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COVID-19 CONSUMER BEHAVIORS THAT WILL STICK AND WHY

COVID-19 CONSUMER BEHAVIORS THAT WILL STICK AND WHY

By Jill Colley, CMO | September 28, 2020

2020. Is it over yet? Nope. There’s another crucial quarter ahead. With no vaccine (yet) COVID-19 has forced us to change our behaviors as the best protection against the virus. These behavior changes have impacted everything from how we work to how we buy. Some of these behaviors are likely to stick around. A 2009 behavioral study found that it can take anywhere from 18-254 days to change a habit, though the average rate of behavioral change falls around 66 days.

We’re well beyond 66 days of pandemic living and many of our once novel living adjustments are now woven into our daily lives and decision-making. We've noticed three areas where people are growing more comfortable in the behaviors and the environmental changes that were initially forced upon them. The reality is that even after a vaccine, some of these behaviors will stick. Why? Because of the emotional rewards they yield.

#1 HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Our homes have been doing some serious multitasking under COVID. Home is our refuge. It is our office, and for many, our schools. When it is safe to return to workplaces and schools we’ll do so, but the function of home as a refuge has gained renewed power. Our homes are serving up generous doses of emotional rewards. These rewards were hard-fought and we won’t give them up easily.

For example, take home cooking. A New York Times article cited a 600% jump in the sale of yeast! The article also notes an increase in ‘complex’ cooking. It’s largely because we have more time. More time to try tricky recipes and more time to devote to old school cooking processes. Jokes about sourdough-starter aside, millions of people have discovered or rediscovered the pleasures of a new recipe challenge.

Others have signed up for meal-kit services for meals that are faster and easier to prepare but still deliver the emotional boost of a home-crafted meal. It doesn’t matter that dinner is derived from a box. It was made at home. There are economical rewards to home cooking. But home cooking is also emotionally rewarding. For the cook who can feed and nurture, and for the meal recipients who feel nurtured and valued. Studies have shown that frequent family meals improve both physical and emotional health in children. And for the home chef, cooking can be a creative outlet or a connection to their heritage.

Other DIY activities like gardening, crafting, and home improvement have also revved-up under COVID. The initial impetus may have been boredom. But for many, the emotional rewards of these quotidian outlets will stick. Growing, creating, building, harvesting. Post-COVID, many of us will return to daily commutes and routines beyond the walls of our home. We won’t have the same amount of time to lovingly tend to a vegetable garden. But the desire for these emotional rewards will stick.

What does this mean for brands and companies?

You don’t have to be in the meal-kit business to deliver on the benefits of nurturing, connection, and creativity. When your customers start returning to pre-COVID routines, consider how your brand and products can deliver on these needs. How can your messaging and customer experience encourage nurturing, creativity, and the empowerment that comes from a “low and slow” lifestyle?

#2 MAKING HOUSE CALLS

In the early days of the pandemic, healthcare providers and regulators were scrambling to reinvent a healthcare system built upon face-to-face consultations. Pre-COVID, telehealth was rare. US Medicare would not even cover a telehealth visit unless the doctor was actually taking the call from their office. This stipulation was temporarily suspended so doctors could work from home while safely consulting with their patients. According to MedPage, in February of 2020, only 0.1% of Medicare primary visits were online. By April that number was 43.5%. Telehealth visits have leveled off over the past months, as doctors have resumed seeing their patients in person. However office visits have not returned to pre-COVID levels, and it is unlikely that they will.

MedPage cites an HHS report that anticipates 21% of post-pandemic doctor visits will be done remotely. There are obvious practical benefits of ease and convenience. Patients save on time spent in the waiting room and traveling to and from appointments. Televisits make scheduling an appointment easier as we may be able to squeeze a Zoom call into our day much more easily. For physicians, it may be easier to stay on schedule with their online consultations.

From an emotional standpoint, a telehealth appointment can feel more like an old-fashioned house call where the doctor comes to you. It is a subtle but significant change in the doctor-patient dynamic. It eliminates the time spent waiting, and potentially becoming annoyed, by other patients coming and going in and out of waiting rooms. It eliminates the check-in and check-out process. A Zoom appointment from the comfort of your home or your office can make the interaction feel more care-based than transactional.

What does this mean for brands and companies?

The emotional reward of feeling cared for and catered to transcends medicine. Of course, there are many services that can’t be performed virtually. You can’t get a tele-haircut. But in fields such as healthcare, financial, and professional services, we can see that virtual interactions can feed our emotional centers. How can you deliver a care-based, client-focused virtual interaction that transcends the transactional?

#3 THE FREEDOM OF LIMITED CHOICE

Remember the great toilet paper run of 2020? Fear of supply chain disruptions (most of which did not happen) led to panic buying of staples like flour and pasta. Then grocery stores started enacting crowd reducing measures. These included limiting hours and/or limiting the number of shoppers allowed in stores at a given time. These also included curbside pickup and delivery options. Many of these practices are still in place.

COVID measures that restrict our ability to browse the aisles have turned millions of us into planners. We’re not making quick stops at the store after work. We’re not perusing the snack aisle to discover the latest Oreo flavor. We may make an occasional Costco run, but we’re not milling around end caps sampling cauliflower crust pizza. Instead, we are placing orders, making lists, and sticking to them. We are still stocking up, but not out of fear of scarcity. We are stocking up on products we think we need, which often means sticking to what we know. In doing so, we are limiting our exposure to new brands and products.

What is the emotional reward of limited choice? Behavioral psychologist Barry Schwartz has dubbed this the “Paradox of Choice,” the idea that more choices lead to psychological stress. An abundance of choice can trigger us to focus on the trade-offs we are making and the opportunities lost, rather than taking pleasure in the choices we actually make. Of course, this doesn’t mean the solution is no choice at all. Rather, Schwartz argues there’s a choice ‘sweet spot,’ a point where the number of choices is just enough for us to exercise our discerning powers, but not so much as to overwhelm.

What does this mean for brands and companies?

The idea that consumers are making a habit of limiting their exposure to choices sounds like trouble for new brands, brand extensions, and new SKUs. However, it doesn’t have to be. We like choice. That won’t go away. But we are also more likely to be satisfied with our choices when brands can help us feel like we’ve made a good one. How are you helping your customers curate their choices and create perfect matches for their perceived needs?

Grail Insights loves wrestling with these sticky questions and delivering answers that help you grow your business. Talk to us at hello@grailinsights.com

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