As Americans settle into new routines, how can retailers and brands prepare for what they can’t predict?
Despite the expectation of a second wave of COVID-19 in the coming months, Americans seem to finally be settling into a new routine. The burning question now is: what will consumers think, feel and do when the pandemic is behind us? And how urgent is it for retailers and brands to move past responding to current pandemic reactions and onto addressing the lasting transformation of the consumer as we know it?
Consumers have certainly changed in a short amount of time. They’ve learned new ways to shop, taken a hard look at what they buy, grown accustomed to life from home and leaned into an entirely new mindset around safety. And as uncertainty persists, there could be more fundamental changes to come, but organizations can’t wait for certainty to adapt.
That’s why the third edition of the EY Future Consumer Index (the Index) focuses not only on the now and next, but also on the world beyond COVID-19. If we can begin to define who the future US consumer will be, companies can start to build the agility they need to face a second wave, a shift away from urbanization or any other major changes that might still be ahead.
One thing is certain — there is no going back to “the way things were” pre-pandemic, and only those organizations that strive to go beyond business as usual and become better will succeed no matter what tomorrow brings.
New priorities for a new now
We know that we can’t put 100% stock in people accurately predicting what they’ll do in the future, but over the course of the past three months, we sought to connect intent to actual behavior to determine what’s going to stick and how companies must respond.
The first edition of the Index uncovered four distinct segments that define consumers’ in-the-moment reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic and the five segments we can anticipate just after. The second edition mapped those same consumers as they relaxed into their shelter-in-place orders and adjusted to life during a global pandemic.
Over time, we saw fewer consumers defaulting to the more extreme reactions of excess cutting or spending. That same pattern of behavior is true this month — and much more pronounced.
As all states are in some form of lifting restrictions, we see even more movement toward stability. In our segments that describe how consumers are responding now, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in current behavior toward comfort and increased spending across the board. In fact, the “stay calm, carry on” segment overtook all others to become the largest by a considerable margin and “hibernate and spend” also saw a jump.
Similarly, as consumers assess their behaviors just after the pandemic, the “get to normal” segment increased nearly 20% to encompass almost half (48%) of respondents, much higher than any of the other four “next” segments.