Retailers are forced to alter their operating strategies as a response to COVID-19. Curated ME surveyed 87 GCC inhabitants for direct feedback on what they expect from retail once the pandemic subsides.
Since COVID-19, common lingo for every day chit-chat such as “necessities over luxury,” “enjoy the simple things,” and “it’s time to save right now,” “stay safe” and Curated ME’s personal favorite, “did you wash your… everything?!”
A Bain Brief on Luxury after COVID-19 states: “As of March 25, we forecast that the luxury market globally will contract by 25% to 30% year-over-year in the first quarter” due to a complex variety of reasons such as decreases in: consumer confidence and willingness to spend, tourism spending, employee pay-cuts, company downsizing and more. Will society indefinitely cease to hug loved ones for fear of catching germs? Instead of splurging on the next ‘it’ bag, will consumers opt for the next capsule, limited-edition hand-sanitizer by LVMH instead?
Lucien Pagès of Lucien Pages Communication says “I don’t know if it’s because [consumers] are afraid, but I do have the feeling that people are looking for something beyond our current situation, something that feels a bit more substantial […] it makes you question everything.”
To find out from real GCC consumers, Curated ME surveyed 87 male and female residents aged 25-65 to assess how people’s overall attitudes about life changed since the outbreak, and consequently, how this may change their shopping behavior moving forward.
We started by asking their general sentiments towards COVID-19, and 80% of respondents selected the: “It's challenging, but there are silver linings to it like spending time with loved ones and lessening pollution. Despite the tragedies, society needed this in a way.” A Palestinian-Jordanian jewelry designer living in UAE added in the notes: “I got so used to living a fast-paced life…so there's some beauty to slowing down for a bit.”
When we asked users “due to COVID-19, how do you foresee the online shopping experience changing, if at all?” A 27-year old male, born and raised in UAE said “It will require more details on delivery times and contactless delivery. People are scared of other people right now, even when the delivery guy just hands you the item.”
With online shopping being the only option for buying fashion in the indefinite future, what does this mean for good old fashioned brick and mortar (B&M) stores? A 26-year-old Omani living in Oman thinks that it is not the end to in-person shopping, in fact COVID-19 could instigate more selling opportunities once the virus subsides: “People will really crave experiences after such a long period of isolation. B&M needs to capitalize on this and be mindful of the increased digital nature and habits of everyone that was in self isolation. This means doubling down on experience and customer service and/or leveraging stock for sales online either through click and collect or ship from store.” furthermore, not all hope is lost as roughly 35% of our respondents claim they always prefer the in-person shopping experience, especially for luxury goods. Former Head Stylist of Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s Dubai, adds that we still need stores to add a personal touch and reflect brand DNA.
There will however be challenges for B&M to accommodate a more ‘socially distant’ lifestyle; An American in her 50’s, living in Dubai and Founder of a boutique marketing consultancy says “I think it's going to be a really rough 18 months at a minimum. Many will go out of business and there will be fewer items in store because of supply chain disruptions.” furthermore, we may see a notable decrease in the number of stores, TV personality and host, Rosemin Manji expresses that at this rate we may be left with only “one to two flagships per city.” Kat Lebrasse, partner of Sunday and influencer adds, “I think there will be quite a big downfall in physical stores and a big increase in the use of online shopping. Once, they [brands] are comfortable with it, I see less people having the need to go and shop in person.” furthermore, the slightly older bunch believes that social distancing will continue for a period after COVID-19 just for safety reasons, making e-commerce even more attractive: “I see [e-commerce] accelerating since people will practice social distancing for a while and be vigilant” says one 60-year old homemaker in UAE.
Consumers are getting rid of excess buys to make room necessities, Trend forecaster Li Edekoort speculates that “Coronavirus will lead to a global recession of a magnitude that has not been experienced before” dubbing this new lifestyle as “quarantine of consumption […] We will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.” Sounds a lot like the 90’s if you ask us.
Moreover, consumers are looking inwards for comfort rather than outwards. We asked surveyors if they realized any life-epiphanies since the outbreak. Respondent Talar, Founder and Designer of Talar Nina, commented “I am embracing everyday as it comes. I realized we have no control over anything just ourselves. We are responsible for that and what energy we put out into the world.” So how can brands fit into consumers’ newfound mentalities that focus on ‘mental-health’ ‘wellbeing’ and ‘the present’?
One way is to act more sustainably. A 30-year-old, Lebanese Marketing Executive at a leading franchisor in Dubai expresses “We hope COVID-19 will impact brands into sustainable shopping, giving back to communities. People will support brands that handled the crisis well.” According to Trend Forecasting company WGSN, authority brands “ensure they are creating location-specific disaster kits for consumers and using their scale to help them through their corporate social responsibility efforts.” For example, Dior and Givenchy are manufacturing free hand-sanitizer while “Prada has begun production of 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 face masks” according to Forbes. But is producing support goods enough? It’s time for brands to give back to their loyal followers who have continuously invested in brands’ successes over the years.
Curated ME’s Take:
To be relevant today, speak the consumers’ current language. Produce products and create marketing campaigns that make consumers feel safe, useful, valued, comfortable and ethical during this time.
Refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to shift from originally operating your brand under the ESTEEM NEEDS category to instead those of BELONGINGNESS AND LOVE NEEDS and SAFETY NEEDS.
Overall, consumers will now think twice before spending on anything other than necessity goods. Hence brands are on mission to mark their places inside consumers’ new consideration sets, except this time it’s under surreal circumstances with no end date in sight.
Image Source: Will Styer