceive staying home as the safest—maybe the only—option for now. Nearly half of our respondents (47%) are using their smartphones significantly more, while 44% are using their TV significantly more.

Have tech, will shelter in place

Smartphones have staying power

Looking ahead six months, consumers expect they may use their tech devices less—once the social distancing restrictions lift. In light of recent spikes in infection, however, device usage might continue over the medium term. Well over half of the consumers surveyed say they may continue heavy smartphone use, while their use of other devices will likely taper off.

Excessive smartphone use likely to continue

Tech spending remains steady

The vast majority of respondents—78%—are consuming more online services. Spending levels reflect this trend: 74% of consumers are spending as much or more money on technology as they did pre-pandemic, despite economic anxiety.

Leading the way are young consumers, aged 25 to 34. Almost 90% of them are consuming more online services, while 80% are spending as much or more money on technology as they did pre-pandemic.

Heightened tech consumption boosts spending
  Total
Consuming more online services 78%
Spending same or more on tech 74%
  Men Women
Consuming more online services 77% 79%
Spending same or more on tech 77% 71%
  18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64
Consuming more online services 86% 89% 82% 71% 52%
Spending same or more on tech 77% 80% 75% 69% 62%
  Urban Suburban Rural
Consuming more online services 83% 78% 68%
Spending same or more on tech 77% 73% 70%
  Parent Non-parent
Consuming more online services 85% 75%
Spending same or more on tech 74% 74%

Q: Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with the following statement: I am consuming more online services than I have in the past. (Respondents answering strongly agree or somewhat agree.)
Q: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, are you doing more, less or the same of the following activities? Spending money on technology (Respondents answering significantly more, slightly more and about the same.)
Q: Please tell us how much you agree or disagree with the following statement: I consider myself an early adopter of new consumer technology services. (Respondents answering strongly agree and somewhat agree.)

Source: PwC Consumer Intelligence Series digital lifestyle survey, 2020

Staying connected is essential

In total, nearly 33 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits as of June 2020, about five times the peak during the Great Recession. Yet, while a loss of income might lead to the cancellation of certain monthly subscriptions—such as health club memberships (74%), product home-delivery services for household staples (73%), grocery delivery (65%) and music streaming (64%)—more than two-thirds of consumers say they would not cancel their internet or cellular service. These subscriptions are particularly sticky with consumers aged 50 to 64.

Cellular and internet services have staying power

Latinx consumers index higher on certain devices

Since the start of the pandemic, Latinx consumers surveyed are using certain tech devices even more than the average consumer—specifically the television, digital streaming devices, and the tablet. More Latinx consumers surveyed report being employed full-time than consumers overall (56% versus 49%), and 48% have one or more children under age 18 currently residing at home.

Some devices matter more while sheltering

Keep consumers engaged over the long term

Having burrowed even more deeply into their digital lifestyles at a time when physical options are limited, consumers are primed for new tech opportunities. Almost two-thirds of respondents self-identify as early tech adopters, and 78% are consuming more online services since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 74% of respondents say they are spending as much or more money on digitally enabled media, entertainment, and health and lifestyle conveniences as they did pre-pandemic. This is despite the fact that more than 70% say they have inadequate internet bandwidth and speed in their homes. Nor are consumers particularly concerned with digital security; most already have basic security protections in place.

Many of these digital lifestyle habits are likely to carry over into the long term. Consumers say they expect to spend as much or more money on technology should the pandemic dissipate. In fact, 65% said they will buy a new tech device in the next six months.

Tech products and services are now an inherent part of consumers’ digital lifestyles, and they are primed to continue spending on technology—which opens an array of possibilities for tech, media and telecom companies.

The hunger for digitally safe online options runs the gamut from content, such as games and entertainment, to tech-enabled fitness products. Also experiencing a surge in use are digital platforms that offer on-demand delivery and social connection.

Implications for customer strategy:

1. Trends already in play before the pandemic are accelerating at previously unthinkable rates. To stay top of mind with consumers, despite economic anxiety, find ways to continually engage them with innovative new content and device packages that resonate. Think beyond the pandemic.

2. Increased online consumption—likely leading to increased returns as measurement metrics evolve—has implications for infrastructure demand and planning. Invest in the storage and computing infrastructure needed to help support these higher consumption levels, especially as elements of remote work are likely to last well beyond the recovery.

3. Analyze your customer data to determine preferences and behaviors by segment and category. Smart-home security cameras and virtual reality (VR) headsets are more popular with millennials, for example. Keep these preferences in mind as you build out your plans to accommodate the reality of a global pandemic—and a post-pandemic world.

4. While young consumers often lead the way on tech adoption, don’t neglect older consumers, who are often more loyal over the long term—and often have more disposable income. Both cellular (79% versus 68%) and internet service (78% versus 63%) are far more sticky with older consumers than all consumers surveyed.

5. Conversely, continue appealing to young consumers—even those currently not in the workplace—because they will soon reach their prime earning years. Having grown up with technology, their propensity to use it in every aspect of their lives makes them very attractive customers.

Contact us

Gregory Boyer

Gregory Boyer

Technology, Media and Telecommunications Partner, PwC US

Joe T. Palladino

Joe T. Palladino

Partner, Advisory, PwC US

Robert Moline

Robert Moline

Partner, PwC US

Jason Wagner

Jason Wagner

Technology, Media and Telecommunications Partner, PwC US

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