Covid-19 Barometer: 500 days into pandemic life
Consumer attitudes, habits and expectations revisited — the SA story
Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer has been exploring how people are feeling and acting around the world since the start of the pandemic. With more than 150,000 people’s opinions in 60-plus markets including SA, our findings have been useful in guiding strategies for recovery based on new needs that have arisen as behaviour has changed.
New data from wave 9 of the study (April 2021) highlights issues and challenges, revisiting peoples changing habits and behaviours. Some of the topics the barometer study explores include:
- The physical, mental and financial impact of the pandemic on South Africans;
- The impact on household income and what this means for brands in the short and long term;
- How shopping and social behaviour has changed and the resultant opportunities for brands; and
- South Africans’ opinions towards sustainability and what brands can do to chase profit with purpose.
Globally, 42% say they have been personally affected by Covid-19; 8% report having contracted coronavirus, 23% say a close family member was affected; and 23% say a close friend contracted the virus. The impact is more extreme in SA, where 74% of South Africans have either personally contracted the virus or know someone who has.
Feeling the mental health impact across generations
The study shows that realising our proximity to the pandemic is taking its toll. Despite initial optimism about the vaccine rollout, we’re still feeling the mental wellbeing cost, with almost half of respondents globally (42%) and 44% in SA stating the situation has affected their mental health.
We’re seeing signs of this pressure easing, as the reported impact is lower in “leading” countries where the new case rate is low, stable, or declining (35%) compared with “lagging” countries, where the new case rate is not declining (49%).
But it’s the next generation that’s been most affected, with 18 to 24 year olds reporting the worst impact, followed by 25 to 34 year olds. Those aged 65 or over continue to have the lowest level of impact, though this has increased to 29% from 21% in August.
How Covid-19 concerns have shifted
Though the situation has eased in many countries, anxiety and caution remain high, with 70% agreeing that coronavirus still concerns them “hugely” (vs 79% in April 2020), though the advent of many variants of vaccine has proven transformative. In “leading” countries where the vaccination rate is already more than 30%, the level of concern has fallen from 76% to 57%. On the other hand, in “lagging” countries, the anxiety level has increased from 75% in August to 80%.
In SA, the situation is a little different. Though 74% remain deeply concerned about the situation (slightly down from 80% in August 2020), the focus of their concern has shifted and is now primarily financial, at 59%, with 34% concerned about their health.
Tallying the true financial impact
Unsurprisingly, our research shows that more than half of people globally (54%) have felt the “Covid-19 effect” on their income.
We felt the pinch even more here, with 74% having experienced an impact on their income. This is worst among our nillionaires or households with an income of R5,000 or less, where 78% have experienced an impact and 28% have become unemployed as a direct result of the pandemic (vs 13% of upper-income households).
This has resulted in greater price awareness. Seventy percent of people globally now pay more attention to prices compared with 64% in April 2020, with 58% (+10%) paying more attention to products on sale. This focus on saving and getting the best possible deal is even higher in SA.
Brands would do well to note that more than half of South Africans are going out of their way to find the best prices and have tried different brands that they plan to continue using post-pandemic.
Government responses — yea or nay?
There’s still majority approval for governments, but at a lower level than in April 2020. More than half (55%) approve of their government’s actions compared with 61% a year ago, while 28% now disapprove of government action compared with 23% a year ago. This dissatisfaction is higher in “lagging” countries, including Brazil (59% dissatisfaction vs 38% in April 2020), Colombia (44% vs 23%), Argentina (40% vs 13%), Belgium (43% vs 27%) and France (41% in both waves).
In SA, while 62% still approve of the way the government is handling the situation, this figure is down from 85% in April 2020.
Vaccine competence is driving up approval ratings. The US government experienced a 20% increase in approval from 35% to 55% between August 2020 and April 2021. The UK government experienced a 13% increase from 37% to 50%.
