4 major trends caused by covid-19 and how to respond [data]

Fast-forward trend 1: Digitization

COVID-19 has not only accelerated digitization in business-to-consumer (B2C) applications and channels, but also the traditionally less digitized part of the economy, such as areas requiring physical interactions, and business-to-business (B2B) processes.

Before COVID-19, China was already a digital leader in consumer-facing areas—accounting for 45 percent of global e-commerce transactions while mobile payments penetration was three times higher than that of the United States. Consumers and businesses in China have accelerated their use of digital technologies as a result of COVID-19. Based on our mobile surveys of Chinese consumers, about 55 percent are likely to continue buying more groceries online after the peak of the crisis. Nike’s first-quarter digital sales in China increased 30 percent year-over-year after the company launched home workouts via its mobile app, while property platform Beike said agent-facilitated property viewings on its virtual reality showroom in February increased by almost 35 times compared with the previous month.

Working practices also changed significantly: enterprise communication platform DingTalk almost doubled its monthly active users in a single quarter to 177 million. In healthcare, digital interactions accelerated—the rapid growth of online consultations, partly thanks to a regulatory shift in reimbursement policy, as well as broader virtual interactions between pharmaceutical sales agents and physicians. These changes occurred ahead of wide deployment of 5G technology, which will likely catalyze the use of digital tools.

Fast-forward trend 4: Consumers come of age

China’s affluent younger generation had never experienced a domestic economic downturn prior to COVID-19. The virus has forced them to think harder about spending, saving, and trade-offs in purchasing behavior.

Attitudes to spending among consumers in their 20s and 30s, traditionally the engine of China’s consumption growth, have changed markedly in the wake of COVID-19. One survey showed 42 percent of young consumers intend to save more as a result of the virus. Consumer lending has also declined, while four out of five Chinese consumers intend to purchase more insurance products postcrisis. Savings have also rocketed—the country’s household deposit balance increased by 8 percent over the first quarter to reach 87.8 trillion RMB. Meanwhile, 41 percent of consumers said they planned to increase sources of income through wealth management, investments, and mutual funds.

The virus has also forced purchasing trade-offs, with consumers seeking better quality and healthier options: more than 70 percent of respondents in our COVID-19 consumer survey will continue to spend more time and money purchasing safe and eco-friendly products, while three-quarters want to eat more healthily after the crisis.

Taking the government to court

It is clear that the wars over PCR tests are hotting up, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. A new organisation in the UK, calling itself PCR Claims, has been set up to challenge in the courts the British government’s handling of PCR testing for Covid-19. 

The organisation describes itself as a pro bono network of lawyers, life scientists, and business advisers led by Jo Rogers, a lawyer who runs Navistar Legal. 

Rogers told RT.com: “The intention is to expose the controversy of the inappropriate use of PCR in the context of pillar 2 community testing and private sector lighthouse labs. 

“PCR was not designed for mass testing because of the sensitivity and risk of contamination. There are serious flaws in many of the protocols employed, which were hurriedly put together, some without peer review. The operational false positive rate is unknown and therefore every positive test could be false, unless accompanied by clinical examination.” 

As an example of errors with PCR, the group points to a recent case from Cambridge University. “Our first priority is to gather evidence of the harms from restrictions to life whose policies were driven by PCR test modelling and/or ‘case’ results,” Rogers said. “We believe the cases are a pseudo epidemic, as seen in other places around the world using PCR testing. 

Also on rt.com
A global team of experts has found 10 FATAL FLAWS in the main test for Covid and is demanding it’s urgently axed. As they should

“Legal action is progressing and further instances will follow as we receive the evidence of harms. The gathering of that evidence is ongoing nationwide, as well as our raising awareness of errors and negligence.» 

