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Since rollouts began in earnest in the New Year, a handful of countries have pulled ahead in the vaccine race. 

Within our 47 tracked markets, the current leaders are the USA, the UK, Israel, and the UAE. Each of them holds potential clues as to what life after lockdowns might look like, but we’re particularly interested in Israel and the UAE. 

Not only have they led the charge in vaccinating their citizens, they also had fewer lockdown restrictions at the time of research – giving us a better insight into what you might call the “post-vaccine mindset”. 

As Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s new ads show, there are lots of different takes out there about how consumers will feel as vaccines usher them back to something approaching normality. 

Through the themes we’ve gathered below, we can use data to get clearer insight into how these vaccine leaders are adjusting to their new reality.

1. Consumers are keen to get back out there – even more than before.

To best understand what’s at stake now, we need to rewind to Q2 2020, when the full impact of COVID became apparent in our global research.

With a big chunk of the world’s population under lockdown at the time, it came as no surprise that any data points related to being out and about – whether it was taking public transport or going to the cinema – all dropped significantly.

What was more surprising (and at the time, perhaps more worrying) was the drop in interest for being out and about, particularly around live events and culture. 

The question was, with long periods of time under lockdown, would consumers become fundamentally disconnected from these activities?

Judging by the vaccine leaders’ example, this interest will return, and return in spades. 

These countries didn’t actually see the same initial decrease the rest of the world did, but interest in live events, museums, and others have still grown sharply – indicating a strong post-vaccine bump. 

Interest in cultural activities is now bigger in those places than it was even before COVID. 

It’s a similar story with eating out. Here there was a dip in Q2 2020, followed by a recent uptick driven by vaccines and unlocking of their hospitality industries. 

We should point out, however, that interest in cooking hasn’t dropped from its pandemic increases. The extra time consumers have spent in the kitchen appears to have left an impression. 

2. Successful vaccination programs are stimulating travel demand.

The other place to look for evidence of wanting to get out there, and one that has billions riding on it, is in travel planning.

Here, the impact of vaccines is obvious. Globally, there are signs of a tentative rebound, but in countries with accelerated vaccine rollouts, this is much more defined, with intent to buy travel tickets up 19% in our latest research wave. 

Based on our most recent research, all countries that had administered a first dose to at least 25% of their population were seeing travel interest rebound strongly. 

And this interest is returning to both domestic and foreign trips. With more international travel possible, consumers are still looking at options within their own countries. 

A year of COVID and lockdowns has also had some impact on why people want to travel. Year-on-year, the fastest growing travel influences in these countries are: 

  • Being able to visit friends and family (up 24%)
  • Having a once-in-a-lifetime experience (20%)
  • Ease of traveling (19%). 

Each of them makes a lot of sense in the post-COVID context. Consumers want to see close contacts they’ve been held back from, and, after a pandemic, they’re keener to make the most of life by seeing unique things – so long as they avoid too much hassle in the process. 

It’s harder to find a clear story on what’s become less important in inspiring travel, but a significant one is reduced interest in special offers and deals. Consumers still want value for money, but the amount consumers they’re willing to invest, and the return they expect, is likely increasing. Which brings us to…

3. Vaccines drive consumer confidence and reduce thrift.

In Q2 2020, consumer confidence crashed around the world. At the peak of global lockdowns, consumers’ belief that their personal finances, or their countries’ economy, would get better in the next 6 months plummeted to a degree almost unprecedented in the history of our research.

The UAE and Israel were actually fairly insulated from this original shock, but even so, consumer confidence is increasing. 

56% are confident about their country’s economy in Q1 2021, compared to 46% in the same period last year.

As consumer confidence has risen, attention to cost in purchase decisions has fallen. Cost incentives have become less important across the board, whether it’s in the use of vouchers and coupons, loyalty programs, or advocating a brand for financial rewards.

Our take is that a year of lockdown and financial uncertainty made frugality more necessary, but consumers are now becoming less price-sensitive. Marketing campaigns will likely be able to place more focus on encouraging spending than promoting thrift through 2021. 

4. Some lockdown favorites will stick around.

As vaccines have given the world a glimpse of life after COVID, there’s been some interesting shifts in popular culture. Some commentators have been keen to gently mock old lockdown favorites and leave them in the past – as Jack Whitehall, host of this year’s BRIT Awards, put it: “No more puzzles, no more Zoom quizzes”.

But not all aspects of lockdown life will be thrown out. We’ve already seen hints of this in our Zeitgeist research in the UK and U.S., but we can now see it across a broader selection of data points. 

An obvious one is ecommerce, the convenience of which continues to make it a real winner for consumers. It’s trending across a number of categories in countries with advanced rollouts, but one of the most notable spikes is for buying groceries online. This has left a real impression with shoppers and continues to tick up and to the right.

Livestreams have also emerged during the pandemic as an alternative source of entertainment.

Even in countries with more in-person activities available, they’re climbing in popularity. They were less popular in those countries to begin with, so it’s possible they’re just catching up. But in these early stages, it looks as if consumers will look for virtual events to continue in parallel with in-person ones. 

  1. Vaccines bring more peace-of-mind. 

Consumers are likely to emerge from COVID with different perspectives on life. Those in countries with accelerated vaccine rollouts look to be diverging from the rest of the world in two important ways. They’re less likely to feel prone to anxiety, and less likely to feel overworked.

It’s a good sign – as things open up again, people feel more content and relaxed in their own mind. But it also suggests treating consumers with care, steering clear of any post-vaccine, back-to-normal, messaging that promotes a different kind of social anxiety. 

Many will be feeling apprehensive about coming out of lockdown, either due to a lack of social interaction, or trying to adapt from a year of being in “fight-or-flight” mode.

Consumers are looking to go out and have fun, but peace-of-mind will be a key part of it. 

In trying to reflect the world and headspace consumers are heading into, marketers would be wise to remember it may be a slow adjustment for many, and avoid trying to create FOMO, or other kinds of social pressures.

Another important thing to remember is with vaccines rolling out at different speeds around the world, countries will be split into separate tiers for some time. Some countries will see COVID as largely a thing of the past. But for many, it will remain a threat and a worry. 

For most of 2020, we’ve been able to make general statements about consumer attitudes based on the fact that, in the absence of vaccines, most people were in the same boat.

But this is no longer the case. 

Countries will diverge depending on how close they are to collective immunity. 

Variants are also a potential wildcard. Even if they don’t cause issues on a global scale, they could well have a profound impact in individual countries.

Cautious optimism

In some ways understanding the consumer mentality and post-COVID trends is simple – consumers can now do things they haven’t been able to for months.

But there’s another side to it. Many people have used the past few months to reflect and make new priorities. 

From Israel and the UAE we’re seeing signs of consumer confidence and the increased appetite to spend and to travel that many businesses are so desperate for.

But from this early data, we also get the sense that the “back to normal” messaging should avoid being too celebratory, or create new pressures for consumers whose mental state may be fragile. Vaccines may be rolling out at lightning speed, but consumers’ collective mindset may take a bit longer to settle.

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