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Consumers Unmasked 3: Need for Adaptability When Facing Unpredictability

Consumers Unmasked Study Illustrates a Need for Adaptability in the Face of Unpredictability and Growing Excitement for a Return to Pre-Pandemic Norms

The results continue to roll in! The third study from the four-part Consumers Unmasked evaluation of preference and purchasing behaviors measured against the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, as well as political and economic events that emerged in the first months of 2022, is being refined and finalized. Included are takes on the general sentiment of returning to in-person retail and events, spending behaviors and the confidence level people have in committing their money category by category.

What this latest study reinforced is a need to account for predictable unpredictability. When the previous study was released, much of the world was navigating the emergence of COVID-19 variants that prompted a return to tighter restrictions, and in some cases a return to lockdowns, causing closures that inhibited consumers. As a result of these unanticipated events, sentiments fluctuated widely between optimistic and uncertain.

The latest stage of the study was completed against a backdrop of lower infection levels, yet ongoing supply chain issues and disruptive world events such as the conflict in Ukraine that mean companies will continue to need dynamic contingencies to adapt to future unknowns and better manage the needs of consumers.

Here we preview the first findings from the upcoming release of Consumers Unmasked Stage 3.

Forming the Study

The first study and our Consumer Council were fielded and assembled in the second half of 2021. Our aim was to provide a snapshot of spending and purchasing behaviors – from online and in-store shopping and subscription services, to casual dining and anticipated travel – in the midst of an unprecedented global event. Over the course of the following 18 months, EPAM would check in with consumers, evaluating feelings and behaviors and noting any changes as the pandemic unfolded.

Results from the second study, released late in 2021, showed a growing confidence among consumers for a return to in person retail and food service, as well as domestic and international travel. These sentiments are further reinforced in the third study which shows excitement for getting back to normal as a recurring theme.

Let’s Go Out

The first sign from Consumers Unmasked Stage 3 that a return to pre-pandemic norms is beyond welcome can be seen in the more than 80% of respondents stating they feel comfortable going to a shopping mall and/or eating in a restaurant, with a slightly smaller percentage expressing growing ease with returning to the workplace.

Sixty-five percent of consumers felt some level of comfort in returning to the gym, although there remains a significant difference between those most comfortable (the US at 72%) and least comfortable (Germany at 58%). Also notable is that fact that, while the level of comfort in returning to gyms, restaurants, malls and more may be far less of an issue now than it was in previous stages of the study, COVID-19 comfort levels are far from the only factors at play in determining whether consumers actually return. 

When shopping for non-essential purchases, such as clothing and technology, consumers’ main concern is still price above all others. Price is the primary consideration, specifically for those in the US and UK, with the respective effects of inflation and rises in the consumer price index beginning to be felt. Value for the money is the leading purchasing factor for consumers in all three countries.

Fashion Forward

Half of consumers spend money on fashion at least once a month, with nearly 40% noting they are spending more on fashion today than they were three months ago. Hybrid shopping experiences continue to be the future for fashion, as three-quarters of consumers are now shopping both online and in-store. A quarter of consumers are sticking close to the brands and retailers they prefer, with brand loyalty being strongest in the UK.

Though sustainable sourcing and social responsibility are important to some consumers (with overall interest going up from Stage 2 of the study to Stage 3, respondents indicated these are more future thoughts with some current action. Also, each country’s sustainability behaviors are different, with some opting to shop for sustainable products and others more likely to shop secondhand or upcycle.

Food for Thought

Overall, consumers are spending more on eating out and takeaway food items than they were three months ago. The highest number of consumers spending more on eating out and takeaways is the US, comparatively. This trend looks set to continue, with consumers from the US, UK and Germany confirming they intend to spend even more on eating out and takeaways over the next 12 months. Comfort with eating both inside and outside of restaurants is also growing, with the US and UK feeling the most comfortable.

Consumers are more likely to order takeaway food on a monthly basis rather than weekly, and the most popular method for placing an order is with food delivery apps. Use of apps became more popular during the pandemic and is showing no signs of slowing down. Grocery delivery, either from a service or from the store itself, continues to be a well utilized option for consumers.

Getting Out of Town

Compared to the previous study, feelings of ease with domestic travel have dropped slightly, while international travel remains consistent with previous findings. Though traveling domestically has dropped within all three markets in the last three months, the most noticeable drop has been in the UK. Young adults in the US traveled the most, both abroad and domestically.

What shows promise for consumer travel is the next six months in 2022. A majority of respondents plan to travel domestically and internationally (some even both) in the immediate future. Among the study’s respondents Germans are the most likely to plan a holiday abroad. The biggest reported barrier to traveling is cost. Contracting COVID-19 is less of a travel worry than it was three months; however, the fees associated with cancelations or mandates about quarantining are still a consideration for some respondents.

What’s Trending in Streaming and Gaming?

Streaming services continue to be the most popular type of subscription service, a finding echoed in Stages 1 and 2 of the study. Delivery services are also in demand, although much less than streaming. Convenience and flexibility are the most noted benefits of streaming services. 

Those who spend money on gaming have increased their spend over the last three months. Consumers Unmasked Stage 3 goes more in depth on these spending habits, including why the US has seen the biggest increase in spending, with nearly half responding that they spent more in the last three months. In an average week, players spend slightly more than six hours playing games, with more than 80% falling into the 18-29-year-old demographic. More than half of respondents use their phone for game play rather than a console or computer.

Consumers Unmasked Stage 3 Coming Soon!

The third installment in the Consumers Unmasked Study features in-depth measures of consumer attitudes and behaviors in the areas of food, fashion, travel, fitness and home. It captures the mood of the first months of 2022, considers how COVID-19 restrictions are evolving and the impact of other major global disruptions. And, it looks to the future and asks how consumer spending is set to change.

Sign up to receive the in-depth results in the next few weeks.

Until then, make sure to compare the beginning sentiments in Consumers Unmasked Stage 1, with those at the close of 2021 in Consumers Unmasked Stage 2


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