COVID trends that are here to stay.

By C-K’s Brand Planning and PR/Social teams

The pandemic caused previously unimagined changes to how we live – changes that consumers would never have predicted a year ago. Some behavioral shifts forced upon us by COVID-19 will be short-lived, but we can also feel pretty confident that many will stick with us.

What new habits formed and how has technology played a critical role in our lives?

Throughout the past year, we’ve uncovered many consumer trends in response to COVID-19. In this report, we’ll be revisiting some of our previously mentioned trends to determine their long-term impact as well as lessons we’ve learned from these trends.

  • A larger share of shopping, socializing and entertainment will happen online than before.
  • Now that we found our stride working from home five days a week, we won’t want to give up all that flexibility.
  • We’ll no longer feel the need to visit the doctor in-person or as often.
  • We’re experiencing entertainment differently and have greater access tocontent than ever before.
  • We have gone far beyond chats and posts on social networks and moved into TV and AR/VR.
  • Sometimes, we need a break from technology too. The more we use tech across aspects of our lives, the more we yearn to vacation from our screens.
    Sometimes, we need a break from technology too. The more we use tech across aspects of our lives, the more we yearn to vacation from our screens.

These things will stick, not only because we’ve adapted to them over time, but also because each of these scenarios brings added value to our lives – value we may not have appreciated until we had a chance to experience it.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the trends that are here to stay and get a glimpse as to what our future holds.

Shopping: Endless Aisles

Consumers are spending from the comfort of their couch.

In our May 25 report, we shared a tip, “Rethinking Retail,” all about how brands have been forced to reimagine the shopping experience during COVID-19, from limited store capacities, appointment-only shopping and contactless payments to an increased emphasis on e-commerce, including shopping on social media via Facebook Shops and Pinterest Shopping Spotlights. During COVID-19, 50% of consumers have increased their frequency of online shopping (Gartner), and 43% of lower-income consumers, 51% of Gen Z consumers and 54% of higher-income consumers are likely to shop online more frequently post-pandemic (GlobalWebIndex). Consumers have become accustomed to the convenience and cleanliness of e-commerce, appointment- only shopping and contactless payments, so we expect to see trends in this area continue in a post-COVID world.

  1. The e-commerce boom from the pandemic will continue post-COVID, but consumers are missing the guidance of salespeople and product experience/testing that they have with in-person retail experiences. We expect personalization efforts using customer data to continue to increase in e-commerce to bridge the gap in recommendations and customer service and in VR/AR experiences to test out products virtually.
  2. Subscriptions increased in popularity during the pandemic due to their combination of convenience and access with discovery and curation. According to Gartner, 71% of consumers have at least one subscription and 74% of consumers plan to increase their subscriptions for personalized and convenient shopping experiences.
  3. During COVID-19, consumers have quickly adopted contactless payments for sanitary purposes but have become accustomed to the easy and quick way to check out, so we predict that contactless payments will continue to be more widely accepted at in-person retail to keep up with consumer demand.

As the country transitioned into an appointment economy, consumers became accustomed to shopping on their own time without waits in more highly personalized, efficient shopping experiences. We predict that this will continue, especially in industries like automobile sales where consumers need more personalized service. According to Mintel, 52% of consumers believe that the future of car purchasing involves appointment-only sales processes.

Health: No-Touch, High-Health

Consumers are hoping to strike a balance between their desire for a germ- free life and their health and well-being.

In our May 18 Consumer Trends Playbook, we discussed a trend titled “Sick People Too Scared to Visit Their Doctor.” The title speaks for itself; with the looming threat of infections at hospitals – the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic – people were avoiding healthcare entirely. We saw ER volumes dropping 50% despite people having major problems such as strokes and heart attacks, and we even saw an increase in women electing to have home births out of fear of their newborns contracting the coronavirus. Despite a vaccine in the earliest stages of deployment, a recent Mintel report shows that 32% of consumers have committed to cutting down on their healthcare expenditures and 78% of consumers are planning to skip at least one healthcare appointment in the coming year. One of the main reasons? Changing safety standards. 46% of adults say they have higher personal safety standards as a result of COVD-19.

