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October 21, 2021
BUSINESS BUSINESS COMPANIES ECONOMY EDITORIAL OP-ED OPINION POINTS OF VIEW

EY Future Consumer Index: Pandemic accelerates changes in consumer behaviour: moving out of cities, online shopping, health importance, affordable prices and sustainability

One year into the pandemic, the Index finds that consumers will still prioritize affordability (32%) and health (25%), over the planet (17%), society (14%) and experience (12%) in the future. Consumers are more worried than four months ago about their health, their families and their futures, according to the sixth EY Future Consumer Index, a survey of 14,500 consumers across 20 countries fielded in January-February 2021.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the health of their family, access to necessities, personal finances and basic freedoms

The share of people who think they will live in fear of the COVID-19 pandemic for at least another year has risen from 37% (October 2020) to 40% (February 2021), despite vaccines being rolled out.

The Index also finds that because of the pandemic, people are increasingly concerned about the health of their family, access to necessities, personal finances and basic freedoms. The level of concern differs around the world. Respondents in India and Brazil have consistently been the most concerned overall  (more than 90% of consumers) throughout the pandemic, while people across other countries are now more worried about their family’s health than they were four months ago (up 4% in the US and 5% in Japan). Respondents in China and Germany said they are increasingly worried about their finances (4% increase) and freedom to enjoy life (more than 10% increase), since October 2020.

In this context, almost half of consumers (48%) believe post-vaccine life will be better than before the pandemic. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated changes that were already underway (36%): moving out of cities, shopping online more and prioritizing health, affordability and sustainability. Companies now need to understand where consumers are going next and be bolder in accelerating their transformation, by redesigning their business around how people live, not what they buy.

Sentiment about the COVID-19 vaccine varies across geographies and income groups

Most (91%) global respondents do intend to take the vaccine, but 25% said they have “reservations” and 9% don’t intend to take it at all. The latter goes up to 15% in the US and 19% in France but down to 3% in China, 5% in Brazil and 6% in the UK. Top reasons influencing global sentiment include being worried about potential side-effects (29%) and not trusting its safety (19%).

Feelings about the vaccine are also polarized between high- and low-income consumers, which correlates with institutional trust. According to the global survey, only 43% of low-income respondents plan to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them (compared to 54% of high-income respondents). This may relate to 37% of low-income respondents having little or no trust in government compared to 28% of high-income respondents.

Despite concerns, a majority of respondents (56%) would be more likely to shop with retailers that require employees to take the vaccine, while 48% of respondents think that those who refuse to take the vaccine are acting selfishly.

Most consumers will prioritize affordability or their health

Beyond the pandemic, affordability (32%) and health (25%) will remain priorities for consumers when shopping. This is aligned with responses from June 2020, when 30% of respondents said they will focus on affordability and 26% on health, over sustainability, societal impact and experience.

  • More than half (58%) of respondents plan to be more aware and cautious of their spending in the longer term and 63% say price will be the most important purchase criteria for them three years from now.
  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents want to make healthier choices in their product purchases in the longer term; 43% say health or “what’s good for me” will be the most important purchase criteria for them three years from now. Sixty-two percent are willing to share personal data for healthier product recommendations.
  • Forty-nine percent will prioritize the environment and climate change in how they live and the products they buy; for 26%, sustainability will be their most important purchase criteria three years from now.
  • Social impact. Fifty-six percent will be more likely to buy from companies that ensure what they do has a positive impact on society; 38% will buy more from organizations that benefit society, even if their products/services are more expensive and 69% believe brands must positively change the world.
  • Thirty-seven percent will be less inclined to get involved in experiences outside the home (e.g., going to a bar, a movie theater) on account of health and safety concerns; 76% have changed the way they stay entertained.

Cristian Cârstoiu, Partner, Consulting, EY Romania: “With the vaccination program having mixed progress across the globe, the consumers do not appear to have changed their buying preferences – affordability and health still occupying top positions. While many have been hit financially, the growing focus on healthy choices (pre-pandemic to today) seems here to stay – and will influence the assortments and the supply chain mix across retailers. Moreover, 3 quarters of the respondents mentioned that they have changed the way they stay entertained (less bars, movies, etc.) and we also see a growth in non / low alcoholic beverages, in particularly ASEAN but moving to Europe as well.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer behavior and has not just driven “consumption at home” through e-commerce. Consumers are now building their whole lifestyles around their homes as centers of gravity where they work, play and stay healthy. More than half of respondents (56%) plan to stay fit at home beyond the pandemic, while a third (33%) plan to upgrade appliances and furniture and 30% hope to work more from their home in the future.

The latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index is available at ey.com/futureconsumerindex6.

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