Guest Blog Post written by Alex Gevers, Senior Insights Manager from Comscore
As Senior Insights Manager at Comscore, Alex Gevers is responsible for analysing Comscore's rich data to identify market trends and to create industry insights that help businesses take informed decisions. Prior to Comscore, Alex’s career has included a broad range of market research and generalist marketing roles in startups, consultancies and multinationals. When not working, he studies pure mathematics and statistics to relax.
The Stage of the Pandemic
As historians point out, pandemics have existed for as long as humanity has existed, and at times have reshaped societies in their wake. It is, of course, too soon to anticipate the ramifications of the latest pandemic, but it will surely go down in the annals of history as the first truly digital pandemic.
Clearly, the internet has remained the main channel through which people communicate, access content, and share experiences. Online alternatives that once sounded quirky have now been adopted with gusto (live virtual fitness classes in the living room anyone?). Another noteworthy observation is that the world is undertaking an experiment in remote working on an unprecedented scale.
Moreover, as a 21st century pandemic in a globalised world, events have unfolded in hours, days and weeks, instead of months and years. Events that took place on the other side of the planet were broadcast live, on news outlets as well as on social media. As reality sunk in, priorities evolved, and so did online consumer behaviour – in the case of Europe, in a relatively synchronised fashion. This evolution happened in three stages, which we now describe.
STAGE 1. AS A DISTANT PROSPECT BECOMES REALITY, NEWS CONSUMPTION EXPLODES
January 13 to March 08, 2020
Early in January 2020, consumers across Europe were mostly focused on getting back to their pre-holiday routines. News of the coronavirus, however, which had first emerged in China at the end of December 2019, grew persistently. But things really took a turn between February 23, 2020 and March 9, 2020, during which time, Italy went from quarantining small towns in the north to implementing a full-blown national lockdown. As consumers rushed to wrap their heads around the enormity of the unfolding events, visits between the weeks of Jan 13-19, 2020 and March 02-08, 2020 to sites and apps in the “News/Information” category surged. While news sites helped consumers stay informed, other sites provided complementary information to plan ahead. Visits to sites and apps in the “Government”, “Health”, and “Education” categories increased markedly during that same period of time.
STAGE 2. CONSUMERS RE-FOCUS ON THEIR COMMUNITIES
March 09 – April 05, 2020
During the month of March 2020, countries across Europe, in quick succession, declared stringent restrictions of movement. In reaction to this, activity moved online. But a defining feature of that period is the prominence of social communities. As citizens reconnected with their loved ones and shared experiences and memes with their friends and family, activity on sites and apps in the “Instant Messenger” and “Social Networking” categories surged. Also noteworthy is the increase in traffic to the “Family & Youth” category, which reflects the fact that many parents had the dual and challenging task of both educating as well as entertaining their children.
STAGE 3. PLANNING FOR LIFE AFTER THE PANDEMIC
April 06 – current
As governments gradually begin to ease restrictions, there are tentative signs of renewed activity across some of the content categories that were among the worst hit by the pandemic. Chief among those are the “Automotive”, “Travel” and “Real Estate” categories. However, the partial recovery in traffic measured between the weeks of April 06-12, 2020 and April 13-19, 2020 must be interpreted with caution. First, this increase is relative to a low base, since it follows a period of sharp decrease in traffic. Second, the uplift in traffic to travel sites could also reflect that consumers are cancelling plans or rescheduling, as opposed to planning new trips. Still, with higher temperatures, sunny days, and the prospect of greater freedom of movement in the coming months, it is possible that a growing proportion of consumers are anticipating life after the pandemic and planning accordingly.
The coronavirus pandemic is far from over and remains a continuously evolving situation of unprecedented scale and unknown destination. It seems unlikely, however, that once the crisis has subsided things will go back to the way they were before. Partly caused by, and partly as a consequence of, the pandemic, consumer behaviour is rapidly evolving. Certainly, our lives have become a little more digital as a result.