With a global health crisis, and a long-term economic crisis accompanying it – needless to say, 2020 was a year like no other. It was also the year digitalization accelerated within government institutions and business sectors alike. A great share of the global population went online and stayed connected at the same time.
In June 2020, our report Keeping consumers connected revealed the extent of the shifts in consumer behavior, and the new digital habits formed at the start of the pandemic. As many as 9 in 10 respondents claimed to have increased their existing online activities, and 1 in 5 had started new online habits such as using e-learning platforms and video conferencing services. Not to mention, the increased need to stay informed about the pandemic, keep up with studies online, and maintain work life remotely, all while staying in touch with family and friends during strict social distancing rules.
As the pandemic progressed throughout 2020, the impact of it influenced several aspects of daily life, including health and wellbeing, economy and future prospects. Our recent research was conducted among an online population across 31 countries, representative of 2.3 billion consumers globally. Let’s take a closer look at the diverse ways in which daily life has been impacted under the pandemic, what changed the most for consumers, and what life could look like in a post-pandemic world.
Societal concerns, emotional wellbeing, and economy
As 2020 came to a close, it became evident that the pandemic and its socio-economic impact had become an ever-present concern for consumers. By December, not only were 55 percent of global consumers concerned about the pandemic, but 50 percent were also concerned about the financial challenges. This included concerns around a recession and unemployment, the financial means to live and pay bills, as well as concerns for living costs and inflation.
Coupled with the economic consequences driven by the pandemic are the many lifestyle adjustments consumers have made resulting from nationwide lockdowns, strict social distancing norms and overall limits to physical mobility. For the first time in modern history, and at a global scale, the natural human experience was set to limits so severe that they were at direct odds with human nature itself. Just as strains on economy, health, and livelihood for consumers across the world continue to the present day, so too does the strain on overall wellbeing continue to be affected by it. Let’s look at how consumers think their emotional wellbeing has changed during the pandemic.
One of the most prominently heightened sentiments for consumers globally is related to worries around health – both personal health and the health and wellbeing of loved ones. Closely linked to this are elevated levels of stress that this unique situation has triggered. But sentiments clearly differ among consumers. This not only depends on local nuances of the handling of the pandemic (i.e. how severely the restrictions have been in the respective countries, and therefore how much this has impacted consumers in turn), but primarily on the financial situation in the household.
If household income was already strained before the pandemic, then the pandemic has more likely aggravated it. Around 45 percent of consumers stated that they had been financially impacted by the pandemic, with 22 percent reporting a financial impact that places them in a struggling position. This equates to half a billion consumers, beyond those still unconnected and unaccounted for in our study across the 31 countries, who are struggling financially.
Consequently, this has led this particular group of consumers (and across the different life stages they represent), to experience a plethora of negative sentiments. This includes increased levels of stress, worries, anxieties, fears, anger, and sadness.
For consumers in a more stable financial situation prior to the pandemic, and who even had thriving finances during the pandemic, sentiments are a mix of both positive and negative. They range from worries and feelings of having aged with the strain, to feelings of gratitude and self-reflection. Gratitude is especially felt by those with a stable economic situation, with the awareness of those who are less fortunate in the similar situation.
There is one particular group of consumers who, financial situation aside, express the widest range of emotional shifts, mainly due to the life stage that they’re in. They are the middle-aged parents who find their concerns doubled: a concern for managing the household economy, a profession, and family life, while also worrying for their elderly parents and relatives.
Despite the global reach of the pandemic, it’s clear that its impact is felt differently by different consumers in society, and for distinctly different reasons.
Read the full report
Read the full ‘Keeping consumers connected’ report and find out how the pandemic is having an impact on consumers’ daily lives.
Influences on life satisfaction
Financial situations can also influence other perspectives on life. In its 2020 Quality of Life in European Cities report the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted that one’s financial status has a substantial impact on overall satisfaction of city life . We would go further to say that generally, financial status is the key driver of life satisfaction, followed by family and living situation.
