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Changing Behavior Accelerates Consumer Embrace of Digital, Health, Sustainability

The acceleration of consumer trends and behavior that was already underway before COVID-19 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.

Although the report is global in nature, the trends will be important for Hungary, too. “Currently, the length of uncertainty brought by COVID-19 is unpredictable both on global and local levels,” says Anita Mekler, partner at PwC Hungary.  

“Consumer markets’ players need to plan with and be prepared for several scenarios. Those who were able to switch their businesses online from one day to the other now have a clear advantage. Consequently, other market players are under intense pressure: they need to find new market channels to survive and invent new communication strategies which work under the changed circumstances to stay close to the consumers,” she told the Budapest Business Journal.

The findings from a brace of surveys taken before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published in PwC’s 11th annual Global Consumer Insights Survey focus on urban consumer purchasing habits and behaviors, and how global disruption has forced the acceleration of a more digital way of life.

Social distancing measures put in place because of the coronavirus have affected consumers in all aspects of life, including how they purchase groceries. Globally, while in-store grocery shopping is the main channel of choice, over a third of consumers (35%) are now buying food online; of those, 86% plan to continue doing so after social distancing measures are removed.

Prior to the pandemic, in-store shopping was still dominant for non-food items, 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 shop more on their mobile phones.

Health and Safety

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 (49%), and healthcare (45%) as being just as important to their quality of life as employment prospects (45%).

Sustainability and a sense of civic duty are also coming to the fore; in survey results taken prior to the pandemic, 45% of 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 consumers were asked who was most responsible for encouraging sustainable behaviors in their city, 20% chose "me, the consumer," while 15% chose "the producer or manufacturer."

Asked about their willingness to share data, 49% of consumers said they were happy to do so 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,” says Steve Barr, global consumer markets leader at PwC US.

Oz Ozturk, global consumer markets advisory leader with 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."

PwC conducted two separate online surveys, the first survey collected responses from 19,098 consumers from 27 countries or territories and 74 cities between August and September 2019. The second survey collected responses from 4,447 consumers from nine countries or territories and 35 cities between April and May 2020. The full report is available at www.pwc.com/consumerinsights