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In the immediate future, sporadic instances of restricted-living mandates will continue to be a disruptive force for many around the world, notes Genevieve Aronson, VP of Global Thought Leadership at NielsenIQ.

For retailers and consumers, ‘living with COVID’ means a polarized path ahead

There are vast disparities in how different consumers will choose to interact, learn, work and shop, says NielsenIQ’s VP of Global Thought Leadership

Genevieve Aronson is VP of Global Thought Leadership at NielsenIQ. The views expressed here are those of the author. NielsenIQ is a regular featured contributor to Supermarket News.

Genevieve Aronson Nielsen headshot.jpgA year and a half into the fight against COVID-19, the world sits at staggered stages of restrictions and recovery. Globally, the vaccination rollout has slowly gained traction and vaccine adoption rates on a mass scale are widely diverse. But perhaps most notable is the growing sentiment that the world may never be fully rid of this virus. Instead, countries are rethinking formal policies and people are shifting their pandemic perspective to adjust to an indefinite life with COVID-19.

As COVID-19 variants propel new spikes in infection rates, the personal, governmental and corporate responses to crises are becoming increasingly polarized. Government officials around the world have hinted at a gradual shift away from restrictive mandates in favor of proactive, self-minded guidance for citizens. Without the uniformity of a universal lockdown, as experienced in the very first wave of the pandemic, the path forward is being dictated in many cases by collective individual decisions and mindsets.

For people and companies, what “living with Covid” will require is the recognition of a widened spectrum of “moving-on mindsets.” There are vast disparities in how different consumers will choose to interact, learn, work and shop. These varying comfort levels and beliefs will further deepen social and economic divides across consumer segments and communities. The opportunity for companies is to understand how these underlying needs and personal preferences are impacting shopper, lifestyle and spending habits to shape new ways of engaging with consumers as people.

Why this matters

For consumers:

The enduring impact of living in a Covid-influenced world will continue to influence financial decisions, spending patterns and lifestyle choices. Keep an eye out on ritualized habits — as consumers will now firmly decide which pandemic-adopted behaviors will be mainstay routines.

When inevitable surges in cases pop up, social scenarios will test individual comfort zones and bring differences in mindsets front and center. As a parent of a school-aged child who is not yet able to become vaccinated, I am seeing this firsthand: from varying back-to-school adoption plans, and parents who require masks versus those who do not, to those who accept social invites to larger, indoor and outdoor public events and those who do not. As differences in approaches linger, social circles may shift and evolve to reflect a coming together of compatible “moving-on mindsets.” 

For brands:

Know your consumer. A deep understanding of your consumer will be critical to successful, one-to-one marketing efforts. Brands must stay aligned with the general trajectory and shift toward individuals and engagement while understanding and addressing the widened array of consumer situations, preferences and needs. It should be noted that an already concerning economic divide will grow even larger across insulated and constrained consumers. NielsenIQ data shows that 67% of all consumers report they have changed the way they shop due to COVID-19, and this figure is poised for further growth.

For retailers:

In the immediate future, sporadic instances of restricted-living mandates will continue to be a disruptive force for many around the world. The most recent “pingdemic” in the UK illustrates this point. Amidst the latest spread of the Delta variant, shelves were once again emptied out and retail was disrupted when over 600,000 people received the “ping” to self-isolate from the National Health Service (NHS) test and trace app. The lingering strain and unpredictable threats ahead will continue to be a retail reality.

Moving forward, retailers should expect regular disruption. Be prepared for the bullwhip effect (the increasing swings in inventory due to shifts in consumer demand). Operate with the expectation that employment disruptions will continue given the unpredictable nature of today’s reality.

Online and omnichannel shopping will continue to pervade the retail world, particularly aligned to concerned shoppers with a reduced-contact mindset. Through this lens, the world will need an ecosystem of stores, online ordering, fulfillment, last mile delivery and supply chains that can execute flawlessly under any condition.

What’s Next

For consumers, brands, retailers and industry players, “living with COVID-19” will require a stronger understanding of the spectrum of individual preferences that have emerged. If government strategies shift from formal mandates to recommended guidance for citizens, the path forward will truly be guided by the “moving-on mindsets” of today’s very polarized population of consumers.

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