OPINION31 July 2020

Could confident UK consumers lead the nation to recovery?

Behavioural economics Covid-19 Opinion Trends UK

The economic impact of Covid-19 has been immense, but some consumers are building up confidence to return to normal life. Can these consumers lead the economic recovery?

Having analysed audiences for the past 20 years and worked through moments like 9/11, I’ve witnessed a lot of short-term behavioural changes in consumers. However, the last four months have been amongst the most challenging that the UK economy has ever experienced. On a global scale, coronavirus is the biggest shared experience probably of our lifetimes.

Kinetic’s ongoing Alfresco Life research has tracked consumer attitudes and concerns through lockdown and shows that some members of the public are cautious about a return to normal behaviours. However, it reveals some fascinating shifts in attitudes as lockdown eases, including the emergence of different attitudinal groups.

We found a clear difference in attitudes that runs across age groups, suggesting brands and organisations will need to be sensitive to both confident and cautious consumers in communications for the foreseeable future.

While the virus is top of mind, it is not stopping people from going about their daily lives – 58% go out but keep their distance from others and 47% will feel more comfortable at visiting a place when they know it’s the least busy. When looking at returning to the high street, 51% take a more cautious approach compared with only 38% who visit it as normal.  

However, approximately a third of consumers want to do more shopping, socialising and travelling post-crisis to make up for lost time. These confident consumers may influence others over time, providing hope for a relatively strong up-tick in economic activity.

We asked people to imagine it was a month after the Covid-19 lockdown had been lifted – 32% said they expect to socialise face-to-face more than before the crisis, while 37% disagreed. However, when asked to think six months beyond, 42% said they expected to socialise with people more compared to a declining proportion ( 27%) who said they would not.

We found the same broad trend of building confidence when we asked about shopping in physical retail environments and holiday travel.

The “Super Saturday” of 4th July was a watershed moment for the proportion of people who wanted to get back to normality and make up for the lost time. I’d liken the crowded beaches reported in the media and the upsurge in consumer spending to teenagers who have been grounded.

And although this confident group who want to compensate for months of inactivity crosses demographic groups, the urge to get out and see people was far stronger among younger people – 53% of 18-34-year-olds said they planned to socialise more than they have pre-crisis. But this does not mean confident younger consumers are reckless – we found very similar attitudes to health, concern about the epidemic and the wearing of personal protective equipment across all groups.

People expect to be living with the consequences of Covid-19 well into next year and possibly beyond and they desire permanent change in some aspects of life.

We found that 52% expect to be working in a different way a month after lockdown is fully lifted compared to just 12% who expected work to return to pre-crisis normality. Asked to imagine life six months after the lockdown has been lifted, we discovered attitudes remain virtually unchanged – 51% said they still expected to be working in a different way compared with 13% who thought working life would return to the old normal.

So how will the recovery play out and what can we do to encourage it? The economic impact of Covid-19 has been to create a supply-side recession. The opportunity to do things and buy things has been restricted and there is at least for the time being (until unemployment levels inevitably rise) a lot of pent-up consumer cash to be spent.

Brands should focus on behavioural theories like social proof as a creative tactic. Social proof shows how much people can be influenced by what others are doing. From a marketing perspective, brands should put out messages like: “the least busy times in our store are at XYZ” or “X number of people have bought a coffee from here in the past three days”.

Using social proof and localised data in smart creative could enable the shared experience of out-of-home advertising to play a pivotal role in getting people back to normality and to revive the economy.

None of us know quite what is round the next corner, and clearly for many there is a strong desire not to return to the old status quo in some aspects of life. But tuning into the trends amplified by Covid-19 and engaging consumers with messaging of shared experiences with other people may help brands encourage people into a more active and confident frame of mind.

Jennie Roper is head of insight at Kinetic Worldwide.

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