Four consumer behavior segments that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic

by | Apr 30, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

As consumer behaviors continue to evolve during the COVID-19 crisis, new research from tax and advisory services firm EY defines four distinct consumer behavior segments, with key insights for marketers and communicators. According to the first edition of the EY Future Consumer Index, these are “Cut deep,” “Stay calm, carry on,” “Save and stockpile” and “Hibernate and spend.”

Consumers that fall into the “Cut deep” segment (27.3 percent) are spending less across all expense categories as the pandemic impacts employment; others representing the “Stay calm, carry on” category are continuing to spend as normal (26.2 percent). Most consumers (35.1 percent) represent the “Save and stockpile” segment, indicating that they feel pessimistic about the future, while consumers that fall into the “Hibernate and spend” segment (11.4 percent) are spending more across the board.

Overall, 42 percent of respondents believe that the way they shop will fundamentally change as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. When it comes to brands and products, 34 percent of consumers indicate that they would pay more for local products, 25 percent for trusted brands and 23 percent for ethical products.

“Looking beyond the immediate effects of COVID-19, few consumers expect to revert back to pre-crisis behaviors any time soon,” said Kristina Rogers, EY Global consumer leader, in a news release. “In these uncertain times, no one knows how long the transition will take or whether different consumer trends will emerge. The EY Future Consumer Index, paired with analysis around the EY FutureConsumer.Now, will continue to provide a perspective on the changing consumer and help consumer-facing companies stay relevant and plan for the future.”

The four segments reflect how consumer behavior can relate to age groups, family or employment status:

Cut deep

These consumers are mainly more than 45 years old and have seen the biggest impact on their employment status. Almost a quarter have seen their jobs suspended, either temporarily or permanently. Seventy-eight percent of them are shopping less frequently, while 64 percent are only buying essentials. Thirty-three percent feel that brands are far less important to them in the current climate.

Stay calm, carry on

These consumers do not feel directly impacted by the pandemic and are not changing their spending habits. Just 21 percent of them are spending more on groceries, compared with 18% that are spending less.

Save and stockpile

This segment shows particular concern for their families and the long-term outlook. More than a third (36 percent) are now spending more on groceries, while most are spending less on clothing (72 percent) and leisure (85 percent).

Hibernate and spend

Primarily aged 18-44, these consumers are most concerned about the impact of the pandemic. However, only 40 percent of this segment say they are shopping less frequently. And while 42 percent say the products they buy have changed significantly, 46 percent of them say brands are now more important to them.

“Companies were already struggling to keep up with changing consumer behaviors before the pandemic,” said Andrew Cosgrove, EY Global consumer knowledge leader and lead analyst, in the release. “Now it’s even more critical for companies to anticipate how consumers will change and respond to specific segment needs.”

An additional new segment may emerge as consumers move beyond the pandemic

The four segments identified could morph into five very different ones as the crisis abates. For example, the Index currently suggests that over time, most consumers in the “Save and stockpile” segment will migrate to two new segments: “Remain frugal” and “Cautiously extravagant.” These new consumer segments, detailed in the Index, could emerge post-COVID-19 and be summarized as: “Keep cutting” (13.1 percent), “Stay frugal” (21.7 percent), “Get to normal” (31.4 percent), “Cautiously extravagant” (24.7 percent) and “Back with a bang” (9.1 percent).

Consumer attitudes to privacy and purpose are changing

Over the last two years, EY teams have been modeling future scenarios as part of the FutureConsumer.Now program. One of these scenarios was based on the impact of a hypothetical global pandemic and indicated that consumers could adopt more open attitudes to privacy and sharing personal data. Indeed, the EY Future Consumer Index finds that 54 percent of consumers would make their personal data more available if it helped to monitor and track an infection cluster.

The Index also finds that healthcare providers are regarded as the most authoritative organization, with 47 percent of consumers indicating that they trust them completely, compared to governments (28 percent), brands (17 percent) and media companies (16 percent).

Another FutureConsumer.Now scenario model showed that consumers could view time, talent and natural resources as equally precious, with traditional notions of status receding, replaced by purpose and social good. This is supported by the Index, in which 33 percent consumers strongly agree that they will re-evaluate the things they value most as a result of the pandemic, while more than a quarter say they are already paying more attention to what they consume and what impact it has.

Over the coming months, the EY Future Consumer Index will provide regular longitudinal indicators and perspectives on which changes are likely to be temporary reactions to the COVID-19 crisis, and which point to more fundamental shifts. More countries will be included as the analysis continues. The latest analysis is available at ey.com/futureconsumerindex1.

The survey of 4,859 people tracking consumer sentiment and behavior across the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany was conducted the week of April 6, 2020.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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