American consumers don’t act and buy the way they did just a few short months ago – at least most of them don’t.
The pandemic and the need for social distancing led to an upsurge in online buying. Takeout and delivery replaced, at least temporarily, dining out. Many consumers, worried about the health risks of spending time in grocery stores, turned to services that would do their shopping for them.
Now, as the country tries to reopen and seek the next normal, businesses across the nation must figure out which of those consumer behaviors will become permanent, which were temporary, and whether any new ones yet unthought of might emerge.
“We live in a time when information can become outdated pretty quickly, and that’s become even more true because of COVID-19,” says Janét Aizenstros, a serial entrepreneur and the chairwoman and CEO of Ahava Digital, a company that ethically sources data on American consumers.
“The businesses that are going to succeed moving forward are those that grasp what consumers want and understand their changing habits.”
In contrast, those businesses that fail to understand what the latest consumer data is telling them, and are slow to adapt to the changes in consumer behavior, are going to be at risk, Aizenstros says.
She says going forward, businesses need to:
- Be prepared to pivot. Business leaders must be flexible. Many restaurants figured that out when the pandemic began, Aizenstros points out. Patrons could no longer dine-in, so the restaurants put an emphasis on takeout and delivery services. In the same way, each business will need to figure out how it can adapt and adjust its services or products to meet what customers want and need, she says.
- Gather reliable consumer data. With the internet, social media and numerous other sources, there is plenty of information available today about consumers, but not all of it is reliable. Make sure data comes from a quality source and that it reflects as much as possible the current thinking and behavior among consumers, Aizenstros says. “Businesses that fail to use reliable data and stay on top of the consumer trends,” she says, “will have a difficult time thriving as we go forward.”
- Take steps to make consumers feel comfortable. Even as people venture out more to dine in restaurants or shop in person, a Gallup survey shows they still plan to exercise caution. Businesses can help themselves by letting consumers know what steps they are taking to keep their stores, restaurants and offices as safe as possible. “This is just another example of understanding and keeping up with what consumers want,” Aizenstros says.
Businesses have always had their plans and operations disrupted by both technological advancements and changing consumer habits. But rarely does consumer behavior evolve as quickly as it did in the early months of 2020 – and the changes didn’t always happen in easily predictable ways.
“Some areas such as home decor and fashion have done well recently,” Aizenstros says. “At the same time, we are seeing trends with businesses like J.C. Penney, Hertz and others struggling and filing for bankruptcy. It’s hard to keep up with consumer thinking unless your data is consistent, relevant and accurate. But if you understand what your customers want and work to give it to them, your business will have the opportunity to prosper.”
Janét Aizenstros is a serial entrepreneur and the chairwoman and CEO of Ahava Digital, which provides businesses and investors with ethically-sourced verified data about American consumers. Her background includes roles in finance at TD Canada Trust, Canon, and Brookfield LePage Johnson Controls, along with management consulting in a broad range of functions, such as supply chain operations, data analysis, and strategic thinking. She has a doctorate in metaphysical sciences with a specialization in conscious business ethics.