How Consumer Perceptions Towards COVID-19 Have Changed Over Time

With the world battling COVID-19 and Asia Pacific showing signs of being closer towards the end of it, a lot can change in a day, let alone a month. Every response to COVID-19 by governments, companies, and sometimes even individuals are closely monitored both domestically and internationally.

A month has gone by since we discussed consumers’ perspectives on COVID-19 across the Asia Pacific region, calling for an update on the latest views, sentiments and insights which will be brought to you in a series of articles.

Consumers remain concerned about the virus (92%) but those that aren’t concerned anymore has increased 4% in a month, across the region.

Concerns about COVID-19 remains prevalent at 92% among Asia Pacific consumers, although small signs of consumer attitudes slowly easing up across the region are trickling through when comparing consumers’ sentiment of today to where we were a month ago. The group of people not concerned about the virus has doubled from 4% in April to 8% in May.

Taking a closer look at the Asia Pacific region, little unique stories can be told for each of the markets due to the measures taken to battle the virus, the success rate of the measures taken and where each country stands today. Most noteworthy are;

  • Australia’s consumers are much more confident about their personal finances as only 57% are concerned vs. >70% in all other countries
  • Hong Kong and Taiwan are the only 2 markets where confidence that the pandemic will be under control within 6 months has increased, in line with the low number of reported new cases in both countries for the month of May. Despite the confidence, Taiwan is the only country with an increase (2%) of people being concerned, triggered by a newly confirmed case breaking a 13-days trend of zero new confirmed cases.
  • The extent to which consumers in South Korea are concerned has grown larger by +12% because of a new spike in cases, despite the government’s strict controls. The expected continued disruption beyond 6 months has substantially increased from 26% to 48%.
  • Thailand is the only country where the government increased consumers’ confidence as a result of their measures taken to battle the virus. However, consumers are expressing their concerns as they believe it comes at the costs of the country’s economy.

Generally, consumers’ top concerns evolve around areas that are out of their direct control; the local economy (92%), world economy (91%) as well as the state of personal finances (81%) due to job insecurity. As people are taking out health insurances, they are less worried about their personal health (81% in May vs 85% in April), but remain conscious about their health.

Growing confidence and subsiding concerns across the region are resonating in consumers’ perspectives and behavior. The way consumers are dealing with the virus has become living in the new norm.

Social distancing measures becoming habitual as consumers continue to be cautious and mindful.

Throughout the region, consumers adopted new behaviors into their daily routines in response to the virus. As they continue to do so, this change in behavior slowly becomes a habit and a ‘new normal’ evolves. Evaluating consumers’ responses to “Have you done or considered doing any of the following in response to COVID-19”, caution remains high, but people are loosening up and starting to go out as governments are relaxing social distancing requirements across the region:

  • 70% (-10%) will no longer shake hands with others
  • 68% (-15%) will stay away from eating in restaurants
  • 62% (-5%) will continue to interact with friends/relatives over the internet rather than meeting them in-person
  • 60% (-9%) will continue to avoid public transport
  • 59% (no change) will continue to increase online shopping

The battle of toilet paper in supermarkets during the early outbreak did not go by unnoticed and is still in the back of the consumers’ minds. Consumers try to avoid crowds and have not regained their confidence in supplies as 49% of consumers will continue to stock up essential household products. Indonesia seems to be the most concerned (81%), followed by Hong Kong (64%) and Malaysia (57%).

Consumers remain alert on keeping social distance and avoiding crowded public areas, but some measures can’t be maintained as they are out of the consumer’s control. Let’s take Hong Kong as an example, where only 35% will continue to avoid public transport as people are returning to the office and public transport is the main mode of transportation. When economies slowly open and public control is released, more workers will be heading into the office and evading public transportation may no longer be an option as many consumers across Asia Pacific are dependent on the public transportation.

The virus increased consciousness around personal health, with 61% spending more time on self-care, 50% increased physical exercising, 54% on a balanced diet and more consumers are expected to jump on the healthy band wagon in the near future (19%, 31%, and 54% respectively). In addition, people are looking to keep their minds well-occupied. While being homebound and taking time away from work, consumers are looking at learning a new skill, with 45% having learned a new skill through digital learning and 28% considering doing so. As old habits die hard, consumers can’t wait for the outbreak to be under control and are already dreaming of what they will do when that moment finally arrives.

Consumers looking forward to the “good old days.”

COVID-19 has been making headlines and significantly impacted our lives for months. Confidence on returning to a normal way of life within the next half a year has decreased from over half (51%) in April to less than half (46%) in May, presenting a polarizing effect with one group wanting to stay at home and the second willing to go out and get going. For this to happen, a vaccine will need to be found as this is the holy grail everybody is waiting for. Without a vaccine, one won’t believe the end of the pandemic is within reach. Besides, faith in government has been shaken as we observe a decline in consumers’ reliance on their government providing information that the pandemic is under control.

What are consumers craving the most when looking forward to the moment when the pandemic is under control? Connectivity, human interaction and self-indulgence; 47% are eager to reunite with their friends and relatives, and can’t wait to dine out or attend a social gathering, 38% will go to shopping malls, and 37% would love to escape the current situation by taking a domestic or overseas holiday.

While imagining what our lives would be like after COVD-19, 58% of consumers indicate that the existing health measures should remain part of our daily life as they remain conscious about personal health and cleanliness. Besides, 68% of consumers suggest for COVID-19 to be taken into consideration when advertising and marketing.

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has been playing a significant role in the first half of 2020 and will continue to be at the top of our minds (may it be consciously or unconsciously) in the days ahead. Stay tuned for our next article, where we will further dive into consumer behavior and what companies should do.