News Center

COVID-19: The Need for Informed, Smart Decisions in Times of Crisis

David Rawlinson

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread around the world, it has left uncertainty in its wake. Consumers, organizations and even governments have struggled at times to get a handle on what is happening and what the appropriate course of action is—not surprisingly, reactions have ranged from blasé to panicked.

This highlights a challenge of our modern global information system. Thanks to technology, we have access to more information than ever before. But with so many sources of information, it’s essential to understand which are true and reliable versus those that are false or misleading.

Times like these underscore the need for considered, independent and inclusive data, analysis and insights. Only with trusted and reliable data will we, as a collective, make smarter decisions and influence smarter market responses. 

Nielsen has been working around the clock as this emergency has unfolded to collect data and learnings from around the world. Thanks to our global presence, we’ve been able to identify patterns, learnings and winning tactics in markets experiencing more advanced stages of COVID-19 that markets entering initial stages can benefit from. Based on these insights, we’ve created a set of six key consumer behavior thresholds that markets are moving through as the outbreak evolves. 

Studying how markets such as China and Italy have moved through each threshold in terms of consumer behavior is proving incredibly useful to decision-makers in areas where COVID-19 is starting to influence shopping. Our teams have challenged themselves to not just report what is happening but focus on implications to guide organizations to smart responses.

What we’ve discovered are early signs that our consumer habits will be indelibly changed by COVID-19. Three critical accelerators intersect with the six consumer thresholds and will fast track long-term behavioral shifts. Demands for quality and efficacy first increase during early thresholds as shoppers seek out products to contain the virus. Local supply and credentials become advantageous during the third threshold as shoppers rush to stock their pantries. During later thresholds with more restrictive living conditions, online offerings grow in importance, and those companies that are able to ramp up technology solutions quickly will have a real advantage.

Three accelerators intersect consumer behavior thresholds

The latest data from Italy and China supports these trends. Before the outbreak, the penetration of online shopping for grocery goods in Italy was significantly lower than many other markets around the world. After the country went under quarantine at the end of February, e-commerce sales for the week ending March 8 were up 82% compared with the same week last year. 

As consumers quickly ramp up their use of digital services, the perceived barriers for technology are crashing down—and fast. And our experts expect COVID-19 could be the unexpected catalyst for tech adoption. Even China, a leading e-commerce market before the outbreak, is beginning to reflect this permanent shift as life begins to return to normal. In a recent survey of key retail companies and more than 10,000 traditional grocery stores within the market, 67% say they will make efforts to expand online channels and accelerate home-based business / retail warehouse layouts.

Companies that can leverage technologies intelligently during this time—by meeting changing consumer demands online, enabling seamless interactions through direct-to-consumer offerings and enhancing consumer experience with augmented and virtual realities—have the opportunity to earn consumer loyalty well after consumers’ concerns subside.

We have the responsibility to use our data and expertise to help our clients prepare for the way this situation might unfold. A level approach that highlights winning strategies is essential to avoid panic and navigate our industries and key players toward stability as soon as possible. By managing stock levels, readying supply chains, emphasizing quality and efficacy, being transparent about product origins and leveraging technology, retailers and manufacturers can help install confidence and level heads in times of crisis.

What has become crystal clear, not just to us but to our clients, is that in times of uncertainty, we are a trusted source of information that is vital for organizations to intelligently navigate their way forward. In the coming days, weeks and months, we are committed to continuing our collaboration with clients and others to ensure that as markets we move forward in a safe, confident and smart manner—for the collective good of our industry and the people involved. 

View our complete coverage for the latest global consumer insights around the coronavirus outbreak.