CES: Identifying Consumer Trends Shaping the New Normal

The Harris Poll’s CEO John Gerzema and Mastercard’s EVP of North America marketing and communications Cheryl Guerin presented data from their recent joint market research study of COVID-19’s impact on digital commerce. They grouped their findings around four key trends: The Touchless Revolution, The Betterment Boom, The Rise of Revenge Spending and The Uncalendared Year. The presentation was followed by a 30-minute discussion with panelists Julia Hammond of MDC Partners, DyShaun Muhammad of Uber, Lou Paskalis of Bank of America and Katie Riccio Puris of TikTok.

Below are highlights from the data Gerzema and Guerin presented to back up the four key trends.

The Touchless Revolution: COVID-19 is accelerating the emergence of a touchless lifestyle. Consumers of all generations are willing to switch to brands that offer touchless experiences. Research indicates that 73 percent of North Americans believe that COVID-19 has changed their shopping habits forever, while 64 percent say the pandemic has helped them recognize the ease of online shopping and 52 percent are relying on customer service chatbots.

Touchless payments represent 41 percent of global transactions globally. Additionally, 80 percent of consumers say they don’t want to pick up a pen and sign any more and 48 percent don’t want to touch cash (it is seen as dirty).

The pandemic has accelerated changes that were already happening. Brands will need to find the balance between touchless activities and the human touch.

The Betterment Boom: COVID has triggered a national conversation on mental health and wellness and removed its stigma. According tot he study, 67 percent of respondents said they had experienced stress over the last year, while 82 percent of American teens say it is important that we have a conversation about mental health and wellness.

The Betterment Boom is driving both home improvement and personal improvement. Thirty-one percent of respondents say that they have changed their industry or career path since the start of the pandemic. There has been an almost 500 percent jump in people taking Coursera online classes (50 million course enrollments) and 69 percent of Americans say that they feel more gratitude (as a result, gifting is on the rise).

The Rise of Revenge Spending: There is pent up demand for splurge spending. Fifty-one percent of Americans say that they have put money into savings in the past year, and they want to spend it! There is a savings dam that is about to burst.

Guerin used the term “unattainability effect” — suggesting people want to go to stores, sporting events, movies, travel destinations, but cannot yet. Guerin noted that when China lifted its pandemic restrictions, luxury purchases spiked. The #1 splurge purchase Americans desire is travel, and the majority imagine that they will have more to spend in 2021 due to their savings.

Guerin also mentioned the “Pinterest effect” — describing people who are planning their spending and their traveling now so they are ready when it becomes possible.

Marketers should prepare to reinforce the safety message, that it is okay and safe to buy things and to go places again.

The Uncalendared Year: The calendar of activities that help us plan out our lives, from sports seasons to community events, has been disrupted by COVID. The study found that 34 percent of Americans don’t know when the pandemic will end and 40 percent of Americans are not ready to get the vaccine, adding to the uncertainty of when we will get to the new normal. Thirty-two percent of Americans are planning to postpone seasonal celebrations such as weddings and graduation parties.

Seventy percent of Americans are considering a work-cation, taking advantage of social distancing at work and school by temporarily moving to a new location. Airbnb has reported a surge in long term rentals lasting 28 days or more. The message for marketers is don’t think in terms of conventional timelines.

Keeping these four trends and the data underlying them in mind, business leaders should think about how they can take advantage of the disruption that will eventually transition to the new normal.

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