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How the pandemic has changed our buying behaviours

| Caroline Cleary | 20 June 2022

Looking back to before the start of the pandemic can feel like looking back into ancient history: So much has changed about the way we live, work, socialise and shop.

And with so much having been turned on its head, we cannot rely on the old tried-and-tested approaches, systems, and techniques for achieving our goals.

As the head of marketing at Duncan & Toplis, I’m responsible for the marketing strategy for a company employing more than 400 people, and supporting 12,000 individuals and businesses. We also provide marketing as a service for our clients, helping them to attract new customers and clients.

Clearly, to fulfil our marketing goals, and those of our clients, we can’t carry on as we would have done before the pandemic. We have to identify the short-term, long-lasting, and permanent changes and adapt to suit the ‘new normal’.

To consider the ways people have changed since the start of lockdown, we need to draw on economic, survey, and recruitment data from around the world, which reveals the obvious and not-so-obvious shifts in our culture.

When it comes to working, one of the biggest transformations has been the shift toward remote, flexible, and hybrid working. While the guidance has, until recently, been to work from home if you can, YouGov surveys have shown that 57% of workers would prefer to work from home some, or all, of the time. This compares to 37% who never want to work from home. The scale of this cultural shift is truly transformational, because, before the pandemic, 65% never worked from home at all.

For shopping, e-commerce has surged, but for in-person shopping, people have been making larger, less frequent shopping trips where they’ve opted for retailers that are closer to their own homes. Town centre footfall has reduced but people have been more drawn toward independent retailers and people are now strongly motivated by brand loyalty. Meanwhile, people have increasingly used services such as GP surgeries and pharmacies remotely and this is thought to be a permanent preference for many.

At home, where people now spend much more of their time, there has been a marked shift toward ‘nesting’, with people investing in improving the look, feel, or practicality of their home and spending on home essentials and luxuries. Even traditional home-based hobbies such as gardening and baking have seen a resurgence, while on-demand TV, home cinema, and video gaming have boomed.

An interest in health and hygiene has taken hold, and sales of organic, natural, and fresh produce have grown. However, while many have become home exercise buffs, spending on alcohol has risen, particularly for home delivery and off-licence.

In terms of communications and information; people have shifted even more toward online media, with online news and social media becoming ever more dominant.

In isolation, each of these are interesting changes, but together, they represent a fundamental shift in the way people live their lives: We have switched to a less mobile, more digital, home-oriented lifestyle.

While there will almost certainly be some adjustment back toward the old routines now that the coronavirus restrictions are gone, it’s unlikely to change back in its entirety. It’s thought that this is particularly the case for transitions that were already underway but were accelerated by the pandemic, such as the shift to remote and flexible working, video conferencing, online shopping, digital media, the changing use of the high street, the rise of home entertainment and on-demand services.

With all of these changes, it’s imperative for businesses to respond in kind, because these changes run deep with the internet playing an even greater role in our lives than before. Buyers, whether they’re companies or individuals, are now less inclined to go out to browse or peruse the shops; they have moved to researching and buying online. If consumers do choose to go in-store, they will have likely made their decision before they step through the doors.

This means the pressure is now on for almost all businesses to adopt a digital-first mentality, making themselves and their content as findable as possible and re-plotting their customer journey: The shop window is now the search result, social media post, or targetted advert; the entrance is now the homepage and the demo model is a product video. Meanwhile, news apps have taken over from newspapers and meetings are all on video call by default.

There is little use in resisting or fighting against the tide; it’s a marketer’s job to ride the waves.

However, while much has changed, there are some traditional techniques that have not only endured, but become ever more important. In a digital-first world in which companies compete for attention in a global marketplace, the strength of recommendations and referrals has grown exponentially. The people we work with, trust and respect through relationships we’ve built up over time still play a vital role in helping to guide us. Along with Google, our trusted contacts help us find what we need and this has to be utilised for businesses to thrive in the new era.

As we, hopefully (this time, surely?) emerge from the pandemic and hope it’s for good, we might not notice how much we and our society has changed, but the reality is that it will have changed forever. While there are huge advantages and drawbacks to many of these changes, the greatest danger, for businesses, will be if they fail to notice the transformation and fail to adapt in time.

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