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What’s really driving the post-pandemic consumer?

August 16, 2021

EPAM Continuum reveals preliminary results from its Consumers Unmasked study.

The past 18-months has changed us all. But how much of that change is permanent? And how will current consumer emotions and actions translate into sustained behaviours?

To find out, we’ve embarked on a new study—following our EPAM Continuum consumer council, made up of 71 millennial and Gen Z consumers in the UK, US and Germany, on a 12-month journey to understand their evolving spending habits across food, fitness, fashion, travel and home.

Throughout the year, the study will pivot between qualitative and quantitative approaches, putting the spending triggers and barriers revealed by our consumers to a wider, more rigorous test.

Key themes from the first study include:

1. Whatever else matters, value for money matters more

For our consumer council, value for money (that is, a combination of quality, availability, choice and price) remains the key buying trigger. With value for money in the mix, other factors (e.g. social responsibility, sustainability, brand innovation) have a chance to influence the decision. Without it, the decision will be to look elsewhere.

Value for money doesn't have to mean cheap, it just has to mean that I get the quality and durability I expect for the money that I pay for the goods." Andy, UK.

2. Finding the best deal is a ‘badge of honor’

Not only were our consumers more inclined to spend if offered an incentive or discount, for many, searching for the best price was a challenge they relished. Our study indicated that this behavior became more embedded over the pandemic, raising the question of how users will approach in-store shopping and traditional loyalty/discount programmes in the future.

"I want the feeling that I have picked out the "best" offer. I compare prices across industries, but for travel and fitness, my orders are dependent on good offers and discounts." Joey, Germany.

3. Rewarding experiences are expected

During the pandemic, consumers grew to expect even more from their online experiences. They require a seamless experience but also expect fun—nudging brands towards greater resourcefulness in their offerings and communications rather than mere functionality.

"All the small business owners taking advantage of the reels on Instagram and TikTok have been given the opportunity to really market themselves during this time, and some of them have been INCREDIBLY successful." Kel, US.

4. Ethics climb the leaderboard

Brand ethics may not beat value as the deciding buying factor, but it does appear to be playing a growing role in consumer decisions. Many of our consumers voiced respect for brands doing (or trying to do) good, but they expect altruism to be genuine and transparent.

Others felt shopping with a responsible brand made them feel part of the brand’s community.

I respect Nike greatly as they’ve poured millions of dollars into R&D, charities, and many projects that uplifted people in poverty. I feel proud and thrilled to be their customer as I feel I’m a part of their mission.” Alex, US.

5. COVID-19 concerns remain

The uncertainty of the pandemic left some wary of returning to crowded stores, restaurants or public transportation. This unease may be exacerbated as social distancing/mask-wearing becomes a personal choice.

"I don't trust that staff or other customers who are not wearing masks have been vaccinated." David, US.

How do brands position for a moving target?

We fully expect our consumers’ attitudes and behaviours to shift. The next stage of the study, in September, will consider how by asking four key questions:

1. What is the new state of hybrid living?

Online ruled the pandemic yet physical experiences still exert a powerful pull. During the next stage of the study, we’ll examine how the needle shifts.

2. Does price still rule?

Affordability is not purely a matter of price. Offering easy, up front access to discounts and more flexible ways to pay are clear opportunities, but are they worth the cost for retailers?

3. How is loyalty changing?

Social media highlighted the stories of stores, gyms and restaurants going the extra mile during the pandemic and finding new ways to engage customers. But will a good pandemic response translate to long term loyalty?

4. What role will ethics play in our purchase decisions?

To what extent has ‘doing good’ become a default expectation of consumers? And if making consumers feel good about themselves is of growing importance, how can brands join customers on that journey?

Read the Research and Register to Follow the Study Here.

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