By Caroline McGrath

As we plan ahead for a post-pandemic world and we pivot from crisis to recovery, it is clear that lockdown has had a profound impact on consumer behaviours spanning how we live, work, shop, learn and spend our downtime.

The pandemic has resulted in permanent shifts in consumer preferences and buying behaviour. We’ve all moved to a new way of living, working and socialising – from Zoom get-togethers, to Netflix bingeing, wellbeing and online exercise classes. Online searches for hot tubs, firepits and pizza ovens reached record levels as staying in became the new going out.

Learning has been transformed – The Media Shop’s client, the University of Stirling, has seen an increase of almost 200 per cent in attendees to virtual open days, compared with on-campus events – many from prospective European Union and international students.

Online food and household category sales have also grown by 20% in the UK and there are indications that this consumer trend is set to continue. As the world continues to battle both the Covid-19 pandemic and economic woes, discretionary spend on travel and new cars has unsurprisingly dropped, while the self-care and health sectors have rocketed, with consumers filling their online baskets with supplements and at-home beauty products.

For brands, there are challenges ahead. Price sensitivity and value remain key drivers for consumers. However, in times of trouble, trust becomes more important and a brand’s purpose is now more influential than ever with consumers responding positively to value-driven brands. For marketers, this means rethinking how we connect with consumers and, importantly, backing bold value statements with real action.

As we start to see a flicker of optimism as vaccines become a reality, brands and organisations that succeed in a Covid-19 altered market will be those that embrace e-commerce and digital marketing. At-home consumption and products and services that help us look after ourselves and entertain our families will continue to feature strongly as we re-emerge into the world with caution.

The Media Shop’s client, Montane, has tapped into the trend for outdoors exercise with their “Build Strong Bonds” campaign that uses data science, with real-world digital mobile behaviour to connect with people through their recreational apps, via outdoor hotspots. Such innovation is likely to continue as we consider the role of direct-to-consumer (D2C) e-commerce channels in connecting with consumers.

There have been some surprising brand partnerships that have demonstrated real innovation. CalMac for example, unable to promote ferry journeys due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, sought new ways to remain connected with consumers by developing a range of initiatives throughout 2020 such as their popular “Bringing Islands to you” video diaries. Another partnership to support the launch of new CalMac merchandise included a partnership with the new social enterprise, an online marketplace where Scottish island artisan businesses can sell their products. This not only aligns well with the launch of new CalMac merchandise as a revenue stream but also supports island communities.

With the festive season upon us, we are being encouraged to be “jolly” but also “jolly careful”. What is clear is that it will not be a festive season like any other. A recent UK Piplsay survey found that 39% of people are planning to spend considerably less this Christmas so it is more important than ever that retailers and brands are effective in persuading cash-strapped consumers to add them to their shopping list.

Brands have been tackling the Christmas messages very differently this year. “Give a little love” from John Lewis places this brand in the consumer’s heart, whilst Amazon’s “Show must go on” ad, with the solitary ballerina performing for her neighbours, reflects the sentiment that the UK needs to get through this together.

Humour also shines through – Tesco’s ‘No naughty list’, with consumer confessions of bulk-buying toilet roll; the TK Maxx skating goat in her new designer outfit present – well she deserved it after the year she has had!

UK shoppers have become more “channel-agnostic”, which brands need to understand in order to be present at all touchpoints of the consumer journey. With more than half of shoppers planning to do more online purchases this year, the convenience of online research as a shop window, using platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, will be key. Convenience, home delivery and availability will also be crucial in the online shopping experience.

Looking back at 2020, whilst consumer confidence and ad spend declined, in-home media consumption grew. Beyond Covid-19, what appears to be certain is that consumer habits and behaviours have changed for good and therein lies the challenge. Understanding consumer behaviour and planning for uncertainty will be difficult as the world remains in a state of flux. However, brands need to remain agile and adapt their messaging to ensure sensitivity to the new realities, use digital to stay engaged with customers on a real-time basis, use feedback loops to capture data, and ultimately remain relevant to consumers in order to succeed.

Caroline McGrath is managing director of The Media Shop Scotland