Understanding the New Consumer in a Covid World

2nd February 2021

using more heuristics changes consumer behaviour


Today’s world is surrounding consumers with a continuous stream of information and technology. COVID-19 has only accelerated this, with us seeing technological adaptation that was predicted to span years in a matter of months. The technology and social media designed to keep us safe, informed, connected and productive has also resulted in an inevitable often termed ‘infodemic’.

Essentially, we are being overloaded with information. Conspiracy theories, ‘fake news’ and ‘magic cures’ are spreading at an alarming rate. COVID-19 has also heightened uncertainty, and not just around concerns over exposure to COVID-19 or access to medical care. People are becoming increasingly uncertain about the future of the economy, along with their personal employment, finances and relationships. COVID-19 has taught us how to continually adjust and readjust our behaviour in response to changing risks and government guidelines.


We use heuristics in times of uncertainty

The human brain, despite its extreme power, is limited in its resources and capacities for attention. In times of attention overload or uncertainty, our brains take processing shortcuts to save cognitive resources, called heuristics. They are the brain’s way of trying to respond quickly to events, balancing its workload and trying to avoid overloading itself in terms of attention. When we repeat these non-conscious decisions or ‘heuristics’, they become behaviour patterns which quickly form habits. These heuristics affect human thought most significantly in situations of uncertainty and information overload. Hence, these mental biases will inevitably be amplified in COVID-19.

COVID feeds mental biases resulting in a change of consumer behaviour

In other words, COVID-19 creates the perfect climate for the brain to take short-cuts that we are not consciously aware of. Mental biases feed behaviour, and behaviours create habits. Thus, a consumer presented with an overabundance of information and uncertainty is likely to be thinking and behaving more irrationally than normal.

In short: Pandemic -> Uncertainty & Information Overload -> Heuristics -> New behaviour patterns -> New consumer habits 

Person shopping irrationally - the new consumer

“COVID-19 has driven a consumer loyalty ‘shake-up'”

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has changed the way we shop. Consumer attitudes, behaviours and purchasing habits are changing—and many of these behaviours will remain post-pandemic. Perhaps most notable is the speed of the shift to e-commerce. According to IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by approximately five years. COVID-19 has also driven a loyalty ‘shake-up’. Decreased discretionary spending and down trading is forcing consumers to buy new things. The call for sustainability also now appears to be louder than ever; people are shopping more consciously and ‘buying local’. Accenture’s recent Consumer Behaviour Research Report found that 49% of consumers claimed to be more conscious of price when shopping in 2020. At the same time, 54% of consumers say they are now attempting to make more sustainable choices than pre-pandemic.


There’s a need to look beyond the data

This data is incredibly helpful and provides insight into what people have been doing and how they have been shopping. However, there is an increasing need for brands to complement their existing insights and data to understand ‘why’ these trends are happening. Previously, brands could get away with making assumptions about their customers because they were behaving in a way they have always behaved. Yet, the uncertainty and ‘information overload’ currently facing society means that understanding the non-conscious mind is more important now than ever. If brands want to increase retention and grow, they must acknowledge the hidden decision making of their consumers.


How can Psychology and Behavioural Science help?

At IB, we tap into these hidden ‘whys’ of customer behaviour by employing bespoke quantitative and qualitative tools. For instance, we helped one of the UKs largest fashion brands to reduce their customer segments from 16 to 3 actionable groups. Instead of simply using demographics, we segmented customers according to their hidden psychological needs. This enabled the client to communicate the same products to its customers but in the customers’ archetype language. In campaigns where the results of our engine were applied, there was a 23% increase in US sales and a 51% increase in UK sales.

We also helped a multinational investment bank to reveal that their customers stating that they didn’t trust their bank wasn’t the problem. They actually nonconsciously didn’t trust their own financial knowledge. We designed training workshops for staff to consolidate their ability to support customers rather than demonstrating superiority of leadership. As a result, their customer churn was halved over 6 months and their market share grew by 17%.

These examples demonstrate that adding behavioural insights to your existing data knowledge will give your brand more relevance and engagement. This replaces the hit and miss assumptions of brands with behavioural certainty, an ever-pressing need in the current climate.


If you want help understanding the genuine drivers of your customer’s behaviour then do reach out to us at [email protected]

Author: Innovationbubble