The combination of lockdowns, store closures, home working and other factors changed consumer needs and behaviors overnight. Trends that have been progressing steadily for years have been suddenly accelerated to a degree that no one could have predicted.
One inevitable consequence of lockdowns is that the home has become the heart of the consumer experience. This was a trend we were already seeing, but with the COVID-19 outbreak, it has accelerated.
Consider how consumer goods companies accounted for this reality. It is a reversal of years of growth in out-of-home channels that were typically more profitable; it is a renewal of the art of cooking at home. It is a dramatic change in the social occasions that defined the past decades. Longer-term, careful analysis will be needed to anticipate how many of these new consumer behaviors will stick. Then marketers will need to adapt product portfolios accordingly.
The move to local
How permanent is the shift to home consumption? It looks certain to outlive lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, at least. Accenture research shows that, even as economies start to reopen, many people remain uncomfortable about visiting public places. Brands, retailers, bars and restaurants will need to work together to engage people who are in -- or close to -- home.
One way to do so might be to think small and local. Demand for local goods -- and local brands -- is growing. The research shows more consumers want to shop at neighborhood stores and want to buy more locally sourced produce. Brands can respond to this demand by looking to highlight the local provenance of their products.
“Conscious Consumption” is rising fast up the agenda
We have steadily seen people get more and more concerned about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. COVID-19 has pressed a giant fast-forward button on this trend, as global attention has been focused on the delicate balance of humanity’s relationship with the natural world.
So sustainability will become a dominant conversation over the next decade. Consumers will focus on areas like the provenance of ingredients and raw materials, working practices, the environmental impact of finished products and packaging, and the overall footprint of the whole brand experience.
Let’s not pretend the sustainability story is an easy one to tell. The industry is still working out how best to navigate this process. But we do know it needs to be a two-way dialogue, and an authentic one, if sustainability messages are to hit home with consumers.
Better collaboration between industry players will be an important part of this. Bringing industry players together in more collaborative ways, just as they proved they could do during COVID-19, will be a highly effective way of engaging greater numbers of consumers on sustainability.
A bounce forward, not back
Companies can use this moment of unprecedented disruption as an opportunity to reinvent their businesses for a more uncertain world and a new set of consumer desires and expectations.