As someone who shares their deep concerns over these PCR tests, this is good news. At last, there is somewhere to go for expert legal counsel on the government’s persecution of free-born citizens. And thank heavens also for the stellar work of the entire peer review team for holding this bad science to account. If indeed it is retracted, it will be a major victory for those of us who can see through what Dr Mike Yeadon, one of the paper’s debunkers, rightly calls a “false positive pseudo-epidemic.”

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Homeschooling

Schools, colleges, and universities have had to follow in suit with workplaces. With a pattern in mentions very much like the above.

There was a brief peak in mentions of homeschooling before the prime school closure conversation on March 13. But the real realization of the task ahead didn’t hit until Tuesday March 17. Sample: 2%

The real story here though, is that while working from home peaked then stabilized within one week, homeschooling is driving peaks week after week. Totaling 4.49 million mentions throughout March.

People are struggling to adapt to teaching children at home, and creating more conversations each week seeking help and advice. Only the weekends bring some respite.

What conversations are driving the trend?

Unsurprisingly, public closures dominate the conversations related to homeschooling (21.8%). This wasn’t by choice, but the only option to take when faced with the ongoing situation.

Teaching resources (17.1%)

Again, the community was quick to respond to meet the new requirements of homeschooling. Whether teachers having to adapt to a remote teaching role, or parents learning to become home teachers (often while juggling working from home too), everyone is having to learn new skills.

With many businesses and professionals providing the resources and tools they need.

Helping provide relevant resources ensures your brand remains a vital part of your consumer mindset.

Parental viewpoint (14.5%)

As parents adapt to their new role, they’re sharing their stories online. Whether positive or negative, successful or otherwise, people are having to share their experiences as part of the coping mechanism. Finding social interactions, and community support, even when face-to-face isn’t possible.

These conversations are demonstrating the needs that consumers require the most, and would be valuable to interact with if possible.

Facing new challenges, users are turning more to social media to look for help and support. Brands should try to help in these conversations where possible.

Other major conversations

People disliking online classes (10.1%)

Some students are struggling to adapt to the changing environment, with many not liking the new online class structure. Expect this to drop as people get used to the change.

Some of the online class dislike is due to people missing the social interaction of school.

Paid student impersonation (4.9%)

There’s always someone that looks to profit from every situation. There’s been a rise of businesses offering to sit exams or classes, or write papers for students.

Educational facilities should be aware of the increased risk of this kind during this time.

Technical requirements (and lack of) (3.8%)

To make homeschooling work, students require more technical support, with items such as tablets, computers and internet. This change has highlighted a gap in technical support in some areas.

As a business, if you can help support this issue in any way, do.

Homeschooling — brands

The brands relating to homeschooling are similar to working from home, dominated by tech suppliers, offering the facilities classrooms need to keep in touch.

One brand that stands out from this, is Lego. That’s due to many turning to the construction toy as a form of educational play. With the company supporting through their own initiatives.

Encourage users to connect and engage, by promoting active play.

Mentions of Lego’s #LetsBuildTogether increased 1500% in the last week of March.

Working from home

Whether following government advice, or using their own discretion, companies have had to close to protect both staff and customers. But were we ready?

With 330,000 mentions of workplace closures throughout March, the issue became a major talking point when it peaked on March 16. This was led across the country.

Mentions of workplace closures peaked on March 16, with many brands independently deciding to close stores to protect staff and consumers. Sample: 2%

From then on, people had to switch to working from home, where possible. And it seems people were ready. Just. Although the peak came after businesses started closing, there was a large uptick of working from home conversations, demonstrating an awareness that processes would have to adapt before they were needed. A little preparation goes a long way.

Mentions of working from home, started peaking from March 13, demonstrating some mild preparation for the closures ahead. Sample: 2%

When we consider the usual chatter regarding working from home is around 50,000 mentions per week globally, 2.84million mentions from the peak week of the crisis, demonstrates a significant change in consumer habits.

What conversations are driving the trend?

23.1% of working from home conversations are driven by technology and related matters. The displacement of significant parts of the workforce, has required a significant technological input.