Family and living situation is not only considered to have the highest impact on life satisfaction, but is also the area in life that consumers express the highest satisfaction. However, satisfaction levels with financial status vary greatly among consumers across the 31 countries, and are more commonly at the lower end of the satisfaction scale. This can be directly linked with the severity of the impact the pandemic has had on both household economies, and the health and wellbeing of consumers in their respective countries. The higher the levels of economic struggles reported by consumers, the more prominent their financial situation appears as a driving factor of satisfaction in life. The smaller the share of financially impacted groups in a country, the more prominent other areas appear as drivers of satisfaction in life.
Financial situations aside, there is one thing consumers have had in common globally, no matter the financial burdens: the need to stay indoors and stay connected. Connectivity has become a key element in daily life, most notably when placed next to a range of other services provided by the city. In fact, when asking consumers what elements of city life has positively added to their life satisfaction, around six in 10 highlighted connectivity in the home. In second place came parks and green areas, and in third place was water and power distribution.
In other words, good connectivity in the home during the pandemic has become so important that its value stands out from all other basic services. This also illustrates how managing daily habits online during the pandemic have been critical for maintaining general wellbeing.
At this point, we might ask: to what extent did life go online? And do consumers expect this to continue even after the pandemic has passed?
What changed the most for consumers
As the world continues the battle against the pandemic, consumers have had to adapt and adjust to restrictions in different waves. For example, government recommendations and guidelines on how to access shared public spaces, or strict curfews and limits on the types of businesses that can accept customers. Therefore, the degree to which consumers have changed their habits differs greatly across the countries in our study. Though diverse in nature, there are similarities among consumers globally. For example, decreased visits to restaurants, cafés, and bars, in-person socializing, overall shopping in physical stores, and a decrease in leisure travel.
The strongest (and perhaps most prolonged) change is the extent to which consumers, both young and old, have moved their studies and work life online. Studies online are the most prominent, as even when adults in the households have not had the possibility to continue their work from the home, students have had to manage studies online. An average of 33 percent of students studied from home on a daily basis before the pandemic. This increased to 54 percent of students studying online during the pandemic.
Awareness around up-skilling has also increased, with approximately an 80 percent increase in users of e-learning platforms. When it comes to purchases, the strongest decline has been in shopping at physical stores. And despite being deemed a critical activity, consumers have minimized the frequency of their grocery shopping during the pandemic. While general online shopping has remained fairly stable over the course of the pandemic, home delivery of groceries has increased instead.
Changes in app usage
When studying the changes in app usage in different categories in 57 countries across the world, (data from Q4 2019 and Q4 2020), we see key shifts in the mobile habits of consumers. By looking at the growth in monthly active users and the growth in time spent, we can appreciate the scale of new online behaviors for communication services, social networking apps, entertainment services, and health and wellness apps.
Here, not only do we see the extent to which work life has gone online, but also the growth in categories such as online dating, education, health and fitness, and shopping. Although we stated earlier that shopping habits (for fashion, décor, technology, and so on) haven’t become more frequent, it’s nevertheless done by a larger share of consumers worldwide as more consumers take up this online habit for the first time.
In other words, significant parts of productivity, overall consumption, and core communication needs have taken place online, have increased in time spent, and are now carried out by many more consumers globally.
What consumers expect of their near future
More than a year into the pandemic, it’s a challenging task to imagine what the future holds. However, it’s fair to ask what habits would we ‘go back’ to, as the world moves towards a post-pandemic future. Life under the pandemic has differed in different countries, and has affected consumers differently within the same country. As a result, the future outlook of consumers differs too. Luckily, there are a few patterns across the countries in our study that give us a glimpse of the expectations consumers have for the future. Let’s have a look at how consumers think their physical activities in the city will change in the future.
