Mehak, an urban millennial, is locked up in her house. She is anxious about her job, claustrophobic in her closed space as she can’t work out at Cult, order on Swiggy, shop at Mytra or buy a book on Flipkart.
The popular press is inundated with reports that she will fundamentally change her consumption behaviour after Corona. She is not so sure. Neither am I.
There are numerous prophecies on how consumer behaviour is likely to shift dramatically post corona. Consumers are expected to shop largely online, buy large packs, stay indoors for a long period of time and avoid outdoor entertainment options. This article explores why this panic-led forecasting is likely to be incorrect. The inherent definition of consumer for this discussion is the ‘urban millennial’, sizing in excess of 200 million and the primary focus of every B2C consumption oriented company (e.g. Amazon, Croma, Cult).
Food & grocery: Don’t we all miss the cute kirana store?
There are numerous predictions that consumers will shift purchases online leading to a steep decline in general trade (kirana stores) and will prefer to buy only large packs. To put this prediction into perspective, e-commerce channel contribution in food and grocery is negligible, contributing at 2% of overall food and grocery sales, due to the inherent need for consumers to ‘pick the right’ fresh fruits and vegetables and short shelf life of most items.
Despite numerous prophecies over the years on the timely demise of the local kirana store, it is unlikely to shift its contribution to less than 85% of overall sales (Modern Trade contributes to 10%) as consumers will prefer the convenience and trust of the local store. Although, they might stand far away from other consumers and be perennially dressed up in masks and gloves.
In addition, once the back end supply chain stabilises, the need for hoarding resulting in purchase of large packs is likely to subside as the convenience of small and medium sized packs will drive its sales up again.
Outdoor transportation: Is it better to suffer due to the traffic jam by driving your own car or using a cab aggregator and facing the wrath of corona?
Some leaders in the auto industry are upbeat that individual car ownership among urban millennials might go up due to the onset of corona virus as consumers might be cagey about sharing cabs with other unknown users and drivers. This scenario is highly unlikely as the functional benefit of cab aggregators along dimensions of convenience, standardisation of quality and abundance in supply is immense. What is likely to occur is the decline of shared cabs in Ola micros and minis with consumers preferring to hire the cab for themselves and always be stressing upon gloves and masks. For themselves and their drivers.
Dining and entertainment: Can we really live without Instagramming about our amazing happening life?
The one industry whose obituary has been written is the dining and entertainment industry. With an expected homebound consumer base, this industry operating on discretionary spends is expected to have a permanent decline. In my opinion, this industry will make a stunning comeback in Q3. As a community, the exotic species of ‘urban millennials’ loves to socialise and meet new people. An extended period of indoor lockdown is highly unlikely. After the next 3-6 months, the dining and entertainment industry will flourish again with minor hygienic changes. Tables at restaurants will be a meter away from each other. Everybody will be in gloves and masks and entry at malls will involve rigorously enriching your hands with sanitisers.
Will urban millennials turn more vegan or vegetarian due to animals being carriers of viruses? To answer this question, why don’t you take your non-vegetarian urban millennial friend, place a delicious mutton biryani in front of him and ask him if he will give that up for his fear of corona, the hanta (from rats), or other exotic sister viruses.
In conclusion, the human species thrives on outdoor activities and socialising at gatherings. An untoward prediction of everyone staying indoors as isolated beings for an extended period of time is highly unlikely. Consumer behaviour is likely to remain the same pre and post corona, although with a few additional ornaments, read masks and gloves.
Fifteen days into the lockdown, Mehak misses the pre-corona days. But in all likelihood, her life will return to normalcy in the next 6-9 months.
Views are personal.
The author is an MBA from IIM Bangalore and a strategy course holder from INSEAD. He has been a strategy consultant for over a decade. He is the author of two books, ‘Yours Sarcastically’ and ‘Satan’s Angels’.