Technology (23.1%)

Conversations around technology, fall into 3 main categories —

  • The new tech needed to keep working.
  • The tech needed to keep in touch.
  • Cybersecurity.

Brands have had to invest heavily in updating their processes and workflows, to ensure collaboration can continue from afar. Cybersecurity is a major part of this, providing people with the tools they need, while protecting confidential company data.

Brands should be tackling cybersecurity risks, to protect both the company and their customers.

Home working tips (22.9%)

With working from home only becoming big in the last 2 weeks of March, people are still adjusting. Unsurprisingly then, the conversation is being led by hints and tips about how to handle it.

Sharing great working from home tips, can help build community engagement, and provide consumers with much needed help in a difficult time.

Other major conversations

Working from home struggles (10.9%) — From the serious, to the silly, people are listing the issues they’re facing in this new environment.

Confinement is certainly a real issue now.

Entertainment (6.7%)

After a long day at work (at home), people are craving more entertainment. Including more traditional and nostalgic crafts.

Now is a great time to engage new followers with hands-on activities.

Pets (3.3%)

Of course, if you’re at home all day, then that means more time with your pets. And there’s nothing more exciting on the internet, than pictures of people’s cats or pupers.

Dogs and cats drive excellent engagement even at the best of times. Right now, they’re just the pick-me up people need.

Working from home — brands

The leading tech brands that help people keep in touch are dominating all work from home conversations. Video conferencing tool, Zoom, is mentioned in 0.83% of all working from home conversations, showing a huge uptake of the tool over the last month.

Similar collaboration or efficiency tools such as Skype, Microsoft Office, Google Hangouts, also dominated the topic.

Shipping and Fulfillment Providers

With large-scale shipping concerns and Christmas cut-offs looming, we’ve reached out directly to a number of 3PLs.

None report interruptions in domestic service (last updated: Dec. 9, 6:00am PST). The links below will take you to each provider’s “Status” page:

ShipHero, Promofill, and LeftBrain

Particularly helpful is ShipBob’s Shipping Carrier Data, where you can find weekly time-in-transit updates from the four leading shipping carriers

Also of note is Lumi’s What is the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission on Packages?

While providers are still operational, we suggest reaching out directly. Work stoppages could significantly slow down delivery times and need to be communicated with customers sooner rather than later.

Fast-forward trend 2: Declining global exposure

A mix of geopolitical and economic forces was already driving a change in the relationship between China and the world, and COVID-19 appears to be accelerating this trend.

Before COVID-19, China had been reducing its relative exposure to the world as the majority of economic growth was generated by domestic consumption, supply chains matured and localized, and its innovation capabilities were enhanced. The US–China trade dispute raised risks and uncertainties, and about 30 to 50 percent of companies surveyed by various institutions in 2019 indicated that they were considering adjusting their supply-chain strategies by seeking alternative sources or relocating production to other geographies. COVID-19 has intensified the debate, with several governments calling for companies in critical sectors to relocate their operations back to their home countries and announcing financial support packages to facilitate this. Twenty percent of companies surveyed by AmCham China believe COVID-19 may accelerate “decoupling.” A paper published in February by the European Union Chamber of Commerce highlighted how diversification is now at the top of the agenda for many European companies in China. Global trade and investment has slowed sharply, and the movement of people has become highly restricted.

Despite these trends, the full picture is more nuanced. Given the size and the growth potential of the Chinese market, investing in a supply chain and innovation footprint to serve China will continue to remain important. And China for its part will continue to require global technology inputs in order to maintain productivity growth. The relationship between China and the world will be a function of the decisions that all parties make over the course of the next several months and years.

The trend: Mobile search traffic cut by nearly 25% in March

With many staying indoors, not commuting and not traveling, we’ve already noticed that we’re appreciably less mobile than we were just a few weeks ago. My Fitbit confirms that fact too, honestly. These sedentary behaviors make us much less mobile on search as well, and our paid search campaigns show a large decline in mobile search traffic.

