Have you adapted to New Normal Customer Behavior?
Not sure what I mean?
Due to the health risks of COVID, people changed their lives quickly and significantly. In turn, their activities and behaviors also adapted to the new reality.
The biggest change caused by COVID:
It forced non-digital users to overcome their fear of using new forms of technology. This includes digital, AI and voice.
As the fall starts, your audience will keep and/or modify some of their COVID behaviors.
Further, customers now expect you to offer omni-channel options to meet their needs.
Translation: Seamless customer delivery have higher costs, at least initially.
For you, the question remains:
Will your audience continue to follow their COVID behavior?
So the key marketing questions you need to answer are:
- Which consumer behaviors will continue over the long-term?
- What will these changes mean for your marketing short-term?
- How will you meet their needs with reduced budget? (Since marketing budgets are easy targets for cost cutting!)
Table of Contents
New Normal Customer Behavior Definition
New normal customer behavior refers to the behaviors, experiences and expectations consumers adopt and keep after COVID quarantines. These changes were shaped by the need for sheltering-in-place and reduced shopping options.
As a result, people spent most or all of their time at home with their families.
The top 5 types of consumer behavior changes due to COVID are:
- Health and wellbeing,
- Online commerce and
- Content consumption (includes communications and entertainment)
What’s missing from these 5 types of consumer behavior?
The lack of social interaction that takes place with face-to-face activity. Zooms and Facetime don’t replace personal interactions.
Because reduced human contact permeated all of these 5 categories.
As a result:
- Mental health issues (along with suicide and domestic abuse) increased
- Non-COVID health issues increased, and
- Alcohol consumption increased.
Also, shoppers changed from in-store shopping to ordering online. Then they had their purchases delivered or picked them up at the store.
So you need to assess your audience to determine what factors apply to your buyers:
- Financial resources. More people feel squeezed due to illness, health costs, and increased unemployment.
- Unreliable information and fake news. Even sophisticated readers can have trouble spotting false news. And it appears outside of social media!
- Improved internet infrastructure. Increased home usage showed the need for improved connectivity across geographic and financial segments. Also people made home improvement purchases.
The New Normal Buying Behavior: The Statistics You Need
An under-publicized point is:
Half of consumers have cut back on spending due to the COVID-related recession.
- 8.4% unemployment rate according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the bright side, this rate decreased from April 2020’s high of 14.7 %. But it’s still about 5 percentage points above the 2008 recession rates.
- 29 million Americans collected some form of unemployment insurance as of August 15, 2020 via NPR. And Congress hasn’t extended these benefits.
Beneath this data, understand:
BUT, you need to look beneath this data:
- What does this mean for your audience’s household spending? While unemployment rates improved due loosening of COVID restrictions and summer employment such as farm workers, it’s not evenly distributed.
- How does this change your demand and offerings? Many companies experienced backlogs due to the change in customer needs and supplier challenges.
Actionable Marketing Tips:
- Reach out to your audience to see how they’re coping. Where possible, reach out with personal emails from employees they know. If they want, talk to them arrange time and listen to what they have to say.
- Collect and assess this audience feedback. Make this a cross-organizational activity to gather input. Then organize and analyze it so you can adjust your marketing.
What New Normal Customer Behavior Means For Healthcare
This includes related non-COVID health issues, the use of digital medicine and in home exercise. people have also increased their alcohol consumption and pursued other options to deal with increased stress.
Until there’s a reliable vaccine for COVID, expect cases and deaths to spike once cold weather sets in. Like the flu shot, the COVID shot will keep illness and death rates to manageable levels. BUT it won’t totally eliminate the problem.
COVID put infectious illnesses and health at the top of American’s concerns.
- 58% of those surveyed worry about infectious diseases.
- 50% care about healthcare more broadly.
This underscores the need in the US for:
- A widely available, FDA approved vaccine (and the related and increased need for flu shots.)
- Wider COVID testing. Along with better tracking and data modeling.
- Broader availability and affordability of healthcare for preventative care and early detection of illnesses. To keep the larger community safe, this requires everyone to have access to these services.
But people still worry:
- 59% of Americans rank being healthy at the top of their list of desires and
- 47% focus on being financially secure.
Further, what wasn’t asked but is part of these concerns:
- Need to take care of everyone with or without health insurance to reduce the spread of the virus.
- Reduced health-related overhead for doctors and patients, often due to insurance. This would save time for everyone involved.
Actionable Marketing Tips for Healthcare Businesses:
- Take advantage of available online methods to improve patient communications, visits, insurance claims and billing.
- Use new technologies such as voice-first options, to provide patients and their relatives with information and compliance. As a result, you save time and improve patient outcomes.
What The New Normal Customer Behavior Means For Finance
One third of Americans have experienced a decline in income, savings and/or spending power in 2020. Financial challenges due to COVID-related hit younger segments harder.
40% of Americans look to save money when purchasing and cite value as their main decision factor.
Further, about half of Americans expect the personal finance impact from COVID to last at least 4+ months and one in five expect it to last over a year! (McKinsey Research – August 2020)
Also COVID hit small businesses, restaurants and travel-related businesses disproportionately. In addition, hair stylists, gyms, bars and theater and other live events were closed for a period of time.
Since they had fixed costs of rent and other utilities but no revenue from customers, they’ve lost sales or gone out of business. Some were crushed by on-going WFH since they depend on people who work nearby.
