8 Apr 2021

Perspectives from EY Malta’s Future Consumer Survey: Insights into consumer perceptions during the vaccination rollout

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Gilbert Guillaumier

EY Malta, Strategy and Transactions, Associate Partner

Associate Partner in Strategy and Transactions and leads Transaction Support and Infrastructure Services. Enthusiastic guitar player and proud father of three.

As Covid-19 continues to have a transformative impact on the lives of consumers, over the past few months we saw the ramping up and rollout of vaccines across several nations – hopefully an important step closer to the end of the post-pandemic era.

Our previous edition of the EY Future Consumer Survey was completed in November 2020 ahead of a critical period for retailers and businesses. The indications at the time were that, while there was a deterioration in general anxiety levels to carry out a number of activities, consumers were generally more positive towards their personal financial outlook and spending abilities. Consumption shifts persisted in favour of home improvements, personal care, delivery and subscription services.

What has changed in terms of local consumer behaviour and spending patterns since November 2020? Our third survey cycle completed in April 2021 finds that consumers are increasingly yearning for an improvement in their lifestyle. The number of people who would forgo an international vacation is at its lowest since we have been running the survey (33% in April 2021 compared to 47% in November 2020). The number of people who say they will work from home more often has reduced to 35% of respondents compared to 51% in November 2020, while 60% of people plan to eat out more frequently now compared to 39% in November 2020.

It is encouraging to note that 59% of respondents have a significant level of trust in healthcare providers – crucial for the broader success of the vaccination programme. At the same time, despite the increasing number of vaccinations that are being administered, we note that consumers today are significantly more anxious and concerned than at any point during our previous survey cycles.

How long will it take you to feel comfortable doing the following?

The pandemic is deeply impacting how people feel about their lives as 20% of people say that their values and perception of life has changed. 16% also say that their focus on value for money in the future will change. The longer-term financial perception seems to be relatively positive as only 4% of respondents are concerned about their employment status beyond the next 12 months and 8% believe they will be worse off financially in the next year (12% in November 2020).

The current perspective among respondents remains that the pandemic will keep impacting our lives for some time depending on the type of activity.

How quickly do you think the following will return to the way they were before COVID-19 once the pandemic is over?

As expected, the administration of vaccines has a direct impact on how and when people will feel comfortable going forward. There is a mixed dispersion in terms of the personal view of how vaccines will make consumers feel that Covid-19 will stop impacting their lives radically.

COVID-19 will stop impacting my life when…

How can businessses adjust for the future consumer?

Business models will need to change and adapt as new trends and behaviours keep manifesting themselves. Here are some key actions that businesses can consider to adjust for the demands of the future consumer:

1.      Redesign your business around how people live, not what consumers buy

While the boom in at-home consumption is unlikely to last, other consumer changes will only accelerate. It is also worth noting that subdued consumer spending may persist for some time as 70% of respondents say they will be cautious about their spending compared to 57% in November 2020.

Businesses need to remain ahead of the curve and make sure that their businesses have adequate capabilities to make the right use of data and information. Businesses need to become listening organisations, and leverage analytics tools to manage data repositories that provide important insights for each consumer served. A listening organisation has the agility to meet constantly changing consumer needs and can adapt products and services for segments it wants to engage.

2.      Compete for shoppers wherever and whenever they are

We see that 45% of respondents plan to switch to online shopping in the future and 32% will use online channels for the purchase of durable goods and products. The digitisation of customer journeys and business processes will be key to  establish a market share in this trend.

It is also key for businesses to understand how their online presence can be improved. Our survey notes a number of factors that customers find frustrating during their online experience – which could be addressed more effectively by local organisations.

Most frustrating factors during online shopping

3.      Look at your operating model from a different perspective

Many businesses have experimented with outsourcing and partnering during the pandemic, often as an agile response to supply-chain disruption. This should continue and accelerate, as it’s the only way to meet changing consumer expectations with the speed and efficiency the future demands, without taking on excessive risk. This is the “‘asset right” model that will give you the ideal blend of in-house, outsourced or partnered capabilities.

Additionally, companies need to look beyond siloed profit measures and at the wider impact on their business. For example, consumers have embraced home delivery, but they don’t like paying for it. We have seen that this is one of the key frustrations with online shopping. Given the rapid growth of e-commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, the business case for re-evaluating your e-commerce model to create profitable cost to serve has never been more important. The fact that most consumers are willing to share personal data makes the e-commerce business case even stronger.

Our survey keeps highlighting the importance that technology will have on current and future consumers as 29% of respondents say that the way they use technology will change over the long-term – the highest proportion we have tracked locally.

Methodology

The Malta Future Consumer Survey was carried out between March and April 2021 across a stratified random sample of 1,033 participants. The survey will be conducted periodically to capture changes in consumption and consumer behaviour.