Understanding changing consumer behaviour during COVID.
No one could have predicted just how challenging 2021 was going to be.
Extended periods of home isolation have dramatically altered consumer
behaviour. These short- and long-term behavioural changes are proving
particularly demanding for small-business owners, many of whom have needed to
adjust their marketing messages or recreate their business design.
As a marketing strategist and researcher, I felt compelled to know
how these extended periods of home isolation were impacting the behaviour of
mothers, the most powerful and influential consumer group in the country.
Throughout May and into June I surveyed a lot more than 1350 mothers across Australia
to elicit their views relating to the following seven key areas: major worries,
stress levels, self-care, remote learning, telehealth, children's activities
and shopping behaviours. Because the collective buying power of mothers is incorporated in the
vicinity of $132 billion each year in Australia, I wanted to be able to provide
brands and small-business owners insights into these behavioural changes to
help them update their strategies and messaging.
So, what were the important thing findings?
Mums embraced the slow down
Firstly, it became immediately apparent that mothers embraced the slow down. They relished the slower mornings, time with your family and relief from being the “taxi driver”. Working mothers enjoyed the lack of the daily commute which saved them energy, their most prized asset. Many mothers claimed to become “ditching the bra and make up” and using the extra time to get back to basics for example home baking and getting the house back in order, without all of the usual distractions.
“Mothers used the iso slow-down to critically re-evaluate their lives.”
Some media have predicted a COVID baby boom because of all the extra
time saved by couples. Our #ISOMums research findings suggest that these
predictions are highly unlikely, with the research revealing that mothers were
three times more likely to be reading than using this time to create our next
Mothers used the iso slow-down to critically re-evaluate their lives.
What was working, what wasn't. They invested their time to dream new
possibilities for his or her families and set new goals. Work from home opened up
new lifestyle opportunities for families and I would not be surprised to see
families look to move regionally or to less expensive homes in the outer
suburbs that they might not have considered before. They've seen how
effective work at home can be and the housing affordability, coupled with a
more relaxed lifestyle, is of great appeal – particularly to younger millennial
couples with preschool children.
Affordability dictates everything
Affordability and family finances emerged as key theme of our #ISOMums
study. The main thing keeping mums awake during the night throughout iso was
whether their partner would remain in employment. This led them to
review their budgets and look for ways to save more money, for example reducing
takeaway meals and cooking from scratch. The lack of certainty has led couples
to build their “war chests” to be prepared for challenging times ahead.
I anticipate that the concern over finances will continue for the
remainder of this year and well into next as a parent watch cautiously how the
economy performs. Payment plans and also the demonstration of value for money should
be key focuses for those businesses wishing to appeal to mothers as well as their
Increased stress levels
Respondents reported that stress levels were very high as women looked
to support their children with remote learning as well as put in a full day of
working from home. It resulted in some long hours, and highly stressful moments
for many parents. Despite media reports claiming many women had significantly
increased their alcohol consumption to deal with the increased stress levels
and boredom, the research reported only 6 per cent of mothers had increased their
Stress levels were heavily impacted by mothers' remote learning
experiences. Mothers had very different experiences; 18 per cent of mothers
actually liked it and three per cent would actually consider doing homeschooling
longer term. At the other end of the spectrum, 17 per cent described the experience
as “torture”. This highlights the diverse experience of the 6.2 million mothers
around the country.
New method of self-care
Having actively researched mothers' behaviours for the past five years,
I have seen that mothers traditionally take their family members' needs above
their own. COVID has changed these behaviours and that we have seen a profound shift
in mothers' self-care. I was pleasantly surprised to see that 75 percent of
mothers were proactively addressing their increased stress levels by engaging
in self-care with the top four activities being (1) getting good sleep, (2)
catching up with friends and family virtually, (3) increasing their exercise
and (4) reading more. Home isolation has seen mothers place their own health as
a top priority, with many stating that they'd never take it for granted
again. This opens considerable opportunities for businesses in the health and
wellness space targeting women.
Sustainability and minimalism
Sustainability and minimalism are a couple of trends I have been talking about
for many years and I have definitely seen this accelerate through home
isolation. A less-is-more approach has been adopted with some mothers seeking
out greater self-sufficiency. The #ISOMums study says women used home
isolation to go through their wardrobes and give away what they no longer
needed. They invested in chooks, planted some vegies and started baking in
their droves. Home isolation saw them become increasingly conscious of product
country of origin, quality of materials and saw them actively supporting brands
which show a powerful commitment to sustainability. Business owners and brands
really need to be aware of this trend, take a look at their supply chain and be very
mindful of both in new product development.
Perhaps the greatest struggle for mothers throughout home isolation was
the lack of connection. Mothers missed their “village” with many sharing that
they felt that their young children were missing out on the influence of other
key members of the family and friends. Despite their proactive self-care efforts, they
yearned for connection with their family, friends and wider community. This
presents an opportunity to small businesses to look to facilitate the
reconnection of their local communities.
What does it all mean for business owners?
Home isolation has resulted in some deep reflection with families
re-evaluating their lives and setting new, longer-term goals. It has
permanently changed their attitudes and behaviours. The #ISOMums report
demonstrates why it's so critical for brands in updating their messaging and
strategies to ensure they stay relevant to mothers.
Marketing strategy must be reviewed and tweaked to support these
changes in attitudes and behaviours. Businesses ought to be looking to review
their positioning, pricing strategies and customer experience. Expectations are
high. Mothers are actually even more conscious of their some time and they have a strong
desire to not be as busy as restrictions are eased. Time-saving hacks and
improvements can be really well received. Business owners must demonstrate value
because of the greater focus on cash flow and the level of uncertainty in the
Brand messaging should also be reviewed and adjusted. Mothers have
strong COVID fatigue. They're actively seeking out brands which entertain
them. Fun and playful communications which acknowledge the way they feel (or felt)
about home isolation can work very well in cutting through the heavy, serious
messaging mothers are receiving.
While COVID has been incredibly challenging, the changing behaviour of
this powerful consumer group opens up many opportunities for astute
small-business owners who are willing to rethink the way they market to
This story first appeared in issue 30 from the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine