By Emmanuel Nwachukwu
There is no gainsaying that our world has changed immeasurably in recent since the turn of the year as the globe tries to reboot after coronavirus pandemic shuts down country after country. We can’t place a value on the human toll; that will be incalculable. But there has and experts say, will be a more substantial economic toll globally.
Staying alive and helping keep others alive is the top priority right now. A recent GfK survey shows that regular use of hand sanitizer, purchase of toiletries like soaps, disinfectants nearly doubled between early and mid-June. Stores and workplaces are performing extra cleaning processes and requiring physical distancing behaviour. Manufacturers are retooling to produce sanitation and medical supplies.
Regular healthcare visits to health centres are on pause – or going online. Even as healthcare systems become overloaded with coronavirus pandemic patients, other health problems are not disappearing, and a growing number of people are turning to telemedicine options.
In the long run, the outbreak may turn out to be a turning point for telehealth, making it a greater part of healthcare solutions. Post-COVID-19 consumer behaviour may rely more on chemical sanitation and cleaning products in the short term, but a long-term trend toward green and natural products is likely to regain momentum eventually. And the general global trend toward a health approach based on prevention more than treatment will undoubtedly continue.
Stores are now open but are consciously are doing their best to safeguard employers and customers by offering take-out, drive-through, and delivery services. Even service providers such as hotels, restaurants, lounges and photographers are getting creative and employing some of the same approaches. Twitter announced that some of its employees could permanently work from home, while Google announced that the company employees will work from home until at least the summer of 2021. Sony Music, Amazon corporate, and Royal Bank of Scotland have also told their employees to work remotely till 2021. Big religious organizations like Daystar has announced that their services will remain solely online until further notice.
The covid-19 pandemic has brought the world economy to its knees and the vast majority are faced with uncertain times, in which many find themselves either unemployed or at the risk of losing their job.
Many unemployed Nigerians, who have lost their livelihood during the crisis, are broke, don’t have enough money, and spend the little they do have on the basic essentials.Even the lucky ones, who still have a job, tend to take significant belt-tightening measures and try to reduce expenses and unnecessary spending.
Under such circumstances, a significant chunk of the population has adopted new purchasing habits focused on buying only the basics, like groceries, medical and safety supplies, essential household goods (like cleaning supplies), and baby products. Since so many brick-and-mortar businesses are operating at reduced capacity after months of a total shutdown to ensure customer and staff safety, either voluntarily or due to official restrictions, more people are forced to buy online.
In addition, consumers who are trying to remain safe and follow NCDC, Federal and state health ministry guidelines are staying away from supermarkets, malls, and other busy public places and spending more time at home, away from the crowds. Who benefits from the profound changes in consumer attitudes and behaviours? The e-commerce industry. Even when authorities’ restrictions have been loosened or completely lifted, many people are still choosing to act prudently and avoid risks – a sentiment that pushes many of them to continue to prefer online shopping over purchasing from physical points of sale in their area.
On August 12, 2020, eCommerce giants Jumia released its Q2 report which showed that the number of active customers, orders placed and Gross Merchandise Value showed a significant increase for the quarter. The report showed that annual active consumers reached 6.8 million, a year-over-year increase of 40%, while orders one the platform grossed 6.8 million, a year-over-year increase of 8%. Experts predict that this COVID-19 consumer behaviour may “stick” long after the crisis ends.
JD.com, China’s largest online retailer, has seen sales of common household staples quadruple over the same period last year. A survey by Engine found that people are spending on average 10-30% more online.
People are homebound and no longer pursuing external entertainment options that there is an increase in digital streaming services. In addition to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ seeing atypical gains in subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, non-traditional streaming services like movie studios are releasing media streaming, on-demand, sometimes earlier than projected release.
As the situation begins to normalise, brick and mortar shopping will pick up again, but it is unlikely to be enough to cover lost sales in the coming weeks/months. With an economic recession looming, sales revenues from both food & beverage and other sectors are likely to be under pressure. Food, beverage, medical supplies, groceries and other companies should revisit their sourcing strategies, rationalize their product ranges, and assess the resilience and agility of their supply chain as well as their route-to-market channels. E-commerce and distribution networks should be optimised and streamlined considering the impact of changing commodity prices and other costs-to-serve, as well as ways to increase demand, companies will be forced to revisit their pricing and promotion strategies. Also, given the dip in oil price, potential loss of jobs and pay cuts, demand for food & beverage, medical and grocery products is expected to remain low and even worse for non-essential products. Luxury/aspirational purchases will also likely trend downwards. The price will become an even more critical factor, thus food & beverage companies will need to focus strongly on consumer needs.
As consumers become more price-sensitive, short peaks in consumer demand are likely in certain categories once the situation starts to normalise. However, an economic recession looms, as consumer spending is expected to decline in the medium term. Consumers will continue to shift to online sales, which will require Consumer Product companies to revisit their B2C (Business-to-Customer) strategies. As (and when) manufacturing capacity returns to normal levels, a backlog of orders will need to be cleared, putting further pressure on supply chains. As a result, alternative sourcing options will need to be explored.
Considering the impact of changing commodity prices and other costs-to-serve, as well as ways to increase demand, companies will be forced to revisit their pricing and promotion strategies.
The change in consumer behaviour is also leading a reaction from global brands. The last few weeks have seen many sellers and buyers shift their attention from offline to online for strategic partnerships. Leveraging e-commerce platforms some global brands including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Mastercard etc moved their products and services to the Jumia platform, either showcasing their products on the Jumia Mall or advertising their products on the Jumia Marketplace and benefiting from the Jumia’s wide reach and logistics operations. Small retailers who had to embrace the online store platform during the lockdown are also experiencing a continuous shopping trend by customers.
This reality may represent the pressure businesses have to deal with and the path consumers have to thread at the moment for adaptation. But if sustained, they might end up becoming best practices capable of causing the fast resuscitation of our recess economy. Regardless of whatever measures people ultimately take, it is clear that the coming weeks or months will determine a lot.
*Emmanuel Nwachukwu, a business and communications strategist writes from Lagos