In some areas like New York City, restaurants have extended onto the sidewalk and into the streets. But they’ve lost their biggest and most profitable source of revenue, the bar. When it gets cold, diners feel safe eating inside even with reduced numbers.
42% of CEOs think the US will have a U-shaped recovery and will last 1 to 2 years (Visual Capitalist). Almost another quarter of CEOs expect a double dip recession so the economy declines a second time.
Actionable Marketing Tips to Minimize Financial Impact of the New Normal
- Find ways to repackage products and services to reduce price and lock in purchases. For example, increase the number of units to show customer savings.
The Impact of Work on The New Normal Customer Behavior
While the changes to work from home reduces commute time and cost, it requires robust internet. People may also require more food, childcare and/or home schooling.
To maintain privacy, people may need home improvements and/or temporary home changes. This affects small businesses dependent on people going to work.
Due to the COVID quarantine, more people are working-from-home (aka: WFH). Among the benefits they cite include:
- 44% like having a flexibility of working schedule and
- 26% like saving on their commute.
Among the companies that profited from this shift were Slack and Zoom.
They don’t consider the additional financial and personal burden of:
- Quality internet connectivity,
- Uninterrupted work time, and
- Quiet work area.
BUT it’s not all work since many do at least one non-work related activity during the week. (Nielen Research August 2020)
Actionable Marketing Tip:
- Capture useful employee input for marketing purposes since it’s already easy-to-record.
Commerce And New Normal Customer Behavior
77% of US consumers tried a new shopping method due to COVID. One out of four bought private label products. This indicates the need to save money. (McKinsey 2020)
Expect Shift to digital and touch-less delivery including curbside pickup and drive-through service. (GWI 2020)
With slow opening of retail and out-of-home food options here’s how US sales changed in August 2020 (NPR):
- 5% increase in restaurant and bar use. Although this may be limited until the weather turns cold and/or people feel safe in indoor environments. Further, cooking at home options remain high while overall eating out-of-home remains low.
- Despite back-to-school, clothing and accessory sales increased about 3%.
- Furniture, home improvement and gardening stores increased about 2%. As people felt safe going out, they wanted to make changes to their homes.
- More people move to the suburbs for more space and a sense of safety. Also decrease in city-based real estate values due to small living space and higher health risks.
- Continued high nesting activities.
- Shift to lower cost, safer vacation options like camping and staycations.
What shoppers continue to do post-COVID (Intelligencenode 2020 Research):
- Half of customers start with a search on Amazon, Google or other forms of search. Amazon acts as a search engine for products as well as shopping social media with its ratings and reviews.
- 94% of shoppers compare prices and use multiple websites at least once before buying.
Actionable Marketing Tips:
- Determine near future marketing by product. Since buyers remain focused on necessities.
- Position offerings to show value and promote tips to improve health.
Amazon Trained New Normal Customer
Amazon offers shoppers detailed product content, product comparisons, and ratings and reviews, it attracts non-Prime customers as their first shopping stop. Also it acts like a shopping search engine as well as a third-party advertising platform.
With its Prime Subscriptions, Amazon has trained customers to expect free shipping and fast delivery or immediate gratification. So its customers check Amazon first or maybe only!
Of course don’t assume price doesn’t count. Because it does!
In addition, if you shop at Whole Foods, you get a Prime Credit Card for the discounts. At the same time it builds Amazon’s database.
Further, Amazon uses data from its third-party sellers to create private label products. Of course, looking at their financial data, it’s difficult to figure out what proportion of their revenues these products are.
So, in the process, Amazon has destroyed the B2C customer journey.
- 6.9% of Amazon revenues from Prime subscriptions or 150 million subscriptions (Verge). In addition to Prime, Amazon offers an array of other subscriptions including video, Kindle books, audio books, IMDB and others.
- 50.4% of revenues from online sales of physical and digital products. (Amazon accounts for 39% of US ecommerce.)
Content, Communications and Data: How Customer Behavior Changed
With extra time at home and more family togetherness, many people turned to social media time, streaming entertainment, free television, audio content and online games.
Since many people focused on negative news especially on social media, it was dubbed “doomscrolling.” Unfortunately, this reinforced people’s negative feelings and sense of lost time.
While many streaming services, most notably NetFlix and Disney+, gained a significant number of new subscribers. The amount of free TV also increased.
Also online education increased for students and adults. Unlike in-person classes, more self-discipline is needed to attend and do the work. Further, many parents found systems their children needed to be not so user-friendly.
Actionable Marketing Tip:
- Re-imagine existing content into “explainer” content. To keep new digital users, test changing email to stand out in inboxes and entertain recipients.
- Assess how your audience feels about changes in social media.
New Normal Customer Behavior Conclusion
After the major period of COVID quarantine, people have changed their behavior. In turn this has had an impact on their purchasing.
People continue to focus on their health followed by financial concerns.
In terms of health, there’s no clear trend for the future given the lack of reliable data so far. And people expect financial trends to bring even more pain.
BUT for how long remains unclear. This state of uncertainty makes people feel anxious.
As a result:
Expect buyer behavior to continue to be based on need with a focus on price sensitivity and safe purchase options. So, online ordering and home delivery or pickup at stores will continue.
YET: Age and location have a big impact on how well people are doing.
So use direct communications to engage your audience. Then determine how to communicate and market to them based on their needs, wants and expectations.
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October 10-13th, 2022 in Arlington, VA.
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Photo Credit: Heidi Cohen.