With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to play out around the world, business leaders are trying to anticipate what will come next. How will the attitudes and behaviors that consumers have adopted in lockdown change, as their freedom is slowly restored? The most significant development we’re tracking globally is the emergence of what we call the “Anxious Consumer.”
To understand the new consumers COVID-19 is shaping, we’ve widened the scope of this edition of the EY Future Consumer Index to include consumers in China. China was the first country to quarantine large parts of its population and was the first to start relaxing those restrictions. What can the way its consumers are returning to their old lives tell us about how consumers globally might change as their freedoms are restored?
Of course, China is a country like no other, with its unique economic and political system. We need to be careful when drawing comparisons with the rest of the world. And every country is at risk of further waves of infection, deep recession, and uncertain recovery. Those caveats aside, we think there are new consumer attitudes and behaviors emerging in the country that are useful indicators for other organizations.
Is the caution we all feel here to stay?
In lockdown, people around the world have been worrying about how the pandemic will change the way they live their lives. By looking closely at China’s emergence from lockdown, we can get a perspective on how the pervasive sense of caution might persist or evolve in other countries, as they remove or ease their restrictions.
Our Index suggests that as Chinese consumers are able to return to “normal life,” many remain deeply concerned about picking up where they left off. If we see this trend repeat in a significant way across other markets, organizations around the world will have to adapt to serve a far more worried and cautious consumer. When people make decisions about what they buy and how they spend their time, risk will be front of mind.
Out of lockdown, but not out of the woods
The Index suggests that, compared to consumers in the rest of the world, those in China are feeling more optimistic about some areas of life. They are twice as likely to expect an economic recovery within the next 12 months, and almost twice as likely to say they are confident about the future.
However, while lockdown is largely over for them — unless we see further waves of pandemic — they don’t feel out of the woods. Consumers in China remain deeply concerned — and almost as concerned as consumers globally — about the impact of the crisis on issues like the health of their family and their freedom to enjoy life. Forty-eight percent strongly agree that the way they live will significantly change in the long-term as a result of the outbreak; 49% strongly agree that their values and the way they look at life have changed.