A few months ago—pre-COVID19—we highlighted three trends that we felt could have the biggest impact on consumer behavior and spending in 2020. Although the Coronavirus pandemic has since won that distinction, we wanted to revisit these trends—sustainability, Gen Z, and qualitative research—to examine how they are faring in the pandemic.
Earlier this year, we expected sustainability to be a theme for brands’ success. Amid the Coronavirus, the consensus so far is that sustainability will take a hit in the short-term but will bounce back—and perhaps even thrive as businesses process lessons learned from the pandemic.
Short-term, with many out of work and/or reducing their spending in the uncertainty, low-cost sustainable solutions may continue. These include composting or buying “ugly” fruits and vegetables. However, more premium sustainability solutions such as buying organic or paying more for biodegradable packaging, etc. are likely to fall by the wayside, especially if a recession sets in. Some municipalities are even suspending the tax on plastic grocery bags to avoid the spread of germs on reusable ones.
Longer-term, many expect sustainability spending to bounce back as soon as it is economically and healthfully feasible. Given the importance of sustainability and the environment to Gen Z and Millennial consumers, we agree.
Some even express preliminary optimism regarding COVID-19’s long-term impact on sustainability, notably Bain and Company, who claim that COVID-19 is a “dress rehearsal” for dealing with climate change. For example, they point to the increased need for telework, which has shown many companies that it’s possible and even economically viable to reduce travel. In turn, many satellite images have shown marked decreases in air pollution across the globe.
COVID-19 is already being called Gen Z’s “watershed” moment, akin to the Vietnam War for Baby Boomers or the AIDS epidemic for Gen X. Though the long-term impact remains to be seen, early indications are that the Coronavirus pandemic is hitting Gen Z especially hard. For example, surveys conducted pre-Coronavirus suggested that Gen Z already had mental health challenges and anxiety based on the pressure on them to perform in school; surveys conducted during COVID-19 indicate the pandemic is adding to this burden.
Gen Z cohort’s age range is 10 to 23, so the pandemic is hitting each group differently. The oldest members of the cohort—those newly in careers or graduating and looking for work—will sustain the greatest financial challenges, as they tend to work in industries that have been shuttered by the virus, such as entertainment and tourism. Those in school are finding fewer available internships and part-time jobs that would give them the experience they need to land higher-paying jobs once they’ve graduated.
Encouragement and perseverance, however, are in this generation’s wheelhouse. They were born in the wake of 9/11 and survived their parents’ financial collapses from the mortgage crisis a decade ago. They know how to save, spend wisely on quality items with companies that share their values, and look to crowdsourcing for advice on purchases. We’re confident they will persevere and find ways to help others. And in November, they’ll head to the voting booth (possibly through a mailbox) to make their civic priorities heard. If you have one of them in your circle, listen to them—they have clear heads and are preparing to be tomorrow’s leaders.
2020 brought predictions of a renaissance to qualitative research as more businesses sought to hear directly from consumers. The Coronavirus pandemic has not changed this, but it has forced qualitative researchers to be more agile and creative with how they reach consumers. At C+R, this has meant reframing our “in-person” qualitative team as our “live” qualitative team and capitalizing more on technologies such as webcams and collaborative whiteboard tools. Check out any of our consumer panels to learn how COVID-19 has impacted consumer spending and behavior.
Embracing the “New Normal”
It’s been a rollercoaster start to 2020 for brands—some like Costco and Clorox have thrived, while mom and pop restaurants and retailers have suffered. We hope the worst of it is passing as states begin to ease restrictions on the stay-at-home orders. As commercial communities reopen and we emerge to embrace our “new normal,” remember sustainability—it’s still an important factor for many shoppers. Find ways to show your consumers, especially those in the Gen Z cohort, that your brand empathizes with their challenges and is there to help them weather through. Take a page out of the car insurance industry’s book and charge minimally for services they may not be fully utilizing. Don’t be discouraged if social distancing and shelter-in-place orders make it difficult to speak to consumers inperson. There are a variety of online tools for live and asynchronous qualitative research that can still get you intimate insights from your consumer base. And given that many people are off work and stuck at home, they may have time to spend talking to you, and may be eager for a way to express themselves.
If you need help brainstorming an insights approach at this time, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our virtual doors are open for business, and we’d love to talk to you!