What consumers need from brands

by Louise Burgers. Consumers around the world share the same concerns and needs under lockdown and in the retail environment, research conducted over the past few weeks by GlobalWebIndex, showed.

by Louise Burgers. Consumers around the world share the same concerns and needs under lockdown and in the retail environment, research conducted over the past few weeks by GlobalWebIndex, showed.

The GlobalWebIndex (GWI) coronavirus multi-market study in 17 countries across the world into the effect of the COVID-19 global pandemic on the consumer and retail landscape found that consumer behaviour in shopping and media consumption has changed dramatically – and may remain changed even after lockdown. Countries surveyed include South Africa; as well as, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US. According to You Know, local GWI affiliate, factors explored were how consumer behaviour is changing in the retail environment; with media consumption; and how attitudes towards advertising are unfolding.

Overall consumer levels of concern continued to rise in their own countries and concern about the global situation outpaced worries about their own countries. The report stated that consumers in almost all markets were more optimistic about their own country overcoming the virus; than they were about the world being able to move past it. The most positive countries were Australia, Canada, China, Germany, New Zealand and Singapore.

When it came to how institutions and organisations were responding, most consumers approved of their response; with over 50% approving of large corporations, the government, social media companies, banks, technology companies, fashion retailers and travel companies. Concerns about how the outbreak would impact finances were growing – but people still expected national and international situations to be worse than their own.

Since the research began in mid-March, there has been a notable increase in the number of consumers expecting the situation to have a “big or dramatic impact” on their personal finances; with the majority feeling this way particularly in India, the Philippines and South Africa. In contrast, large majority in all countries expect the effects of the pandemic – lockdown and the shuttering of economies across the globe – to have a dramatic impact on their country’s own economies. The figure exceeded 90% in Australia, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa and Spain.

Behaviour changes

As far as lifestyle goes while under lockdown, three in four said they were undertaking physical exercise during the outbreak (85%) with 51% choosing workouts at home; followed by 33% walking (in those countries where outdoor exercise is allowed). Two in 10 consumers were running or taking part in live-streamed exercise classes, while about one in 10 were dancing or cycling. There were clear generational gaps too: Gen Z is cycling and dancing; millennials are running; while boomers are couch-surfing. The research follows on from pre-pandemic behaviours where those who were continuing to exercise while under lockdown are those who were already exercising regularly before lockdown.

There has been a dramatic increase in online shopping in all 17 markets surveyed, with almost half reporting that they are doing more online shopping. China, having been the nation to have come through the longest lockdown to date as they began earlier than the rest of the world, is at the forefront of increased online shopping; and where normal bricks-and-mortar infrastructure has not yet reverted to normal status in all parts of the country. Generation also comes into play here, with  millennials saying they have increased online shopping in virtually all categories tracked, especially essentials.

When asked what they want retailers to know, customers prioritised safety and convenience from the essential stores that remain open. Globally, over 50% wanted ways to enter or exit shops as quickly as possible; as well as options to order online; collect from outside the store; and timeslots that customers could pre-book for online shopping. Only a third expected stores to remove non-essential items from their product ranges. All generations wanted safety. Younger generations also wanted convenience, with Gen Z and millennials expecting to order online or collect outside the store, as well as booking timeslots.

Crisis advertising

The research found that seven in 10 consumers approved of coronavirus-focused advertising, but 50% still approved of “normal” advertising: “Globally, about 50% say they approve of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns which aren’t linked to coronavirus; only around 20% express disapproval, with the rest being neutral. However, of the eight brand roles and reactions that we asked about, ‘normal’ advertising is the only one to see disapproval ratings climb toward 20%. Similarly, we see higher approval scores for brands running campaigns which shows how they are responding to coronavirus / helping customers, as well as for contacting customers to let them know how they are responding (both at around 80%),” read the research. “The highest approval ratings of all come for brands providing practical information / tips which help people to deal with the situation – close to 90% support this. Conversely, the lowest scores are seen for ‘normal’ advertising (52%) and brands continuing to sell non-essential products online (60%). It’s an indicator that any ‘business as normal’ activities need to be managed very carefully.”

This is not a time for brands to go dark of course, but to continue marketing and to be sensitive to consumer concerns and the global crisis; and to show empathy more now than ever before.

The entertainment medium of choice during lockdown is television, with two thirds of respondents watching more news coverage; 60% more content on streaming services; and about half are watching more on broadcast television channels. In all 17 markets surveyed, 50% are also spending more time on messaging services, watching videos or spending more time on social media. In fact, 20% of Gen Z are playing esports or creating videos for YouTube or TikTok. It stands to reason that Gen Z are the ones listening to more music streaming services and five times as likely as Boomers to be creating content to upload. As a result of the 95% increase in at home entertainment – obviously as consumers are confined to their homes in most countries, the only exemptions being shopping for essential goods and outdoor exercise activities – smartphone usage is climbing, with three in four globally, reporting that they are spending more time on their smartphones.

Top concerns
Ryan Brunyee.

Consumers fear for their family, friends, healthcare systems and the economy – linked to their financial security obviously, during this pandemic and lockdown: “When we asked consumers to select their top concerns at the moment, the biggest responses were for family / friends catching the virus (46%), their country’s economy (46%), not knowing when this will end (45%) and hospitals not being able to cope with coronavirus cases (40%). Personal financial concerns are important too; a third are worried about having enough money to live on, while three in 10 are concerned about being able to pay the bills. Nevertheless, with far more expressing worries about their national economy, we once again see a tendency here to think the situation will be worse for society collectively, than for the individual,” the report found.

Generational differences were “profound”. Boomers are significantly more concerned than others about hospitals being able to cope, catching the virus, the economy, and knowing when the crisis and lockdown restrictions will end. Gen Z were more concerned about life events such as weddings and exams being cancelled. They were also more likely to express their mental health concerns, worrying about “feeling lonely or cut-off”. They needed support in this area.

Ryan Brunyee, YouKnow GlobalWebIndex product lead, told Retailing Africa that the most significant shift in consumer behaviour that stood out for him was the shift to remote working and embracing of tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts for meetings. “I think it has changed working environments forever. You get your obvious shifts; increase in TV streaming and online gaming and social media use. Online grocery shopping has been around for years; but I am not sure if it was ever really fully embraced. That will change now.”

Brunyee advised brands to note the changing consumer behaviours and trends in the face of the pandemic as some of these behaviours were life-changing and consumers would continue to behave this way after the crisis had passed. “Try to stay ahead of the new normal, market research will play a big part here. We are going to keep asking consumers the right questions to figure out the ‘new normal’. Behaviours will change. Some may never return to gym now that they are working out at home; they may work remotely more often; do more hobbies at home and indoors; save more money for times like these.”

New brand strategies are required for this more vulnerable consumer at this time who is focusing on the most important things in their lives right now: family, friends and health. The crisis around this pandemic is a fast moving target and careful navigation is required to ensure brands leave a positive legacy during this time.



Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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