Marketing post-COVID-19: Return of ‘black & white’ purchasing

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Pingali Venugopal believes that the shades of grey in consumer spending will gradually reduce. People will focus more on basic needs and the social orientation in spending could reduce.


A major impact during the lock down during COVID-19 has been that the fuzziness between family and work is shrinking. The interrelations between family and work will change consumption patterns in the post-Covid era in the short run (figure 1).

The lock down due to COVID-19 has helped family members spend more time together. Work from home has not only helped in the use of new technology for work, it has also helped save time from commuting to give more time to relax and spend time with the family.

All this is helping people spend more quality time with the family. This would also change the purchase behaviour for goods and services.

Short-run-demand side post-COVID-19 impact

In a short run, the consumer purchasing pattern will significantly change. One important change that we foresee post-COVID-19 in a short run is that the shades of grey in spending will reduce.

People will see things as either black or white. In a short run “wasteful purchases” (driven by social pressure) will reduce.

In the era of consumerism, purchases are driven by “social orientation”.This could be explained using the needs hierarchy shown in figure 2.

After satisfying a bare minimum of the lower order needs (basic and security needs), consumers jumped to higher order needs (specifically for purchase of social acceptance and social envy needs).

• Lower income people spending on fashion goods without completely satisfying their basic and security needs.
• Middle and upper income consumers satisfying their basic needs through socially accepted/ social envy products (“eating out, eating exotic dishes”)
• Eating junk food compromising the security needs of health and safety.

Also in the era of consumerism, the individual needs of convenience, relaxation and entertainment were pulled into the social domain (“I will relax with friends in a bar” or “I will exercise in gyms with public view” or “entertainment in public places not in private places” or “I dress up not for comfort but for others to appreciate”).

With the shades of grey reducing, the “wasteful” purchases would reduce. That is the “social orientation” in purchases could reduce and the purchases would be concentrated to satisfy the lower order needs (basic and security) and the individual and family needs.

a) The consumption basket would tilt in favour of essentials.
b) Brands providing functional benefit over emotional benefit would be purchased.
i. New shoppers emerging. Particularly revelatory shoppers who have realised during lockdown they need some items (eg I now feel I need a dish washer!)
c) Need for security would increase. There could an increase in savings and investment (purchase of insurance policies and mutual funds).
d) Purchase of health-related products would increase
e) Fashion wear and cosmetics would reduce.
f) Outside entertainment would get impacted.
i. Movie halls
ii. Bars and restaurants
g) Family entertainment products would gain.
h) Throw away attitude will reduce (that is, product usage will be higher increasing replacement cycle).

Supply side

With a reverse migration to villages there would be a boost to agricultural sector.

The demand side and supply side changes in agricultural sector would necessitate improvement in the infrastructure (better marketing and storage facilities) for agricultural sector.

Marketing communication

Based on the changing consumer behaviour, the companies should in a short run focus on:

a) Communicating functional benefits rather than emotional benefits.
b) Emphasize on family bonding
c) Going back to the “Isliye Surf ki khareedari mein hi samajhdari hai” (“That’s why purchasing Surf is a sensible decision”) way of communicating price consciousness.

But will things return to the current state in the long run?

The question is time, which we would imagine is dependent on

a) Vaccine for COVID-19 and

b) Government intervention.

If the vaccine takes more than 1 year, the prolonged exposure to COVID-19 might create the short run scenario as the “new normal”.

The second is to do with the government intervention. The current economic model grows with consumer spending, so the government would look at incentivizing consumer spending. This could include easier credit terms/ reduction in taxes so that consumers could spend that money on products, thereby increasing the demand to meet the supply and ultimately growing the economy.

Another question would be about the product mix.

Pre COVID-19, a lot of countries relied on imports. Post-COVID-19 many countries may focus on bringing manufacturing in-house (countries are starting to question cooperation with other countries and leaning towards working by and for themselves). So, that would impact the product mix and how we spend for sure.

We hope for a safe and healthy future for all!

Pingali Venugopal, a MBA and Doctorate from IIM, Ahmedabad, has teaching, industry, consulting and research experience in the Marketing function for over 40 years. He has been a Marketing faculty at XLRI, Jamshedpur since 1994 and was the Dean of the institute from 2004 to 2010. He is a visiting faculty to leading B-schools and on the Board of Tata Metaliks.

Sravan Pingali is a graduate in Psychology and holds a Doctorate in Aviation Safety. He is a faculty in the Aviation department at Griffith University, Brisbane. He also served as the Program Director for the Bachelor of Aviation program in 2019 & 2020. His teaching and research interests include psychological and physiological topics related to aviation.

Gautam Pingali is a PhD graduate (expected) in political economics with expertise in developmental conflict from University of Technology Sydney, Australia. His proficiencies include studies into geopolitics, developmental ideologies and power dynamics. Prior to his PhD, he served as a cyber-security analyst at IBM Australia.

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