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Asian consumer behaviour may change forever after Covid-19

New research has shown that some shifts in Asian consumer behaviour in response to the coronavirus outbreak could be lasting beyond the pandemic. 

And that is something that should prompt food retailers to act – and in some cases, accelerate – the changes they have already made in response to the crisis.

The survey, conducted by US management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, is based on research conducted with more than 5000 consumers in Asia across seven countries – Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. The data determined that there are four areas within the food industry that may need to be reimagined following the end of the crisis.

Firstly, food retailers should reimagine the safety, health, and scope of their supply chains.

Consumers across the countries surveyed appeared to care more about in-store safety and to prefer healthy, locally sourced offerings than they did before Covid-19. Consumers have shown a heightened awareness of hygiene and cleanliness that may remain important in the post-coronavirus period.

The data on Asian consumer behaviour showed an increase in consumption of products perceived by consumers to be healthy, such as fresh food, eggs, dairy, and bottled water – and a drop in purchases of alcoholic beverages and snacks.

The research suggests retailers should rethink their offerings and provide healthier, more locally sourced products with a smaller environmental footprint. To meet rising customer expectations, companies should rethink the safety of the customer journey – for example, by using technologies such as self-checkout and cash-free transactions to reduce risks.

Secondly, retailers should reimagine how technology can enhance delivery services. The survey results show consumers are shifting their food spending online and have yet to return to their normal spending levels for food service. Responses suggest an opportunity for grocers to digitalise their stores.

Respondents in most countries showed a 30–70 per-cent drop in preferences for dine-in spending and an increase in grocery shopping and purchases of ready-made food in grocery stores, which consumers tend to prefer more than meal delivery from restaurants.

The trend towards online

Consumers are indicating they intend to continue shopping online at the new pace.

To respond to the current crisis and meet future ones, food retailers should scale up their e-commerce channels and their capacity for home delivery, perhaps by partnering with last-mile players and cold-storage warehouses; by expanding shifts in existing warehouses; by using hybrid picking models or by converting some retail locations into dark stores. 

Thirdly, retailers should reimagine the meaning of value for money. People are currently concerned about the pandemic’s impact on their personal incomes, and consumers are willing to forgo planned future purchases because of uncertainty related to Covid-19. To address these shifts, food retailers should rethink their promotional calendars to safeguard their marketing spending for use only when needed to stimulate demand, either for discretionary products or for post-crisis essentials to meet people’s desire for value.

Finally, retailers should reimagine loyalty. During the crisis, Asian consumer behaviour has reflected loyalty to retailers and brands offering essential products in their assortments. Location and availability of goods have been the primary reasons why consumers have changed stores, rather than promotions or pricing.

Retailers are advised to determine which stores are being affected disproportionately by customers shifting to other primary stores. Targeted marketing may help bring these customers back, as would retailers finding a way to better communicate the efforts they are taking to support customers and their societies more broadly.

These measures should help retailers be better equipped to provide employment opportunities to people who are currently out of work, reshape their industry ecosystem, and work closely with business partners on how to operate under the new normal.

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