Hope after the Coronavirus Pandemic: Are These 10 New Consumer Behaviors Here To Stay?
Due to the danger of the global spread of the Coronavirus, we’re all feeling under siege, trapped, and no longer free to do what we want. The necessary extreme measures required to control the spread of this deadly virus — social distancing and shelter-in-place procedures — are exacerbating the toughest issues millions are dealing with today. Many people are facing unprecedented fears around health, financial, and job security, which has led to major behavior changes. In Working From Home (WFH), I’ve been observing and fascinated by these emerging consumer trends and behaviors, many of which are driven by three core basic human needs: the desire to connect with one another, be creatively productive, and have the means to support oneself or a family.
Here are a few of the more interesting trends I’m seeing:
- WFH/Telecommuting — When I first met Eric Yuan, the Founder & CEO of Zoom (a Maven portfolio company), in the very early days of the business, and helped him name the company, I became an instant believer in his vision of how Zoom could help millions of people. I’m humbled to see what a key role Zoom has had in the emergence of many new consumer behaviors. Zoom has enabled the portion of the workforce that is able to WFH to do so seamlessly. Though the telecommuting trends had begun before the virus, many are now fully realizing the viability of working from home and eventually anywhere, and the post COVID-19 world may deem being tethered to a desk full-time for work as a thing of the past. Not only do telecommuting employees benefit, but so does the environment with less travel pollution and those needing to continue to drive to work with less crowded commutes.
- Blurring the lines of work/family/home — For many with families, working from home has forced us to introduce our family members and pets to our co-workers and clients. Since we’re all in this together, surprisingly many bosses and coworkers are becoming much more accepting than they might be in normal times. Instead of bristling, coworkers are asking to meet the family members and pets. At Maven, our team meetings have had many visitors — from toddlers, to home-bound college students, to a new puppy — and that’s a good thing as it lightens the mood and we get to know each other better. I hope that as we resume our normal work structures post COVID-19, we’ll be able to incorporate this blending of family and work to keep us a more compassionate workforce. With that said, the separation of work from home and personal life has benefits that we need to be careful to protect. It’s important and healthy to be able to leave work aside and be present at home for loved ones.
- Virtual Events and Family & Friends Time — In an odd way, this social distancing and isolation is causing many of us to actually spend more time with friends and family, especially those who aren’t nearby. New shared experiences are emerging like virtual meet-ups, Zoom yoga, and Friday family happy hours. I have been really enjoying my niece Sophie’s daily yoga class and I look forward to our neighborhood and family Zoom happy hours every week. In addition to personal small gatherings, all large gatherings are either being postponed or are going virtual like business conferences, weddings, funerals, non-profit galas, political fundraisers, religious ceremonies, and graduations, to name a few. It’s amazing to see what’s happening there. New category-defining companies will be built to sit on top of existing video platforms to create new experiences for large virtual events. It’s already happening in a meaningful way on Zoom. I’m looking forward to our first ever virtual Passover celebration in a couple of weeks and likely millions of people are figuring out how they’re going to do a Zoom Egg Hunt with family and friends for Easter. I suspect that as we ease back into our normal routines post COVID-19, many of our life events will go back to the traditional in-person venues, but they might be enhanced by really interesting online add-on options for those who cannot attend in person. And perhaps several of these events will be permanently replaced by virtual events. Does the world really need so many costly, massive, in-person conferences?
- Money/Cash/Basic Income — People are becoming afraid to exchange cash because it’s not as safe to do so in COVID-19 days. Perhaps this is the watershed moment for the US to accelerate the move to a more cashless society and go digital like China and many other countries. I recently read this on Twitter: “COVID-19 is to cash what Netflix was to the DVD.” I wonder if this is also going to be a big moment for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, especially outside the US. Another fascinating topic related to money is the basic income outlay included in the Coronavirus Relief and Stimulus Plan of $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. It’s what Presidential candidate Andrew Yang and others have been preaching about for some time now. Our current situation is possibly speeding up the process by decades of providing true and permanent basic income. This might be exactly what this country will need after the dust settles in our shaky economy and jobless market post COVID-19.
- Distance Learning — This feels like a tipping point for distance and remote learning for all levels of education. Hundreds of millions of students in elementary, high school and universities globally are using Zoom and other platforms to keep up with their studies. Many students crave the in-person interaction, but for some, especially perhaps for the more introverted students, this might be a more effective way to learn. Post COVID-19, maybe we’ll see a blend where some in-person classes become optional, and students can log in to class remotely; while some teachers might choose a more flexible work schedule and opt to teach from home some days. We’ll likely see a continued shift to consumer-focused digital education tools like Epic! Kids Books (a Maven portfolio company). And this shouldn’t be confined to families and school districts with means — the rapid adoption of digital technology triggered by coronavirus will hopefully lead to a significant effort on a Federal level to close the home digital divide so that all students across have access to devices and broadband in their homes. Finally, with two of my three kids having virtual graduations this Spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that experience could be like. While the change could sadden students and parents, virtual graduations might have some advantages. For example, in a virtual setting, a larger group of extended friends and family members can watch a webcast and it could be a much shorter event for each viewer. This can be even more personalized if universities allow the students to post a short video or photo montage (only appropriate & approved content, of course) when their name is read. All the students could be shown live, virtually, throwing their caps up in the air. Once reimagined in a virtual space, new norms and constraints often pose opportunities for improvements.
