Few markets have been whipsawed by the COVID-19 crisis as severely as India. After many months of lockdowns, life in India began returning to normal during the period from October 2020 to March 2021, as cases declined. Then, tragically, the contagion raged back to terrifying levels.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been monitoring its impact on consumer sentiment and behavior, conducting a series of six surveys of consumers who occupy different income levels and live in a range of urban settings. Now that India has experienced two strong waves of the COVID-19 crisis, the rich data from these pulse checks gives us an opportunity to step back and look at how the pandemic has transformed people’s behavior. Which changes in the goods and services that Indian households buy—and the ways they transact those purchases—have proved to be fleeting or driven by temporary necessity? And which behavioral changes appear to be enduring to such an extent that companies should consider them the new normal?
We interviewed approximately 4,000 Indian consumers in late May, during the second wave of India’s COVID-19 outbreak, asking them about their consumption patterns in around 50 product categories and about their daily lifestyles. We compared the responses from this survey with those we obtained from our previous barometer in August 2020, when cases were declining and lockdowns were being lifted. We also compared our findings to data that we collected in March 2020, during the first phase of the pandemic.
On the basis of these responses, we grouped behavioral changes into four categories, which we call “accelerating behaviors,” “sustained momentum behaviors,” “sensitive behaviors,” and “transient behavioral changes.” Each of these categories has its own distinctive characteristics and trajectories:
For companies, a key takeaway from this research is that the COVID-19 crisis has significantly altered the behavior of Indian consumers in several important aspects, such as their heightened focus on health and their embrace of digital tools and channels for making purchases. Companies should start integrating an awareness of such behavioral shifts into their planning and go-to-market strategies going forward.
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