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With 2020 presenting the globe with a new set of challenges as the Coronavirus pandemic – the global health crisis of our time, forces many nations to economic turmoil, changes on consumer trends are inevitable. Over the past few weeks, South Africa has experienced the harsh extremes from, the beginning of a national lockdown period right through to the easing of lockdown regulations.

Along with this changing climate and adapting to new ways of living, an interesting and significant change the country has witnessed is the change in customer behaviour. Some of these changes have been forced upon consumers through the availability of items while other changes have been due to the financial position and disposable income ‘buckets’ available to consumers – causing them to shift their priorities and spending habits in an effort to preserve their livelihoods.

What is customer behaviour?

Customer behaviour is the study of how consumers select and use certain products and services, and is influenced by 3 types of factors – their personality traits, psychological responses, and social trends.

Unlike something as concrete as shoe size – which would dictate the size of shoe a customer purchases every time without fail, each one of these above-mentioned factors are easily influenced by external stimuli or directly affect how we respond to situations. This means that on any given day – or under any given circumstance (such as lockdown), customer behaviour is subject to change.

Let’s analyse these 3 factors under a COVID-19 microscope:

Personality traits:

These are deeply embedded into each individual through multiple forms of conditioning over the course of their entire lifetime. Different personality traits would affect how any particular consumer reacts under the circumstances with which they are presented due to COVID-19. For example, more anxious and neurotic personality types would have been more prone to panic buying than others.

Psychological responses:
In this case, customer behaviour can be interpreted by attribution – what reasons exist for customers behaving a certain way in any particular scenario as a response to external factors and stimuli. The frame of mind customers adopt during the lockdown period – and at any given hour of the day would affect their buying behaviour. A home-schooling parent who needs to ‘switch off’ for a couple hours, may end up online shopping impulsively which they may not have done under normal circumstances.

Social trends:

These are purely external influences which affect customer behaviour. While COVID-19 was not a ‘trend’, it has been an external influence which has dictated and directly affected purchasing decisions and buying behaviours of customers.

Changes observed in customer behaviour over the lockdown period

Purchasing decisions and priorities

According to Accenture, 5 new types of consumers have emerged during the pandemic – the worrier, the individualist, the rationalist, the activist and the indifferent.

All these types of consumers have contributed to the major shift in purchasing behaviour. Consumer behaviour which has been formed over years have changed over a matter of weeks.

The below table created by Accenture shows the shift in consumer purchasing across these 5 types of consumers

Increase in e-commerce activity

With staying home becoming a necessity and widely adopted attitude amongst South Africans, online shopping has become an effective, safe, and reliable alternative to accessing essential items (and even more so since the easing of lockdown regulations) than purchasing in store.

Should a brand not make itself available through eCommerce platforms, consumers have no choice but to change their purchasing decisions and opt for substitute brands/products that readily make themselves available through ecommerce platforms.

This creates a breeding ground for learnt behaviour and purchasing decisions which may continue long after the lockdown has been lifted.

More love for local

Although movements of goods weren’t impacted due to ports closing during the beginning of South Africa’s lockdown, it seems like there has been a general sentiment across the nation to support locally-based businesses across the country.

Governments, Facebook groups, neighbours, friends and family have continued to urge one another to support their local businesses to keep the economy afloat while helping preserve the livelihoods of their fellow South Africans. While there are no hard statistics on this shift in purchasing behaviour – across our country this is more commonly known as the concept of Ubuntu.

Benefits of monitoring customer behaviour

By understanding and monitoring trends in customer behaviour, brands put themselves in an advantageous position to sway buying decisions and win over consumers by offering the right solutions at the right price, and at the optimal time.

Monitoring customer behaviour requires the use of qualitative and quantitative data while mapping customer journeys throughout the lockdown period. To shift direction in business strategy in order to serve customers and ensure business survival in the era of COVID-19 businesses should have a rigorous research strategy. The only way to truly benefit from data obtained in these research strategy is to use it as a learning tool, and a means to meet the current purchasing decisions and behaviours of customers.

For assistance and insight into the new purchasing behaviours of your customers, get in touch with us at Genex.