How Covid Has Changed the Consumer Spending

In the golden words of Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. Modern businesses look at customers like invited guests to a party, and they are the hosts. It’s their job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience comfortable. But what do you do when the customer is all but cut off from you, limited to the confines of their homes and hesitant about purchasing products that aren’t strictly urgent? This is exactly the question that India’s FMCG companies are pondering. On January 30, the country’s first confirmed case was reported in the state of Kerala. Almost 150 days later, as the country continues to battle COVID-19, businesses are feeling the impact of the pandemic. It has done something which no amount of advertising by brands could do: it has made consumers change their ‘preferences’. ‘Preferences’ have never been easy to change; they are stubborn and often impervious to marketing communication pleas. But the pandemic changed the game faster than what brands could have ever imagined.

The New Normal

As restrictions are eased on both offline and online sales, the Indian FMCG industry is likely to witness what’s happening in western markets, where life is slowly coming back to normal: shifting focus on health and hygiene products, ‘revenge’ shopping across non-essential and premium categories that consumers have been dying to get their hands on, focus on contactless D2C deliveries and social distancing in stores with lower footfall per store in the short term. The role of offline channels may even change to focus on experience and collection, as people choose to ‘buy online, pick up in store’. An increase of online purchases across categories, including essentials and food products seems likely. As consumers look to stock up and reduce visits to outlets in the short term, we will see larger pack size consumption in higher socio-economic cohorts while households with relatively lower means will veer towards sachets and smaller sizes to conserve cash.

Meanwhile, FMCG brands are looking to cash in on the increasing demand for innovative hygiene products by bringing in a plethora of new products. ITC, Dabur, Marico and Godrej have launched more than three dozen products and variants in the health and hygiene segment over the past month. Amul launched the world's first Tulsi (Basil) & Ginger milk variants aimed at boosting immunity in a bid to capture consumer sentiments. Packaged goods company, CavinKare, too has launched a gadget as well as surface disinfectant under the Bacto-V brand, after rolling out hand sanitizers under its Nyle and Chik brands. Most companies have also ramped up production of their existing ranges to ensure uninterrupted supplies of their products and strengthened tie-ups with online platforms for timely delivery to consumers.

Rise of Independence Products

As access to their support ecosystem (maids, drivers, cleaners, sweepers and many more) vanished, consumers are realizing the value of becoming independent - being able to conjure a meal, ride their own vehicle and clean their own houses. As the shared economy services innovate to be compliant with the new world, there will be a rise in products that make them self-reliant and usher a DIY revolution of sorts. This trend directly reflects heightened consumer apprehension, which is at the core of the purchase decision-making process. In turn, the trend will also steer consumer product companies to build their future sales, marketing and product strategies keeping this apprehension in mind. Some companies have already begun this process of adaptation. “The innovation teams in ITC are identifying these unmet needs and racing against time to craft effective and innovative products in the health and hygiene space to serve these requirements,” said Sameer Satpathy, chief executive (personal care products business). Recently, ITC came up with the easy to use “Nim Wash” vegetable and fruit wash which helps disinfect fresh produce while Marico came up with a similar product that was christened “Veggie clean”.

Feel Good Factor: The Soul’s Search for Optimism

Chances are that the souls horrified by the events of 2020 will continue to seek comfort. After the long and indeterminate lockdown ends, retail brands must offer exhilarating and refreshing experiences to customers. There is going to be a psychological impact of this lockdown on people who relieve the stress to some extent currently by making and sharing positive content, or even COVID memes. There is a rise in everything that gives us comfort — nostalgic content (Ramayan and Friends), comfort food recipes and games such as Ludo (albeit, online).

The feeling of relief when this pandemic is ultimately defeated must be planned for in advance. The feeling will not be just about freedom of movement but also the exhilaration of having survived a diabolical killer. What as a retail brand are you going to do? Just join the band wagon of templated, me-too events or come up with some truly memorable and unique “victory over corona” adventures?

Updated On Oct 27, 2020