The C-Series 2: How Covid-19 is changing the way we use our homes

Apr 02, 2020

The C-Series explores the impact Covid-19 is having on consumer behaviour; how we live, work, play and shop, both now and in the post-pandemic world. In this second instalment, we look at how self-isolation and quarantine are affecting the ways that consumers are using their homes.

At the time of writing, a third of the world’s population is living under some form of restricted movement as governments around the globe enforce lockdown measures aimed at minimising the spread of Covid-19. These measures are bringing about some of the most sudden changes to consumer behaviour that have been seen in living memory.

As we explored in the first article of this series, the shift from physical retail to ecommerce is, out of sheer necessity, radically accelerating. This speed of change is also being seen in the way we adapt and use our homes and gardens. The four walls in which we live have become the arena for all we do, from our work, our education, leisure time and our entertainment, to our physical or virtual social interactions with our friends and family.

 

Bringing the outside in

Having to stay at home (aside from a very limited set of exceptions, such as exercise and grocery shopping), means that many consumers are reassessing the space they live in and learning how to access digital tools, content and services to support a new way of living; completing activities virtually that would normally be achieved outside the home.

We’re seeing a surge in the use of livestreaming and pre-recorded content from brands and other providers that help consumers access resources to complete usual weekly or daily tasks to retain a semblance of normality through the madness. Being trapped in doors on the sofa all day (possibly also confined with a whole family and lively children) is not ideal either for waistlines, energy levels or mental sanity. GDR have already documented that we are living in the midst of a modern fitness and wellness boom, so it’s little surprise that consumers are crying out for help to exercise and keep fit from home. We’re seeing lots of providers shift their services to digital formats. ClassPass, for example, has nimbly pivoted to a digital-only model for the time being with 100% of revenues from livestreamed classes going directly to its studios. At the same time, demand is rocketing for free home fitness content on platforms like YouTube.

It’s likely that competition in this space will heat up, and those that offer consumers a key point of difference, particularly one which adds a social virtual community aspect to their workouts at a time when so many consumers are, quite literally, isolated, will attract consumers seeking to stay fit and connected in ways that are as novel and engaging as they can possibly be from the confines of their living rooms or bedrooms.

Pubs and clubs are already finding ways of bringing their experiences inside the home. UK brewer Signature Brew just launched its Pub in a Box service, where customers receive not only a selection of its beers but a glass, a beer mat, music playlists and a pub quiz to have the full pub experience. In China, JD.com made a similar move to help consumers club in their own homes. It has partnered with a record label to deliver 3-hour shows on its ecommerce streaming platform JD Live, featuring music artists, during which those partying can order drinks from brands, such as Pernod Ricard and Budweiser, which are tied to the show. Sales of promoted spirits have risen by as much as 70% during the shows, and JD.com plans to continue a similar service on a permanent basis, streaming from night clubs and music festivals.

The closure of schools across the UK has given rise to various forms of educational and recreational content being made available for parents and children, from daily PE videos from fitness influencer Joe Wickes, to free Maths lessons from celebrity Maths whiz Carol Vorderman.

The pressure is currently on parents to maintain and manage their children’s education (whilst many parents simultaneously attempt to work) from home. One hopes and expects that the government or schools will produce their own guidelines and resources for at-home curriculums as closures extend further. Yet we predict a huge appetite and need from parents for assistance from brands and content providers to offer services that help children stay focused and learning as normally as possible utilising virtual, live streamed or downloadable services over the next few months.

 

Enhanced home entertainment

At the same time, other activities and rituals that have always been done at home are being upgraded and enhanced to give them a deeper level of engagement during self-isolation. We’re already seeing a proliferation in live cooking classes: London bakery Bread Ahead is holding regular baking classes live on Instagram, with ingredient lists available ahead of time so that people can bake along with the brand; while Nonna Live allows you to make pasta via a live video link with an 84 year old Italian grandmother from her home just outside of Rome.