- Telemedicine — This moment will be remembered as the turning point in telemedicine. A surgeon friend of mine recently shared that the Coronavirus has caused the industry to suspend some HIPAA requirements, enabling him and many other doctors to practice a portion of their practice by video, covered by insurance. He’s been frustrated by these outdated HIPAA requirements and thrilled to finally be able to practice medicine this way. This has helped him stay in contact with patients without putting them at risk of contracting the virus, and also freed up doctors to focus on critical COVID-19 patients. The hassle and long waits in doctor waiting rooms with other contagious patients will hopefully be a thing of the past for many post COVID-19.
- Mental Health/Video Therapy — The far-flung health and financial implications of a global pandemic will lead to a rise in anxiety, stress, and depression, further highlighting the need for real virtual solutions to treat many more patients more cost-effectively. Thankfully, therapy video sessions are now happening all over the world. While many psychologists and psychiatrists weren’t offering care remotely as recently as last month (and many believed patients did not want it), it is now a necessity. Moreover, now that Zoom can provide HD quality video and audio that just works, it’s possible to have incredibly intimate conversations between patients and therapists. And both patients and providers are learning that while video therapy is not always perfect, it’s good enough. This will make therapy more accessible and affordable for millions of new patients and more efficient for both the doctor and patient. And virtual therapy is possibly even more private — no more bumping into people in the waiting room. In addition to remote therapy, there is now a boom of other technical solutions like mobile apps for mood tracking, mental wellness, and meditation to name a few.
- Food/Shopping/Takeout —We’re now all eating more at home which is a positive change since it’s often a much healthier option, especially compared to fast food meals. Maybe we’ll keep some of these habits after the shut-down is lifted and continue to cook and eat together as families on a more regular basis. We’re also ordering take-out and delivery, which has already been on the rise. I wonder if many restaurants will decide it’s a better business model for them to go to full takeout with no dine-in experience, or at least a blend and delivery-first options? Moreover, our need to minimize social contact in this time will create a boon for cashierless grab-n-go stores like Amazon Go and Maven portfolio company Zippin. These types of stores, monitored to only allow a limited number of shoppers at any given time, are the perfect solution to a safer shopping experience that’s much faster with no lines and no at-risk cashiers. We’ll likely soon see some of the larger grocers launch mini zippin-type stores within their large grocery store as trials, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see zippin mini-stores closer to where we all reside & work in large apartment buildings and office parks.
- New Priorities on How We Look/Exercise — It seems that we can all be a bit more casual on video conference calls, and so I’d bet many of us are wearing only the most comfortable clothes, especially waist down. I don’t announce this to my Maven team or founders, but I’m loving my sweatpants. I wonder if this casual and comfortable clothes behavior will filter into the workplace more permanently? And with all the barber shops and salons closed, will long, shaggy hair be in again or are more people going to be cutting their own hair at home? Will people stop wearing as much make-up and cologne/perfume? And the way we’re exercising is changing. I love seeing how many more people are walking, biking, hiking and generally enjoying the great outdoors (hopefully in a safe way and distancing themselves from others). We’re also doing more fitness classes online and sometimes even with personal trainers. Virtual home workouts can be awesome, efficient and fun.
- Digital Entertainment/Movies/Netflix Parties & Sports — First-run movies at home is an idea that’s long overdue and is now finally happening as movie theaters are forced to stay closed. I’m a big fan of going to the movies in a theatre, especially the right kind of blockbuster movie that benefits from a huge screen, great sound, and a live audience. But as in-home viewing setups have improved we should be able to watch new movies at home at the same time as in the theatre. I expect this trend that Netflix and others had already started before COVID-19 will stick around after, and many more movies will be released in homes and theaters on the same day. Moreover, friends and family are virtually watching shows together with Netflix parties and other similar products. Regarding other forms of entertainment, as a huge sports fan, it’s shocking to see professional sports events canceled and all the stadiums lay dormant. How can March come and go without my Dukies winning another National Championship during March Madness?! Even the Olympics have been postponed. It seems clear that esports and home gaming stand to benefit. How will the post COVID-19 sports world look? What opportunities will the virtual world enable for live sporting events? It’ll be interesting to watch how this unfolds.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and in the coming months and years we will see which of these nascent consumer behaviors harden into new societal norms in our personal and professional lives. I’m sure there will be many more and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on other new trends you’re seeing that might impact future consumer behaviors.
It feels necessary to end on a cautionary note. We have to be careful and thoughtful of the many unintended consequences these new behaviors might create. Some of these trends really may only be necessary during this time of crisis, and when we get back to ‘normal,’ some emergency measures might not be appropriate. These will be issues that business leaders, politicians and consumers will be grappling with for years to come. We’re living through a unique moment in time that’s causing us to reflect on what’s really important in our lives and a reminder that we’re all connected. Tragic as this time is, it’s up to all of us to help each other and our businesses, families and ourselves to make it through and come out stronger. I am cautiously optimistic that we will see many of these emerging consumer behaviors continue and thrive post COVID-19 to make this a better world.