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New PwC global consumer survey reveals pandemic has fundamentally changed how consumers shop, live and take care of their health

20 July, 2020

  • Over a third (36%) expect to spend less in the months ahead
  • Shift to purchasing via mobile has shot up: 45% of respondents shop via mobile for non-food items, up from 30% before COVID-19
  • There is a seismic shift towards self-care: 69% of respondents now more focused on their mental and physical well-being
  • Four key trends for businesses to consider in the months ahead

PwC polled nearly 4,500 consumers in nine countries including 35 cities on changing urban consumer purchasing habits and behaviours and how global disruption has forced the acceleration of a more digital way of life. The research reveals that the pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures put in place have led to fundamental changes in how consumers shop, live and take care of their health.

An aerial photo of tens of people walking across two lanes of zebra crossings on a wide road.

Less income is changing consumer spending

Four out of ten (40%) respondents reported a decrease in income as a result of job loss or redundancy following the pandemic. These changing lifestyle and financial circumstances are resulting in less spending, more use of social media and more at-home entertainment:

  • Overall, 36% of respondents expect to spend less in the next few months compared to before the pandemic hit
  • 49% of respondents are spending less because of fewer social events and activities
  • 50% are using social media more than before social distancing measures were put in place
  • 56% are watching more television than before social distancing measures were activated
  • 23% have lost money due to cancelled events or activities

John Dillon, Leader, PwC Ireland Retail and Consumer Practice commented, "Based on our experience, the position in Ireland would mirror these global findings. For companies that cater to the end consumer, the future is arriving faster than anyone imagined. Digital trends that had already been transforming consumer behaviour a few short months ago have accelerated. Businesses need to understand how the new normal affects all their customer touch points if they are to reinvent their own future, and not be at the mercy of external events."

Substantial increase in online shopping, though people are still shopping in-store

Social distancing measures put in place because of the coronavirus have also impacted how consumers purchase groceries. While in-store grocery shopping is the main channel of choice, nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers are now buying more groceries online than before the pandemic. 86% of those who now shop online are planning to continue after social distancing measures are removed. 45% say they are shopping less often for groceries but filling up bigger baskets.

For non-food items, online and mobile shopping have also seen a substantial increase (mobile phone: 45%, up from 30% six months ago; computers: 41%, up from 28% six months ago and tablets: 33%, up from 15% six months ago). At the same time, 36% said their spending had increased in the area of entertainment and media; 26% said their spending had increased in the combined area of DIY, home improvement and gardening.

While there may have been a belief before the pandemic that urban broadband networks were fragile and underdeveloped, the research shows that consumers have been satisfied overall with their broadband speed during their time in isolation — 69% say they're satisfied or extremely satisfied with the speed of broadband in their home.

Owen McFeely, Director, PwC Ireland Retail and Consumer Practice said, "Despite the digital shift, it would be premature to write off physical stores — even though retail foot traffic has plunged during lockdown, our research shows that half (49%) of urban consumers still say their in-store shopping activity for non-food items since the outbreak has stayed the same or increased. However, this pattern needs to be monitored in the coming months as we understand more about the virus and its transmission levels."

The importance of self-care and sustainability is clear

The survey results show a seismic shift towards self-care. As a result of COVID-19 well over half of respondents reported to be more focused than before on taking care of their mental health and well-being (69%), physical health (69%) and diet (63%). Urban dwellers surveyed after the outbreak also viewed safety and security (49%), and healthcare (45%) just as important to their quality of life as employment prospects (45%).

The survey also revealed a clear embrace of sustainability and a sense of civic duty; 43% of respondents expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact. 45% of respondents will avoid the use of plastics wherever possible. About half (49%) are open to sharing their data if it helps their city.

Owen McFeely concluded, "Customers don't just want the retailer or brand to care about them; they also expect companies to care about the planet. While certain trends have been on the upswing for quite some time, our research shows that the pandemic has sharpened consumers' desire for transparency, sustainability and convenience.

"The companies that will reap the most rewards are the ones that have established trust with the consumer, invested in a seamless and frictionless end-to-end customer purchase journey and prioritised the consumers' health and safety. The need for consumer-facing companies to establish trust with potential customers could not be any clearer."

Four key future trends for retail and consumer brands

The research outlines four key trends for consideration by retail and consumer brands and organisations as they navigate what is ahead:

  1. Expect market volatility and price sensitivity
  2. Consumer experience must be rooted in safety and accessibility
  3. Digital engagement needs to be robust and diversified
  4. Customers will become long-time advocates if they prioritise care, well-being and innovation


About the report

These results were collected from 4,447 consumers in 9 countries and 35 cities during April and May 2020. The countries surveyed were: China, France, Germany, Italy, Middle East, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The research forms part of PwC's Annual Global Consumer Insights Survey, now in its 11th year.

About PwC

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Contact us

John Dillon

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 86 810 6415

Owen McFeely

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: 353 86 417 4381

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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