15 Sep 2020

EY Malta’s Future Consumer Survey shows how Covid-19 has altered local consumer spending behaviour

By

EY Malta

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

15 Sep 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way most of us live and interact with each other and it also had an impact on consumption behaviour and patterns. The impact so far is examined in EY’s first edition of the Malta Future Consumer Survey

Positively, although spending has decreased as a result of the pandemic, going forward the expectation is that people would revert to their previous consumption patterns. Consumers also expect technology to play a greater role in addressing their safety concerns and improve their overall customer journey. However, there remain high levels of anxiety for non-essential activities, which are expected to persist for a prolonged period until a return to normality.

Ronald Attard, EY Malta Country Managing Partner, said: “While some results may not come as a surprise, such as initial decreases in spending for non-essential items and increases for essential items, others provide Maltese businesses clearer indications of the behavioural changes that have been accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisations will need to transform their businesses to engage more effectively with the virtual customer seeking limited proximity. Pricing models, product portfolios, precision marketing campaigns and operational considerations around footprint will need to assessed with a different mindset altogether.”

Behavioural Changes

Current spending decreased for discretionary items and increased for non-discretionary items

As expected, there has been a significant decrease in current spending across various categories of discretionary items including vacations, clothing, sporting equipment, luxury items and out of home entertainment. On the other hand, increased spending has been registered for non-discretionary categories such as food items, groceries and household products. The extent of spending cuts was more pronounced for the segment of respondents (19%) who have a negative financial outlook over the next 12 months.

Spending by category is expected to return to normal Post-Covid-19

The forward-looking expectation of respondents is that, to a limited extent, there will be increased spending on vacations, mainly driven by people up to 40 years old, and respondents with a positive financial outlook, clothing and out of home entertainment. However, the general perception is that there will be a return to pre-Covid-19 levels of spending across all categories in the future once the pandemic is over. Affordability remains a concern though, with 67% of respondents indicating they will be cautious about their spending and 45% saying they will postpone major purchases.

No indication that previously purchased products and services will change in the long-term but younger respondents will purchase fewer physical items

There has been no material indication that respondents would permanently change the composition of products and services they purchase in the future. However, a significant segment of respondents has indicated several behaviours that may permanently change post Covid-19. The perceived extent of these changes is significantly more pronounced among the younger generation, and more generally, respondents up to 40 years old. 18% of respondents said they will own fewer physical items, suggesting that a segment of society may attach more importance towards 'experiences’.

Consumer concerns

Most are comfortable to conduct essential activities, but businesses must pay attention to high anxiety levels for non-essential activities

Most respondents across all age groups are generally comfortable to carry out essential activities connected with the acquisition of essential food items, personal care and work. Levels of anxiety increase across other non-essential activities such as shopping, going to restaurants, bars and pubs. More significant anxiety levels are perceived in activities involving schooling for children, vacations, and using public transport. This perception is stronger among people over 40 years old and health concerns remain high. Businesses need to create the right ecosystem to mitigate customers' anxiety levels and concerns.

Prolonged period expected until things go back to normal

Most respondents perceive a protracted period until various daily activities can return to normal, including aspects related to the return to personal financial stability where 45% of respondents expect challenges to take beyond several months to stabilise. Increasing levels of anxiety are noted in the time expected to return to normal for other important retail activities, including shopping, communication, and going to restaurants. Activities linked to leisure and travel attract the highest levels of concern.

Sectoral considerations

Technology will be instrumental in supporting various new realities

Technology is a major influencer of these changes, which suggest that businesses will need to transform their organisations towards more digitalised solutions and seek to accelerate this process in order to compete effectively in the future.

Restaurants

Consumer preferences on how we eat out and the types of restaurants sought are changing. Social distancing and contactless payments are of paramount importance. The trends suggest a closer affinity towards local, independent restaurants compared to other restaurant categories. Buffet-style restaurants seem to be the least attractive among respondents, which may be connected to adverse perceptions relating to sanitisation risks that were brought to the forefront due to Covid-19.

  • 88% expect digital ordering and cashless payment
  • 21% of respondents suggest that the frequency of eating out may increase

Work

Increasing trends towards technology for flexible work conditions are highly indicative of potential pressures on future demand of commercial properties and office space. Sanitisation at the place of work is seen as a significant element in the future of the workplace.

  • 54% expect work from home solutions
  • 49% expect VC for external meetings
  • 35% expect online training from their organisations

Shopping

Potential threats to demand emerge as a significant number of people (67%) indicated increasing caution towards levels of spending, and 45% are willing to postpone big-ticket items. Retailers will need to align their pricing and promotion strategies effectively in order to address these pressures.

Majority of respondents would switch to online shopping, while one-third would purchase durables online. Retailers need to remain cognisant of the growing interest in contactless delivery and payment systems which have been highlighted by respondents.

  • 54% will switch to online shopping, increasing to 78% for people up to 40 years old;
  • 53% expect contactless payment and deliveries

Banking

There is a growing trend towards digital and remote banking platforms which are broadly unrelated to the age profile of the respondent.

  • 62% will switch to telephone and internet banking
  • 41% will not visit physical branches
  • 21% will seek digital banking services

Travel

There is a significantly negative outlook towards the future demand for travel. These trends are even more pronounced in respondents between 19 and 40 years of age. While these patterns may have limited direct impact on the local hotel sector, around 30% of the respondents would switch to domestic tourism. This may create certain opportunities for hospitality sector players to tap into this segment effectively. The local public transport sector also needs to win back the comfort of several passengers as one-third indicated needing months or years to feel comfortable and a sizeable amount (17%) said they may never feel comfortable again.    

  • 52% expect to take fewer flights
  • 49% would be less likely to go on an international vacation
  • 30% would switch to domestic tourism
  • 17% will never feel comfortable on public transport

The Consumer Survey will be further explored during EY’s Malta Future Realised Week (20 – 23 Oct)

The Malta Future Consumer Survey was carried out in the first week of August 2020 with a stratified random sample. The survey will be conducted periodically to capture changes in consumption.

The survey will be further explored during EY’s Future Realised Week in October. To find out more about the virtual event, which includes several international and local speakers analysing Malta’s FDI and business landscape for Covid-19 and beyond, visit: Future Realised Week

To register for the event, send an email to events@mt.ey.com with your details. 

Summary

Although spending has decreased as a result of the pandemic, going forward the expectation is that people would revert to their previous consumption patterns. Consumers also expect technology to play a greater role in addressing their safety concerns and improve their overall customer journey. However, there remain high levels of anxiety for non-essential activities, which are expected to persist for a prolonged period until a return to normality.

About this article

By

EY Malta

Multidisciplinary professional services organization