While Google search ad traffic is falling across all devices, it was felt much more on mobile and tablet devices than it was on desktop. Since Monday, March 16, mobile traffic has consistently been down an average of 24% from the last week of February. Tablet traffic is similarly suffering from a 19% drop in the same time period. Desktop traffic is steadier, showing an 18% decline during the week and only a 7% decline on the weekends.

With mobile traffic sharply declining in the US, this begins to erode a core tenant of Google’s own “mobile-first” philosophy. Traffic on mobile is generally cheaper for PPC advertisers, so this shift has meaningful implications for PPC strategy in the coming weeks.

1. Revisit your device bid adjustments

You may have set a mobile bid adjustment in the past using relevant data at the time, but given the quick shifts in the search landscape, it may be worth revisiting your current device bid adjustments. As more searchers shift back to desktops while spending time inside, expect to see big shifts to their performance across device.

2. Consider smart bidding

It’s clear that we’re in for some surprising paradigm shifts, and it’s going to be difficult to know how search behavior will shift on a dime. Google’s smart bidding strategies may help advertisers by digesting changing data and adjusting their CPC bids in real time to match their goals. When choosing a smart bidding strategy, be sure to consider your goals and campaign budget, as well!

Product Categories Shifting During COVID-19

As people are making buying choices based on new and ever-changing global and local circumstances, the product categories that are being purchased are also changing. 

Market research company Nielsen has identified six key consumer behavior thresholds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and their results on markets. 

These are: 

  • Proactive health-minded buying (purchasing preventative health and wellness products).
  • Reactive health management (purchasing protective gear like masks and hand sanitizers).
  • Pantry preparation (stockpiling groceries and household essentials).
  • Quarantine prep (experiencing shortages in stores, making fewer store visits).
  • Restricted living (making much fewer shopping trips, limited online fulfillment).
  • A new normal (return to daily routines, permanently altered supply chain).

As we progress through these stages, the items people choose to buy and the product categories that thrive continue to change. Here are some of the product categories most affected. 

1. Health and safety products. 

Anyone who has faced empty shelves or seen price gouging online knows that health and safety products are being purchased far faster than they can be produced and restocked.

According to data from Nielsen, items like hygienic and medical mask sales are up by more than 300%.

2. Shelf-stable goods.

Another category of consumer packaged goods that is booming is shelf-stable items. These fit into the category of people planning for long-term quarantine. According to Nielsen, products like shelf-stable milk and milk substitutes (particularly oat milk) are up by more than 300% in dollar growth. Other items seeing increases are things like dried beans and fruit snacks that have a long shelf life. 

3. Food and beverage.

In addition to long-term quarantine type items, for groceries in general, . However, there are some behavioral changes around the way people are buying groceries.

For example, in an effort to avoid crowds at supermarkets, many people are choosing BOPIS (buy-online-pick-up-in-store) or delivery options. Downloads of apps like Instacart and Shipt that allow people to hire personal shoppers to prepare and in some cases deliver their grocery orders have increased by between 124% (for Shipt) and 218% (for Instacart). People are also choosing to buy these items from online stores more than they did prior.

, a shipping and fulfillment partner for ecommerce stores, gathered data from 3,000+ of their merchants and is tracking the data. While the chart below shows some fluctuations, the month-over-month increase in online sales for food and beverage is 18.8%

4. Digital streaming. 

While less about the immediacy of protecting and feeding themselves, it comes as no surprise that as 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. 

5. Luxury goods. 

While the above products and services are increasing in sales due to the current situation, other industries are not doing as well. In addition to obvious ones like entertainment, restaurants, and travel, one area projected to have significant losses is the luxury goods industry. 

Vogue Business projects a potential loss as great as $10 billion for this industry in 2020 due to COVID-19. This is in part because luxury goods rely heavily on the Asian market’s purchasing power, where the pandemic has been affecting consumers since January. 

