On May 5th 2023, the World Health Organization officially declared the end of Covid-19 as a global health emergency. This closed a chapter that began in January 2020, and is probably the closest you can get to a date that signifies when the Covid pandemic, at least as a daily concern for most people, ended.
Now, we can get a sense of whether things have gone “back to normal” by examining pandemic trends up close. Across transport, office working, ecommerce, media consumption, and consumer attitudes, how much does the world look like what it did before the pandemic? And what trends are here to stay post-Covid?
Have a look below to see our roundup of the most important post-Covid consumer trends.
Zooming in on pandemic trends among consumers
A common refrain of the early stages of the pandemic was that Covid would change everything. And while many things have changed, many things haven’t. One of the biggest lessons of the pandemic should be that consumer values are generally stable, even in the aftermath of a crisis. They can shift during the crisis in response to new threats, but what follows afterward is usually a reversion to the mean, and not a continued trend.
There are some possible exceptions though. An Australian study has suggested that the pandemic and lockdowns increased appetite for security, and reduced both openness to change and the drive to help others. These in turn have been associated with changes in value importance on topics like immigration – a trend we’re seeing emerge in our own research.
Concern about the virus is down, but so is consumer confidence
Where we’ve seen the most pronounced attitudinal changes – in fact, the most volatile data points in our research full stop – is in relation to external factors, like the environment and personal finances.
A big lesson of the pandemic is that, for the average person, uncertainty is the worst thing. The unknown makes people feel more uneasy. Concern about Covid reached a peak in March/April 2020 and then dropped throughout. In the UK for example, concern about the virus was lower during what turned out to be a deadlier winter wave.
We’re still not moving around as much
The definition of a lockdown is restriction of movement. So naturally, some of the biggest behavioral changes came in taking public transport, which is still some way behind 2019 figures. Alongside that, office attendance is still yet to return to where it was.
Reduced movement also impacts vacations, and this is something else that is far behind pre-pandemic levels. What’s perhaps even more interesting here is that talking about vacations online is also far behind 2019 levels, implying they don’t have the same value in consumers’ lives for the time being.
Media trends are a combination of brief and long-lasting changes
The story of lockdown in the popular imagination is often associated with certain media titles – think Animal Crossing, Tiger King, Taylor Swift’s Folklore, and The Last Dance.
As far as post-Covid trends are concerned, these are a mixture of lasting effects and things that have reverted back to the historic pattern. Cinema attendance looks unlikely to return to 2019 figures, while the success of online multiplayer gaming – at least as a way for friends to stay connected – hasn’t continued after initial lockdowns.
The news business was faced with difficult problems during the pandemic. During the initial, highly uncertain phase, news was in great demand, so much so that briefings from heads of state became some of the most-watched TV programmes in their country’s history.
But as we’ve entered what some call the age of permacrisis, instability has made many people switch off. For publishers looking to gain new subscribers, a lesson from the last few years is that there’s only a small window of time at the beginning of an event where more people suddenly become potential buyers of your product. In March 2020, 30% were willing to pay more to be accurately informed about the virus. Timing is everything.
Broadcast TV and PCs haven’t stayed the course
News was one of the things that brought consumers back to broadcast TV after years of declining viewership, and a similar thing happened with time spent on PCs. But both have since reverted to their historic trend.
As consumers were forced to stay at home (and continue to do so with more remote working), the demand for certain devices has increased. Both smart home products and smartwatches have seen significant increases in ownership.
Ecommerce trends aren’t as strong as you might think
One pandemic trend sometimes taken as a given is the shift to ecommerce, but the story behind this is actually more nuanced.
For groceries and medicine, there’s been a clear shift to online channels, with the proportion of ecommerce sales increasing substantially. But for virtually every other category, there’s been no meaningful change in online share in the long-run.
The bottom line on pandemic trends
The post-Covid world is a funny place. In many ways, it feels the same as before, but working habits have seen some of the biggest changes in centuries.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has proved anything, it’s the difficulty of making long-term forecasts during times of uncertainty. But based on the information we currently have, some things are unlikely to ever fully revert to “normality”. Cinemas, full-time office work, holidays abroad, and regular public transport use don’t look like they’ll reach their previous peak in the near future.
Some things that enjoyed success or a revival during lockdowns – like multiplayer gaming between friends and broadcast TV – haven’t stayed the course and have gone back to the historic trend.
How much has online shopping increased during Covid-19? For groceries, quite a lot, but in most other categories, the long-term impact has actually been quite limited.
Covid has also had a limited impact on our personal values. As the world has seen so many seismic events since March 2020 it’s hard to fully untangle cause and effect, but lockdowns may have increased people’s need for security. Much early messaging was (understandably) focused on putting the needs of others first, like Governor Andrew Cuomo’s briefings to New Yorkers, or applauding for frontline workers. But in the long-term, lockdowns may have made people prioritize their own security over others.
The lessons of Covid are important to learn. If nothing else, we may have to go through it again, something consumers themselves would admit – 64% think another pandemic is likely to happen in their lifetime.