It’s safe to say that consumers will be spending much of the months ahead streaming from services such as Netflix, which has already announced it will be lowering its streaming quality in Europe to cope with unprecedented usage. We’ll likely see a rise in demand for services such as Netflix Party, a third-party Chrome extension that synchronises video playback for multiple users, allowing friends and family to binge together despite being in different homes. The service, which includes a chat function, predates the outbreak of Covid-19 but is a perfect example of how tweaks to existing services can bring people together and make their activities at home more special.

At GDR, we’ve covered several instances in recent months of brands using delivery services to create a more deeply engaging viewing experience, from the delivery of pastrami sandwiches and pickles to be eaten while viewing Jewish comedy The Marvellous Ms Maisel, to Uber Eats delivering the meals viewers are watching being made on French TV show Top Chef. Enriched experiences like these lend themselves very well to the dramatically new context in which consumers are staying at home.

Self-isolation appears to be the perfect time for consumers to finally get around to those oddjobs around the house or garden, or even take on bigger DIY projects while working from home or furloughed. On 24 March, Kingfisher, owner of B&Q and Screwfix, reported a 33.7% increase in like for like weekly sales. We can expect to see a renewed focus on home interiors and gardening amongst a growing number of consumers, as well as innovations from brands and retailers that can facilitate these activities digitally.

Some brands have identified lockdown as opportunity for extended trial. Sega, developers of popular computer game Football Manager, and Nike (for the premium version of its workout app Nike Training Club) have both made their products free to consumers for at least part of the lockdown period. It’s a win-win for brands, who are getting their products in front of consumers in a way that reflects well on them, and consumers, who are getting access to free content.

 

Together apart

Netflix Party touches on one of the biggest changes to the ways people are using their homes, to socialise remotely. Since lockdown measures have been introduced, platforms such as Houseparty, Zoom and Skype have become the de facto meeting places whenever we ‘visit’ each other. Houseparty, owned by the developers of teen gaming sensation Fortnite, has existed since 2016 but has extended beyond the realm of Gen Z to a global sensation amongst all age groups since lockdown measures have been implemented, and is currently gaining 2 million users a week. Dating app Hinge is encouraging the use of these platforms for first dates in light of the enforced hiatus of real-world dating. Other brands are using these platforms as a subtle means of advertising. West Elm recently published a set of free Zoom backgrounds full of its furniture and accessories that users can deploy to show off a living room that isn’t really theirs.

Any brands for whom meeting new people or taking part in experiences together is an important facet, should be thinking about how they can facilitate similar encounters remotely. Brewdog recently launched a series of virtual bars around the country, where customers could not only order Brewdog’s beers to enjoy at home but become part of a group video call connecting them to hundreds of people in their own area.

Consumers are craving connection at a time of physical isolation, and brands, like Brewdog, that can remedy that while putting their own proprietary twist on things will surely stand out to consumers seeking to enjoy experiences with other people.

On the other side of the same coin, there is inevitably going to be periods of time when consumers seek some time for themselves and their mental health, away from those in their homes. In the same vein as fitness classes shifting online, so too are meditation services: skincare brand For the Biome, for example, is holding weekly video meditation classes, and we can expect to see newfound interest in app services such as Headspace.

 

The future of the home

There are so many unknowns as we live through these unprecedented times. Many of the innovations that we see throughout this period will be temporary fixes, no longer needed when ‘life goes back to normal’. Yet the proliferation of digital services we’re seeing is in many cases just an acceleration along the trajectory we have been travelling on for many years, and for that reason it is likely that some of these consumer behaviours, and some of these innovations, will be permanently adopted and change long term behaviours.

This will all vary by category, and by sector, and some companies will be affected even more than others. The same is true of consumers. Different segments and demographics will be affected by their changes in circumstance in different ways, and their long-term behaviours will likely change in different ways too. GDR will strive to use our expertise as business futurists to help your business navigate through these uncertain times.

If you’re interested in talking to us in more detail about any of the themes discussed in this article, or the challenges you’re facing as a business, we’re here to help. Get in touch with rachel@gdruk.com

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