This chart from Vogue Business illustrates the importance of Asian buyers for top luxury brands: 

6. Fashion and apparel. 

As mentioned above, omnichannel sellers are seeing big losses, in part because they’re closing the retail arms of their businesses all together. People are understandably not interested in shopping for clothes in person. Department stores like Macy’s and JCPenney, large chains like Abercrombie & Fitch and Nike, and DTC brands with some storefronts like Rothys and Everlane are all closing their physical stores and experiencing losses. Some stores like Patagonia are halting even their online stores to protect all workers in their supply chain.

Even online apparel sales are down as people are putting more of their budgets into daily essentials. The chart below is again from Shipbob’s data of their 3,000+ merchants. This shows an decrease in sales month-over-month. 

Generational Purchasing Responses to COVID-19

The response to COVID-19 hasn’t been universally felt across generations, with consumers of different age groups responding differently to the crisis. 

It is important to caveat that this is a rapidly evolving situation so surveys are quickly outdated as behaviors change with the circumstances. This applies to data shared here and below. 

1. Gen Z and Millenials. 

While people in general are concerned about the growing pandemic, the youngest generations are particularly altering their purchasing behaviors. 

One survey of U.S. and U.K. consumers found that 96% of Millenials and Gen Zs are concerned about the pandemic and its effects on the economy. This concern is leading them to change their behavior more dramatically than other generations, which includes cutting back on spending, stocking up on items, and spending less on experiences.  

2. Gen X and Boomers. 

Although still concerned about coronavirus and its effects on the economy, older generations are slightly less concerned than younger generations and letting it impact their shopping habits less. For example, 24% of Boomers and 34% of Gen X said they were letting current events impact what items they purchase, compared to nearly half of Millennials. 

Remote Work & COVID-19 Prevention

As of Mar. 13, all of Common Thread Collective will be working remotely.

Because the majority of our time with clients is already remote, just expect to see a few additional “screens” when you join any regularly scheduled meetings.

For your own organization, here are a few links to help you navigate:

  • Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
  • CDC’s “Steps to Prevent Coronavirus Disease”
  • And, a full list of companies WFH because of COVID-19

With active members across a host of ecommerce groups — Ecommerce Fuel, Shopify Plus’ Facebook Community, LeanLuxe, and 2PM’s Polymathic — we’ll be paying attention to noticeable shifts or activity.

(Note: Many of these groups are closed, so we’ll only share anonymized commentary, tips, and links.)

Things are changing fast. We’re keeping a pulse on the best sources in the industry, distilling them, and delivering it to you as soon as it becomes available.

Sources and Links

1. ShipBob (MoM)

2. ShipHero (MoM)

3. Attentive (MoM)

4. Stackline (YoY) via Amazon, Walmart & Online Marketplaces

5. Common Thread Collective (MoM)

6. Klaviyo (MoM)

7. Adobe (MoM)

Aaron is the VP of Marketing at CTC. Previously the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, his content has appeared on Forbes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, The New York Times, and more. Connect with Aaron on or LinkedIn (especially if you want to talk about bunnies or #LetsGetRejected).

Emergency Department Visits

These charts show people who visited the emergency department with clinical
signs and
symptoms consistent with COVID-19 illness (including flu-like illnesses and
pneumonia) during the past three months, and those who were then admitted to the
hospital. While some of these people did not have a positive molecular or
antigen test, these charts can be an
early warning sign for community
transmission of COVID-19.

Visits
Admissions

About the Data: All of the data on these
pages were collected by the NYC Health Department. Data
will
be updated daily but are preliminary and subject to change.

Reporting Lag: Our data are published with a
three-day
lag, meaning that the most recent
data in today’s update are from three days before.

