The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way customers buy and what they expect from manufacturers. Most of the world’s nations have made rapid moves to ease or completely lift COVID-19 restrictions in the first months of this year, likely setting off a new wave of changes in customer buying behaviors and expectations.

As the world reopens after COVID-19 and customers transition to post-pandemic life, what comes next for manufacturers?

Teodora Gaici

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

Big shifts in customer buying behaviors and expectations have occurred from early 2020 to date. Multiple studies have shown that buyers behaved impulsively during the initial phase of the pandemic as fears of shortages, price increases, and supply chain disruptions escalated. Researchers have observed a rise in compulsive buying tendencies among customers throughout the first six months of COVID-19. Yet soon, price sensitivity has hit record highs, too. Therefore, customers have either reduced or postponed non-essential purchases. Many, if not most, of these purchases have been made through digital channels. Shortly after lockdown restrictions came into effect, online purchasing has soared, and so has the ambition to support local businesses. According to Deloitte’s research, three in five customers used more local stores and services during COVID-19 lockdowns.

As COVID-19 accelerated new digital and local purchasing habits, clients have come to expect fast and convenient buying experiences. Expectations around customized products and services have shot up, as well. Besides that, clients have become more environmentally conscious since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some shifts are likely to outlast COVID-19. But now that buyers are starting to ease out of the pandemic, new changes may emerge. This article examines potential behaviors and expectations of post-pandemic customers to offer manufacturers a glimpse into the future after COVID-19.

Post-Crisis, Customers May Prioritize the Quality of What They Buy

Today’s customers care about and demand quality. Though already high, expectations around quality may grow even further on the way back to normalcy.

At one point over the past couple of years, customers felt the need to overstock. However, clients became considerably more mindful of what they bought as the pandemic progressed. Many customers have gone all out to buy fewer but better-quality products of late. Post-crisis, clients are likely to continue looking for quality in what they buy, and many appreciate the quality of personalized products.

Buyers have long since been willing to pay more for personalized products. Therefore, manufacturers who build and deliver high-quality products tailor-made to suit specific customer requirements may see much bigger gains. Plus, launching products customized to local markets and geographies will offer rich opportunities for differentiation in the post-COVID-19 era.

As COVID-19 Risk Recedes, Clients Are Set to Favor a Mix of Physical and Digital

The widespread relaxation of COVID-19 precautions will likely drive buyers to make more in-store purchases. An IBM study found that people felt ready to return to physical stores right after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. But customer expectations of physical stores have transformed. Now, buyers expect firms to integrate digital processes into the in-store experience.

Though offline purchasing remains a popular choice for customers, digital buying is here to stay, too. Customers will probably prefer a mixture of in-store and digital buying options in the upcoming years, favoring fulfillment programs such as ‘buy online, pick up in store’. This means that melding physical and online purchasing experiences is critical to finding success in the post-pandemic era.

Customers Moving Out of Pandemic Mode Will Likely Value Fast Buying Experiences

After years of purchasing products with longer delivery times due to supply chain disruptions and shortages, buyers expect firms to find the fastest ways possible to get products shipped to them. Fulfillment should be redefined accordingly.

Making high-quality products is not sufficient to appeal to the post-pandemic customer. This type of buyer is not tolerant of delayed fulfillment and will gravitate toward firms that manufacture top-notch products and can deliver to them the fastest.

Aligning to new customer expectations will require manufacturers to get total visibility over their fulfillment network to make sure each order is filled on time and to the client’s satisfaction.

Environmental Concerns Are Presumed to Influence Purchase Decisions Post-Pandemic

Presently, customers pay closer attention to their environmental footprint than before the COVID-19 outbreak. They are willing to contribute actively to climate change mitigation, and manufacturers must do the same.

Customers tend to buy from firms with values similar to their own, so it is clear they expect manufacturers to serve a purpose beyond profit. What is more, customers surveyed in a study say they will avoid purchasing from firms with no plans for environmental sustainability.

Now is a good time for manufacturers to move beyond words and invest in a low-carbon future. Firms raising their climate ambition must plan to get to net-zero emissions by 2050—a target set by governments around the world. Aiming to become a net-zero emission business is critical to halting climate change and offering sustainable product options to customers.

In All Probability, Clients Will Continue to Buy Locally Even After Normalcy Returns

The pandemic has revived interest in local products. A lot of customers have bought more regional products to stimulate local economies amid the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, with supply chain disruptions mounting, most clients have turned to local firms out of necessity at first. This day, some prefer to buy locally even when access to imported products is not limited.

Remarkably, demand for regional experiences is prone to outlast the pandemic. More than 90% of respondents in a survey conducted by Deloitte say they plan “to maintain or even increase their consumption of locally produced products”. Manufacturers should think of this as a great opportunity to connect locally with their customers.

What COVID-19 has taught manufacturers is that customer behaviors and expectations can shift in an instant. Not much is presumed to change on this front once the threat of COVID-19 subsides. Buyers will likely reset their expectations constantly, not returning to life as they knew it. To keep up with it all, manufacturers must focus on understanding how to best respond to always-changing behaviors and expectations.

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