  1. Telehealth was already on good footing prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 just added rocket boosters to its implementation. A survey conducted by McKinsey in February of this year showed that 48% of respondents said they’d be likely to seek virtual channels of care in addition to or in place of physical visits. Fast forward to a November study released by Mintel, which reported that 42% of adults said their trust in telehealth has improved in the past 12 months.
  2. As telehealth has proven itself to the general public, it’s only going to get more advanced. For patients who rely on their doctors for more than general check-ups, some telehealth technologies are permitting doctors to perform remote diagnostic monitoring, which will allow for telehealth diagnoses.
  3. While the American healthcare system has quickly adopted telehealth options in the hopes of reeling in patients who have deprioritized healthcare out of fear for their safety, experts say the healthcare industry is in for a major shakeup. With fewer people feeling comfortable seeing doctors in person, primary-care doctors are going bankrupt. Their fee-for-service model for primary care has a hole poked in it, as consumers are prioritizing their safety over general check-ups.

The Workforce: Goodbye Office, Hello Home

As companies were forced to trial WFH this past year, how will the workplace be forever changed?

In our June 1 report we talked about how, prior to COVID- 19, the WFH revolution promised to liberate workers from the chains of the office, giving them greater flexibility and control over their schedules and lives. As WFH became the de facto policy at many white-collar jobs during the pandemic, employees experienced a reality that was very different from the one promised. For many employees, WFH has resulted in a lack of boundaries and a total collapse of work-life balance. Yet despite its drawbacks, employees have become accustomed to the convenience and flexibility WFH provides; now that it’s proven viable, employers are going to have to be more willing to accommodate WFH requests. Therefore, C-K predicts the WFH trend will continue in some form post-pandemic.

  1. A Time article argues the pandemic upended the office and that it’s time to radically rethink how we work. 58% of companies surveyed by Xerox in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany and France said they were changing their work-from-home policies.
  2. Twenty major companies have announced employees can work remotely long-term. Many of these companies have remained remote as the pandemic wears on – and plenty have no immediate plans to return to the office. Google, Twitter and others announced plans to accommodate remote work indefinitely. Pinterest paid $89.5 million to cancel a new planned office space in San Francisco.
  3. Working from home 100% of the time can also lead to additional issues, so perhaps the solution is a mix of remote work and going to the office.
    1. New employees and those in search of mentorship will have a hard time at a company if they’ve never met their colleagues in person.
    2. Remote work can also deal a blow to employees’ mental health.

Personal Connections: Relationships Apart

As COVID-19 has pushed us apart this past year, how will our social behaviors rebound in the face of separation?

In our March 30 report, we talked about coronavirus connections and how we as a social society are adapting to living life at a distance. Early in the pandemic, we were seeing virtual dance parties, neighbors creating rainbow and teddy bear hunts for kids, and the rising popularity of video chats and phone calls. For months now, we’ve been keeping at least six feet apart from one another, so how will human connection change in a post- COVID-19 world?

  1. Handshakes are used as a greeting across many cultures, but we don’t expect people to be comfortable using them to introduce themselves, at least not right away. Back in April, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”
  2. While they’re not a perfect replacement for physical touch, social apps and Zoom have kept us connected with our loved ones even when we couldn’t be near them – and, in many cases, they’ve helped us connect more frequently. We expect people to continue embracing this social trend.
  3. Online fitness classes have surged in popularity since the start of the pandemic as a way for people around the globe to connect and keep each other motivated. With COVID cases surging at gyms and with Apple launching their own digital fitness subscription service this month, home fitness is likely here to stay. “The key factor here is variety –people want their workouts to work for them, and they enjoy being able to customize their classes to their ever-evolving lifestyle,” said Paul Javid, CEO of Alo Moves.
  4. At the end of August, video game sales in the U.S. were up 23% from the year before, and we’re expecting people to continue playing as a way to connect with friends even after the pandemic is over. Companies like Xbox and PlayStation have capitalized on the trend, having launched new consoles in November.

Entertainment: Home Box Office

Movie premieres at home? Personalized sports replays? How entertainment is shifting after this landmark year.

