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How COVID-19 is changing customer behaviour

By Jon Wellman

Today, about 3 billion people are in lockdown around the world.

We wrote previously about how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses into making some quick, DIY digital transformation decisions – some of which have been excellent. Now it’s time to focus on the most crucial cog in business: the customer.

Quarantine life is changing the way we live and work in a number of ways:

  • Rethinking healthy ‘screen time’
  • Removing barriers to online purchasing
  • Reconsidering which purchases should be made online

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail, and think about how businesses can react. 

Rethinking healthy ‘screen time’

With schools, gyms and countless other physical presences in our lives moving online, we’ve seen a big shift in the impact our devices and computers have on our development. 

Where previously, we tried to limit screen time as much as possible, now we must integrate it into our routine. The upkeep of our fitness, personal development and even social lives now rely on our screens.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) has seen a daytime usage increase of 70-80%, compared to figures in February. In the US, Zoom has knocked Facebook and Netflix down the Apple and Google mobile app store rankings.

Removing barriers to online purchasing 

As the ABC reported in April, more people than ever are shopping online. So much so, in fact, that it’s putting strain on the postal service.

“We’ve had record days [of parcels] this week, bigger than the Christmas peak,” Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate told the ABC.

Data from AlphaBeta economists and credit advisory bureau Illion shows that spending in shutdown-affected categories have fallen sharply, however, some categories have been boosted – likely through more time at home, stimulus packages and reduction in other spending.

Rethinking which purchases should be made online

Not only are more people shopping online, they’re making purchases that they’d normally save for a physical shopping trip. This represents an important shift in thinking.

In April, ‘Big four’ accounting firm KPMG released some research around Australia’s online shopping mindset. To quote KPMG:

“Currently online retail penetration in Australia is behind other parts of the world – indicating the high level of latent demand for ecommerce that coronavirus (COVID-19) could release.

Previously, Australian consumers largely bought more discretionary items online, such as apparel and consumer electronics. Now they are also shopping online for essential items, including groceries, pharmacy products and alcohol.”

A recent survey and article from Bazaarvoice backs this up, with some interesting global insights about how COVID-19 has changed shopper behaviour.

From the article: 

“We saw a 21% increase in online orders in March 2020 vs March 2019, and in a survey we conducted with over 3,000 members of the Influenster community, 41% of respondents said that they were currently shopping online for things they would normally shop for in-store.

Before the pandemic, respondents’ main priorities when purchasing were quality (48%), price (47%) and brand (24%). Now, they’re mostly focused on availability (49%), price (36%) and quality (34%).”

No longer do we make distinctions between what should be bought online, and what should wait until the next shopping trip. 

How businesses can react to this changing customer behaviour

The biggest takeaway for businesses is that you absolutely must allow your customers to engage with you and order from you online. It’s time to challenge those old assumptions about what customers are and aren’t willing to buy online – as we’ve seen, those barriers have well and truly been broken down. 

Indeed, certain types of product sales businesses have been first to get online – it’s the obvious move, and there’s plenty of technology available to support them. If your product doesn’t lend itself to quick online purchases, think about a way you can split it up into parts that you can sell or distribute digitally. 

Service-based businesses will need to work harder. The solution could be as simple as taking online bookings for a webinar or online video conference, or as advanced as an end to end service provided online. In some cases, going digital will require a complete rethink. But we think they’re up to the challenge. 

Don’t forget – your knowledge is a product too, if it’s packaged in the right way.


Written by

Jon Wellman on 19 May 2020

I'm a director at Vokke Software in Melbourne. We build custom web software for companies to help them digitalise their organisations, achieve their strategic goals, and disrupt their industries. I'm passionate about working with smart people on interesting problems, particularly in technology and business.