Many aspects of consumer behaviour would have undergone a paradigm shift once the COVID-19 pandemic is over even as brands and marketers need to take in that seismic change in order to adapt to probably a completely brand new scenario, says a report by WPP.

In the backdrop of the global pandemic coupled with a nationwide lockdown, consumers, brands, and markets could do with a great deal of “reassurance and stability”, says WPP’s latest report, titled COVID-19: India’s Sentiment & Impact on Brands‘.

While reporting that consumer behaviour has changed dramatically across categories, the report says: “some aspects of consumer behaviour and marketing response will have changed permanently and brands that recognise that and prepare for it will emerge stronger from the disruption.”

Given the dire nature of the situation globally, one of the most fundamental redefinitions in consumer behaviour that has come about points towards the difference between “essential and non-essential” in an age when random and impulsive behaviour made no distinction between the two.

THE FMCG SECTOR

The WPP report says the pandemic has forced consumers to “go back to the basics” as it were. Consider this: On one hand there has been a dramatic surge in demand for hygiene products given the scale of hygiene required to tide over the pandemic, demand for packaged food items has seen a sharp decline.

Personal cleaning products recorded a massive growth of 56% while products such as antiseptic liquids/lotions, anti-bacterial liquids, and wet wipes showed 51% rise in consumption. Consumption of home hygiene products such as phenyl rose by 47%. Interestingly, daily essentials such as shampoo and toothpaste saw a rise of 5% in consumption.

PACKAGED FOOD

Owing to the lockdown and general panic, people have been stocking up food items such as packaged flour, rice, pulses, and cooking oils — all of which saw a higher consumption of 23%. Consumers have also been worried about immunity and nutrition, so products such as chyawanprash and milk-based food drinks saw a spike of 10% in consumption.

Interestingly, however packaged and ready-to-use food items experienced a major decline in consumption, reflecting general awareness and concern about the nutritional value of such products. Products with longer shelf life like tetra pack milk declined 6% while packaged food items like snacks and instant noodles fell 17%.

Once regarded as “essential”, ready-to-cook items also experienced significant declines. Items such as frozen foods and instant idli-dosa mixes dropped 17% in consumption. Soft drinks and packaged juices fell by a substantial 35%. Another genre that has fallen off the essential list is cosmetic products like sun-screens and moisturising lotions, showing a decline of 23%, according to the report.

It is widely believed, especially by sociologists and marketers, that this transformation in the consumer could carry over even after the pandemic ends. Marketers and brands would then need to make necessary adaptations in the post-pandemic period.

E-COMMERCE

A little ahead of the lockdown, E-commerce experienced saw a substantial surge although with delivery disruptions in the wake of the lockdown, there has been a tapering off. Most e-commerce supply lines have been shut down except for essentials.

So most e-retailers are not assuring delivery timelines given the circumstances. However, notwithstanding that, there has been a 100% rise in Google searches for BigBasket and Grofers, according to the report. Grofers, for example, reported a 45% increase in orders and 18% in order value — with Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad reporting a surge of 80% and Delhi NCR and Hyderabad reporting a 60% rise.

According to the WPP report, the e-commerce sector will climb back to normalcy once the shutdown is lifted. However, most new users might want to stay on fearing physical visits to stores even in a post-pandemic situation. The 45+ age group is expected to increasingly patronise the service, given that they have the most fear of an infection.

Alibaba and JD had grown significantly through the 2003 SARS Outbreak, says the report, citing an example of consumer preference during a pandemic.

What is interesting, however, is how e-commerce brands are quietly transforming definitions in order to adapt and survive. So while Nykaa is redefining beauty products as “essentials”, Myntra is offering OTT content on fashion along with nuggets of fashion advice besides games to while away lockdown time.

LIFESTYLE

Lifestyle category has necessarily taken a big hit, according to the report, with category sales experiencing a 15-30% drop. The category comes under non-essentials and also saw a drop in online searches.

Indexed Google searches reveal that there has been a fall of 20% in fashion-related e-commerce searches while beauty-related searches fell by 15% on e-commerce platforms. Alongside, clothing and accessories, such as shoes and watches, also fell 15-25%, the report says.