Activities related to having rich experiences, such as leisure travel, visits to restaurants and cafés or visiting farmer’s markets are what consumers expect they will return to doing at similar levels before the pandemic started. At the same time, shopping in physical stores is not expected to have the similar attraction as before.
Surprisingly, consumers in the majority of the 31 countries in our study expect a decrease in their in-person socializing as well. In many cases, we see this as a result of the experiences with, and the severity of, the pandemic in these countries (the more severe the number of Covid-19 cases, the more cautious the population).
What seems to have become a new norm for the majority of consumers across the 31 countries is an expectation of a higher online presence. From work life and studies, to up-skilling, entertainment, as well as shopping for items and food, consumers seem to have caught on to the efficiency of managing these somewhat routine tasks online. They therefore expect to maintain these habits to a certain extent even after the pandemic has long passed in their respective countries. Though it may be argued that the expected increase in some online activities seems to be by a day or two per month on average, we should keep in mind that these are exactly that: national averages.
In some consumer groups in the respective markets, the use of e-learning platforms for example, may actually be on par with the high usage levels seen during the pandemic, while in other groups, the expectation is a more modest increase compared to previous, pre-pandemic usage levels. Nevertheless, these micro-changes are indications that millions of consumers expect to increase (or maintain) their new habits around online activities compared to before the pandemic, even after the pandemic has passed in their respective countries.
The extent to which consumers expect to maintain these digital habits also depends greatly on national context. In some countries, we find that frequent online activities are expected to continue beyond the pandemic, such as in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Mexico, while in other countries the reverse is expected, such as in Japan, Russia, China and France.
And for each activity we look to, we see nuances to these expectations between consumers in the same market. For example, UK households expect to increase their frequency of ordering groceries online on average from 2.6 times per month to 3.4 times per months, but the expectation differs for different groups in the society. For young parents, they expect to be ordering groceries online 5.5 times a month, while adults without children expect this to be 1.8 times per months. For both groups, these expectations are a continuation of current habits that have been formed during the pandemic.
In Spain, where consumers expect a decrease in in-person socializing, we see a clear intent across almost all groups in society when it comes to online habits: shopping, health, entertainment, work, studies as well as e-learning are all expected to happen more frequently online for a greater share of the population, from young students to seniors and retirees.
While consumers across the different countries point to differing expectations around their future behaviors, they all point to the same new norm: daily life in the near future is set to become much more digital.
As several countries globally are still battling to maintain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and access to vaccines varies, the mere existence of a vaccine does evoke feelings of hope. There are hopes of being able to attend large family gatherings, to return to work for those who have been restricted to do so fully, and to see normality returning, however different that may look for individual consumers.
For the time being however, consumers are still doing their best to adhere to restrictions, and trying their best at managing daily life by any means they can. As a result, access to the internet has not only provided the opportunity to stay connected with family and friends, but has become the key means of managing numerous aspects of daily life.
From the insights we have uncovered in our study, we can start illustrating a new normal that consumers expect, and perhaps wish for, when it comes to a future beyond the pandemic. The possibilities to travel again, to meet and enjoy the company of friends and family, to be out and about in the city, have dining experiences, cultural experiences and so on. But for all else productivity-related, be it work or studies, household management and personal health matters, online platforms and services seem to be the avenue that more consumers will turn to.
But do consumers see it in a similar way? In our next blog post, we’ll look at how consumers see society changing after the pandemic. We’ll also look at the new role that ICT technologies play in consumers’ daily lives. And as consumers manage more of their household activities online and spend more time connected, we’ll also explore whether this has any influence on their views around privacy and online security.
As we think of a future and our new normal, what will we want to do differently? What would you want to do differently?
Read the full report at: Connectivity in a Covid-19 world.
Read our blog post on the 5G future of work — on the road to a better new normal.
Read our blog post Learning from Covid-19 and why we cannot go back to the future.
Explore more from ConsumerLab – the voice of the consumer.