Globally, 59% of the population are satisfied with the vaccine rollout so far, and 52% in SA, largely based on satisfaction with pandemic handling. Among the countries with a higher vaccination rate, Singapore and the UK have satisfaction levels of 81% and 86%, while the US is at 67%. Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia stand out because all enjoy 60% plus approval, despite single-digit vaccination rates, which is in line with their populations’ general approval levels for handling the pandemic.
Unpacking the new retail and CX landscape
With the shift towards doing as much as possible from home, 35% of people globally have bought groceries online under lockdown, up from 21% before the pandemic. This trend is projected to stay at this level throughout 2021, especially in SA, where online purchasing of grocery and household products increased, driven by the use of social media as platforms to buy and sell.
With customer experience (CX) now in the spotlight more than ever, offering a satisfying online experience captures this new committed consumer base, though there’s clearly room for improvement. Globally, half (49%) of respondents had mostly good experiences buying groceries online and just 38% globally believe they get a better range online, while one in three now prefer buying groceries online. In SA, the opportunity is ripe to delight customers by improving your digital CX, as just 39% have had “mostly good” experiences with their recent journeys as online shoppers.
There’s also continued relevance for localism. Half (52%) of all respondents now pay more attention to product origins than they did pre-pandemic: 68% prefer supermarkets close to home, while 64% think supporting local stores is important for the community. This is even higher on the agenda for South Africans, with 79% saying shopping at local stores boosts the community and therefore prefer to shop close to home.
The ins and outs of lockdown living
Globally, the rise in living online means e-commerce has become more embedded in daily life, now ranking as the number one activity people do more now than pre-pandemic. In May 2020, e-commerce ranked in just fifth position.
Our intentions around healthy eating habits have also changed: previously ranked as the number two priority for maintaining a post-lockdown life, it has since dropped to fourth position after online shopping, increased hygiene, and spending time at home. Ranking number three in May 2020’s list of intentions, spending time with our families remains in third place in today’s “increased activity” list.
Unfortunately, those initially strong intentions for personal development have fallen away somewhat. Originally number four in May 2020’s list of intended behaviour, it has dropped to number 10 in the behaviour we now do more. With remote working still the order of the day, Zoom has become the fifth most-used social media app behind YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, used by about two-thirds of survey respondents this year.
In SA, a surge in hygiene remains the top behaviour, followed by an escalation in social media app usage, with a third saying they are now using more social media. South Africans are also bringing their lives closer to home as they eat healthier, shop online and focus on personal development. The survey revealed there are more people who now classify themselves as students, and the numbers are particularly high among our nillionaires.
Counting down to the return to normal
Appetite for everything we associate with pre-2020 life is still there, despite hesitance over immediately picking up on what we now know as high-risk habits. A third of people feel comfortable going back to the office, visiting the hairdresser, sending their children to school, doing non-food shopping, going to bars or restaurants, and travelling within their own country, with a quarter happy to attend religious gatherings, the gym, and the cinema, and less than one in five ready for large events, such as sports and foreign travel.
Sources of vaccine information remain contentious, with less than half of respondents describing the government, health authorities or doctors as reliable information sources, suggesting governments need to work harder to instil confidence in their populations.
There’s also a persistent level of vaccine hesitancy, with 17% of respondents reporting they would probably or definitely not get a vaccine globally, and numbering 13% in SA. This hesitancy is largely due to fear, distrust and misinformation and is highest in the 18-24 age range where, for most of the world, the opportunity to be vaccinated does not yet exist, compared with 8% hesitancy in the 65+ age group.
Now, 500 days since Covid-19 turned the world upside down, our research reveals that slowly, but surely, people are becoming less anxious, starting to feel more secure and are getting ready to re-engage with the world. And, while some transformations are set to stick, such as in the retail sector, people’s intentions for personal transformation during lockdown have started to fade.
In countries with more advanced vaccination programmes, getting back to everyday life is already a glimmer on the horizon, but the long-term outlook is still challenging for many people, especially those in SA.
This article was paid for by Kantar.
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