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The COVID-19 outbreak looks set to further deepen and accelerate a well-established trend towards ‘cocooning’ in South Africa as families stay home to keep safe and make better use of their finances – a trend that is likely to outlast the pandemic. This is according to new Consumer Pulse research from GfK South Africa into the behaviours of online consumers during the Level 5 lockdown.

Some 85% of consumers who usually work full time reported a significant impact on their working habits. Nearly half (47%) of full-time employees were able to work remotely, but among this group, 74% claimed they were working less than normal. These usually time-poor consumers took the opportunity to put their careers and performance aside, while they focused on themselves, projects and interests they don’t usually have time for, and the people they really care about.

“The national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa is reshaping consumers’ behaviours in every sphere – from shopping to media consumption to work,” says Rachel Thompson, Insights Director at GfK South Africa.

“New norms are emerging as time becomes more fluid and the boundaries between work and leisure are blurred.”

Focus on self-improvement

The GfK research shows that some consumers in this demographic used the time of the Level 5 lockdown for self-improvement; 31% claimed that they used the time to learn a new skill and 41% increased the time spent reading books. This trend is especially evident among people who usually work full-time.

With the closure of restaurants and takeaways, along with free disposable time, South Africans put their culinary skills to the test. More than three quarters (78%) cooked more homemade meals from scratch and 55% were consuming fresh vegetables, a habit that they would like to continue post-lockdown. Consumers reported that recipes were their second most searched for topic on YouTube. As part of a move towards a healthier lifestyle, 40% agreed that they have increased their level of physical activity.

Home improvement was high on the lockdown to-do list. In the week before lockdown when consumers knew that they would have free time for DIY projects, sales of emulsion and special paint climbed 16 and 10% respectively. Consumers said that DIY content was the top topic they searched for on YouTube during the Level 5 lockdown.

‘Alone together’

Although the lockdown was designed to keep people socially distanced, consumers found ways to connect deeply with loved ones within and outside their homes. Around 65% were using video chat to reach family members who don’t share their home and 52% increased the time they spent looking after family members.

With more free hours on their hands, 52% have increased their time on leisure activities alone and with the family. Some 38% have increased the time they spend playing games like board games, trivia, crosswords, and colouring in, while 31% reported cooking more with the children and 18% cooking more as a couple.

Most also upped their media intake. Around 76% have increased their viewing of films and TV series, while 38% increased the time they spent on paid streaming services like Netflix. In the week before the lockdown, videogame console sales increased 104% compared to an average week; 44% of surveyed consumers reported that they spent more time playing videogames during the first phase of the lockdown.

Trend towards cocooning

“Our research has found a trend towards cocooning in South Africa over the past five years, with people staying home rather than heading for the malls and nightclubs, partly because of growing personal safety concerns,” says Thompson. “Consumers in this demographic were well prepared for the lockdown because they have been moving towards home-tainment for a number of years. This segment spent the lockdown investing time into their homes and relationships—and discovering new digital means of shopping, connection and entertainment.

“These trends will remain entrenched, even when the worst of the pandemic is over. To master the crisis, marketers should seek to understand the new normal that has emerged for their customers and be ready to pivot along with consumers on the other side of the pandemic,” Thompson said.

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