There has been ample evidence that customer behavior has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But what changes are CMOs seeing and when do they anticipate these behaviors to return to what they once were, if at all? A special edition of The CMO Survey [pdf] takes a look at these and other questions.
The May 2020 survey of more than 270 top US marketers shows that customer behavior has changed in several ways. Without a doubt, the most noticeable change for nearly all (97% of) respondents has been lower in-person marketing engagement, whether that be in sales or store visits or at tradeshows. Much of this is due to stay-at-home initiatives in the US, as well as the cancellation of events, with a dramatic impact on the events industry.
Along with the reduction of in-person engagement, 85% of CMOs report seeing an increased openness to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic, while 84% have witnessed increased value being placed on digital experiences.
In the past, US consumers have been known to put their trust in companies that value social responsibility and not just the bottom line. As such, 8 in 10 (79%) CMOs say they have experienced greater acknowledgement of companies’ attempts to “do good.” And, while B2B companies have been making a concerted effort to embrace purpose as part of company-wide initiatives, the report shows that B2C companies have experienced this customer behavior change more than B2B companies.
Although about two-thirds (65%) of respondents reported that new customers have been attracted to their products and services, it’s not all good news. CMOs have also noticed that consumers are less likely to buy (67%) and have an unwillingness to pay full price (43%).
To a much lesser extent, CMOs also cite weaker loyalty levels (25%), a lower likelihood to purchase online (24%) and weaker concerns about privacy (24%).
When Will Customer Behavior Return to Normal?
CMOs are optimistic that several of the consumer behavior changes seen during the pandemic will return to normal (pre-pandemic levels) in 6-12 months. Indeed, the largest share of respondents believes current behaviors such as the unwillingness to pay full price (38.5%), lower likelihood to buy (37.7%), and weaker loyalty levels (36.4%) will return to pre-pandemic levels within that time frame, as opposed to within 6 months or in longer than a year.
Some sectors are even more optimistic in regards to customer behavior. Interestingly, 45% of companies with no internet sales capabilities expect purchase levels to return to normal within 6 months, perhaps as these companies are more reliant on physical sales models and believe the end of stay-at-home directives will gradually result in more foot traffic.
That said, not all behaviors are expected to return to the pre-established norm. Many respondents, for example, do not expect that the increased value consumers place on digital experiences will ever return to pre-pandemic levels. The same can be said about weaker loyalty levels when it comes to B2B and B2C product companies – these groups were also more likely than services companies to predict that loyalty levels will never return to normal.
What Are Customers’ Top Priorities For the Future?
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, CMOs are most likely to expect customers to make trusting relationships their top priority over others such as low prices and excellent service. CMOs predict that superior product quality will be the next-biggest priority for customers in the next year.
These two predictions are somewhat consistent with what CMOs felt would be customer priorities in February, before the pandemic was declared. Nonetheless, respondents are now more likely to believe customers will prioritize lower prices as they did a few months ago. And, fewer feel that customers will prioritize aspects such as excellent service and superior innovation.
The full report can be found here.
About the Data: Findings are based on a survey of 274 US senior marketers in May 2020.