As the pandemic continued, the need for entertainment options increased. Consumers were looking for ways to pass the time, and in several of our April reports, we reported on a shift in entertainment consumption. From the rise in eSports to drive-in movies popping up, consumers were anxious to see the latest blockbuster, take in a live theater production or jam with fellow fans at concerts and festivals. But the pandemic’s disruption of entertainment in terms of both access and consumption has given birth to a host of innovations and model changes likely to have a lasting impact.

  1. Technology has continued to infiltrate the sports entertainment experience. Sports content on streaming video platforms, personalized camera angles, replay options and immersive sports worlds with AR/VR and consumers will continue. We expect more personalized experiences where consumers can have deeper connections with content, teams, players and other sports fans – all powered by technology in their home and at stadiums.
  2. Drive-in movies were a big hit this summer, and new partnerships formed as Tribeca Enterprises partnered with IMAX and AT&T to reopen drive-in theaters across the country.
  3. While theaters will always have a place, movie houses have now learned that greater access has its benefits, and the movie release ecosystem has widened. Perhaps the biggest bombshell was dropped earlier this month when Warner Bros. announced that every theatrical release slated for 2021 will simultaneously release on HBO Max.
  4. The partnership between technology and the movie industry is just getting started, with business acquisitions from digital-based companies like Amazon and Netflix. This partnership is expected to impact not only the in-home experience but also in-theater, bringing a new way to experience movies to the public at scale.

Media Usage and Consumption: Social Media’s Explosion

Social media has become a larger aspect of our lives.

Social media has been a way for consumers to connect virtually for years. In some of our April editions, we reported the increased time at home allowed a substantial growth in social network usage. This increase in social media is expected to continue as 73% of consumers plan to continue their usage after the outbreak. In addition to increased usage, platforms are looking for new ways to entice time spent, like incorporating AR/VR and delivering a wider mix of offerings.

  1. TikTok is one of the success stories of the pandemic. Previously known as an app primarily for teenagers, TikTok made great strides across generations and is expected to join social powerhouses Facebook, Instagram and YouTube in one billion average active monthly users in 2021. As of the third quarter, TikTok is the number two non- gaming consumer app. With these engagement gains, they’ve expanded their advertising capabilities, providing an influx of capital to enable enhanced technological features to drive deeper engagement, from filters to editing capabilities.
  2. With other social networks getting all the press attention, Facebook saw an opportunity to provide new ways to connect on the platform, releasing a new and improved Oculus Quest 2 platform this holiday season. This, along with the PlayStation 5, has become one of the “must have” holiday gifts of 2020. With five times the preorders of last year’s original model, Oculus is poised to further mainstream fully immersive VR entertainment at home. Next stop: OASIS.
  3. Along with providing new ways to connect, social platforms are looking for new revenue streams and ways for consumers to access content. YouTube TV has seen a surge in paid subscriptions during the pandemic and is now the second-biggest virtual TV player, just behind Hulu.

Counter-Trend: Pushing Against the Wave

While consumers have been enormously tech-reliant this past year, what about those looking for moments to unplug?

Prior to COVID-19, people were rethinking their relationship with technology. Digital detoxes and low-tech hobbies like knitting were trending. COVID-19 turbocharged the “always-on” world. Our devices became a lifeline offering us connection, entertainment and escape, and a tether to our offices, as well as a firehose of COVID-19 and election news. As a result, we’ve gained both a greater appreciation for and fear of technology. Moving forward, the conversation will shift from turning off to turning down technology and developing good habits around “screen hygiene.”

  1. In our May 4 report, we noted that old-school games were making a COVID comeback as people rediscovered all kinds of classic board games and puzzles.
  2. The week of June 1, we reported on “The Death of Work-Life Balance” while working from home, people found it hard to disconnect.
  3. In our May 11 issue, we noted that people noticed that birds sound louder during the pandemic, and experts say it’s because you haven’t noticed them before amidst more noise pollution.

MOVING FORWARD

  1. Low-tech fun like board games continues to sell well, and lawn games will remain part of the repertoire of many families’ entertainment activities.
  2. People focus less on detoxing and more on making healthy choices to build better approach to their “screen hygiene.”
  3. At a societal level, we may see legislation that protects employees from unreasonable amounts of work-life blending.