This lag is due to the standard delays (up to several days) in reporting to
the
Health Department a new test,
case,
hospitalization or death. Given the delay, our counts of what has happened
in
the most recent few days are
artificially
small. We delay publishing these data until more reports have come in and
the
data are more complete.

Health Inequities in Data: Differences in health outcomes
among
racial and ethnic groups are due to long-term structural racism, not
biological
or personal traits.

Structural racism — centuries of racist policies and discriminatory
practices across institutions, including government agencies, and society
— prevents communities of color from accessing vital resources (such
as
health care, housing and food) and opportunities (such as employment and
education), and negatively affects overall health and well-being. The
disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on New Yorkers of color highlights how
these
inequities negatively influence health outcomes.

Review
how we are working to address inequities during this public health
emergency (PDF).

Conclusion

We are, all of us, currently living in flux. 

Your customers are trying their best to adapt to strange times without a lot of footholds and shifting their behavior as a result. As a business owner, you are facing much of the same uncertainty, while trying to support your customers’ needs and your own. 

Depending on your industry and audience, your response to the ever-evolving situation will change. You know your customers better than anyone. We hope this resource has helped you understand some of the ways their behaviors are changing, so you can continue to serve them as best you can.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Next steps for retailers

COVID-19 and the onset of an economic slowdown may well reshape the landscape of retail deals and partnerships. We encourage retailers to take four steps now as they contemplate M&A and partnerships going forward, grounded in the three C’s of excellent M&A strategists (competitive advantage, capacity, and conviction).

Define the next normal—and your competitive advantage. The first step to redefining M&A and partnership strategy is to understand what the next normal means for each brand and retailer. The new reality will depend largely on how core consumer segments, including behaviors and spending habits, have been impacted by COVID-19. Where are the growth spaces today and where will they be in the future? Where are consumers spending money—which categories and/or channels? How have their tastes, preferences, or concerns changed, driving new opportunities for differentiation or shaping new habits? In this context, how have previous competitive advantages changed and what new advantages have emerged? Identifying the opportunities for growth in the next normal—and which areas can be accelerated via partnerships and M&A—will be the first step to reshaping M&A strategy.

Assess capacity to execute acquisitions and partnerships. A realistic assessment of balance-sheet strength and ability to make acquisitions independently (that is, while debt markets are slowed or frozen), as well as ability to secure financing in the postcrisis environment, will be a key input to evolving M&A strategy. Understanding what targets (and what size targets) are feasible to acquire now versus later should inform how areas of exploration are prioritized. For players with limited cash availability or challenging financial health, partnerships with other players to pool financial resources while addressing strategic priorities could be considered (for example, sourcing collaborations).

Build conviction through identification of key areas of exploration within the M&A and partnership market and think through value creation up front. Retailers should generate data-backed perspectives about market trajectory, new-normal scenarios postcrisis, and the risks of further disruption. Shortlisting top-priority areas and securing executive and board commitment to M&A will accelerate decision making as markets thaw and potential targets are discovered. In the post-COVID-19 tight credit market, we expect that synergy capture expectations, and track record, will matter to investors, which makes it even more important to think through synergy ambitions and value-capture plans up front. We also envision that a potential economic crisis will make it more important to carefully think through how a deal can help to sharpen and/or reposition the joint entity’s value proposition(s) to better service customers’ needs.

Explore opportunities to strike new deals and partner with healthier players. Players without the cash and financial health to pursue acquisitions should identify potential assets to liquidate or potential partnerships to shore up the balance sheet until the crisis passes. The implications of COVID-19 are just as high for potential sellers as they are for potential acquirers.

The retail sector cannot escape the economic impact of COVID-19. But, despite the difficult economic outlook, we expect retail M&A activity to accelerate as the crisis stabilizes, creating opportunities for financially sound players to acquire or partner with less advantaged players. Now is the time for retailers to think about M&A postcrisis. This calls for defining their role in the next normal, reevaluating financial health, segmenting the M&A market, and contemplating new deals and partnerships.

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