Get Re-Acquainted with Your Customers’ Needs Post-COVID-19

August 6th, 2020 | Gregor Barry, Managing Director, Accenture Interactive Lead – Canada, Accenture

 Man in disposable mask using smartphoneThe COVID-19 pandemic has been a disruptive force like no other, fundamentally changing the world as we know it – and how we interact with it. People are living, thinking and buying differently. Brand marketers must recognize that consumers’ new habits will endure beyond the crisis and permanently reshape their behaviours, values and confidence levels.

Considering the effects of the virus, some people feel anxious and worried – contributing to panic-buying of household staples – while others remain indifferent and even resistant to new health and safety requirements, especially those now mandated by certain cities and shops. Targeting the “consumer in crisis” requires moving from the days of one-size-fits-all marketing to customized and personalized messaging strategies. Brands need to know their customers better than ever before, and how their priorities may shift in the long term.

Although the future may seem uncertain, examining the changes happening now gives brands a valuable opportunity to prepare for what’s next as people navigate a new normal. Why, what and how consumers buy will remain reliant on addressing the most basic human needs, but we will see a fundamental shift towards value-based behaviour – and the formation of four new “economies.”

  1. Integrated personal wellness in a holistic health economy
  2. Every business, in every sector, will see themselves promoting and preserving public health as the pandemic progresses. Brands dedicated to health and wellness, including mental health apps like Headspace, will find new prominence in the marketplace. At the same time, many brands outside of the health space will continue to shift their manufacturing capabilities toward helping the fight against COVID-19. Clothing retailer Le Chateau has started producing made-in-Canada hospital gowns, while technology company and appliance maker Dyson previously announced it was building 15,000 ventilators.

    At the consumer level, health products such as cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer have become the latest hot commodities, and discretional spending in industries such as tourism and hospitality will remain low given global travel restrictions. Brands promoting staycations or offering consumers flexibility on cancellations and rescheduling will be best suited to gain new business and increased loyalty. Accenture’s 5 New Human Truths report also emphasizes that a position in the new health economy will be a strategic differentiator for all brands throughout the foreseeable future.

  3. Doing real good in a purpose economy
  4. Purposeful purchasing is one of the latest behaviours to be amplified by the pandemic as consumers become more mindful of what they’re buying, and who they’re buying from. This desire to shop consciously has sparked heightened awareness of sustainable buying options and ways to reduce waste. Brands will need to make responsible offerings, including eco-friendly products, part of their business model going forward – and promote them accordingly.

    This trend was first identified earlier this year in Accenture’s annual Fjord Trends and Global Consumer Pulse Research, but it was impossible to predict the scale at which purpose would become an essential business consideration. Major Canadian grocers are already seeing a rise in consumer spending on all-natural food – new data shows annual retail sales of organic food and beverage products in Canada have increased 57% over the past five years. Additionally, footwear brand Dr. Martens saw their profits boost 70% after launching vegan footwear.

    More than 40% of Canadian consumers surveyed as part of Accenture’s COVID-19 Consumer Pulse report indicated they will continue to make more sustainable purchases post-pandemic, contributing to the formation of a new purpose economy. More than they already have, conscious consumers will enter the mainstream and prompt brands to deliver ethical experiences as the new standard, rather than a nice-to-have.

  5. Living local in an authenticity economy
  6. With people cocooning and re-centering their lives in and around the home, the “local” has rapidly increased in value. This refers not only to locally-made products – though as much as 80% of Canadian consumers say they will continue to purchase more locally-sourced goods after the crisis – but also to community-oriented retailers emphasizing trust and personal relationships. Accordingly, we’re simultaneously living through a pandemic and the redefinition of the “local” and authentic.

    As restrictions began to lift, many consumers found themselves seeking out local restaurants and shops as a way of helping rebuild their local economy. Every brand will need to explore innovative and engaging ways to connect locally with customers – whether it’s through highlighting local origins or customizing for local needs.

  7. Reinventing connection in a social economy
  8. Despite their distance, people still want to feel together. As governments encourage their citizens to stay home and apart whenever possible, video chatting family, playing with friends on apps like Houseparty and attending webinars are just a handful of the many creative ways people have been spending their time. In fact, 35% of Canadian consumers say they started or devoted more time to learning new skills and completing education online, and 74% expect to sustain these habits post-COVID.

    Both consumers and brands should expect to see a massive shift to virtual activity for anything as people get more accustomed to stay-at-home life. Digital commerce will also boom, with long-lasting implications on delivery and returns. In May, Shopify introduced Shop, a one-stop app where consumers can discover local businesses, receive relevant product recommendations from brands and buy effortlessly. The Shop app integrates features from Shop Pay, an efficient one-click checkout, and Arrive, a Shopify app to track online orders. Shop Pay has processed more than US$8 billion in sales so far, while 16 million shoppers have used Arrive to track their e-commerce orders.

    Picnic, a Dutch grocer, took this further by partnering with DHL to pick up returns from online shoppers when delivering their groceries – another trend accelerated through the pandemic.

Evidently, COVID-19 has given brands incentive to revisit the new, and future, consumer – one who prioritizes hygiene, cleanliness, self-care and sustainability above all else. In many ways, the pandemic could be pushing us toward better business practices year-round.

Winning brands will need to look inward to develop broader and holistic health and wellness solutions, keep local at the heart of their business and marketing strategies, embrace virtual for everything and drive impact through unwavering consumer confidence.



Gregor Barry is Accenture’s Canada Lead for Accenture Interactive. Gregor leads a team of consulting, marketing, and technology practitioners who are helping clients transform their brands through experiences. With over 18 years of digital strategy and marketing experience, he has led large scale transformations for clients in the US and Canada. He holds strong experience in digital strategy, marketing, customer experience design, digital media, and innovation. Gregor studied at Queen’s University and the Tuck School of Business.