Just as psychiatrists talk about five stages of grief, so it is possible to identify six emotional stages that Chinese consumers have passed through in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and which may assist brands elsewhere as they start to think about how to address the post-lockdown period.

Most people may be back at work in China but it’s far from business as usual. Jenny Chan, WARC’s China editor, based in Shanghai, notes that social distancing and mask-wearing remain de rigueur; there are automatic temperature checking systems at subway ticket gates; access to shopping malls and office buildings is only possible by showing a green QR code (part of a health-tracking app developed by the government) on your mobile phone.

So not quite normal, yet there are lessons that can be learned from the journey in China and reapplied in the West to help navigate the crisis successfully.

Among these are an understanding of consumers’ emotional progress during lockdown and how they responded. David Rao, managing director of Ipsos China, lists six stages:

• Disbelief/uncertainty

• Preparation

• Adjustment

• Acclimatisation

• Endurance

• Anticipation/trepidation

At the beginning, disbelief, fear and feelings of uncertainty about the disease that happened so suddenly resulted in halted travel plans, panic buying, stockpiling supplies where possible, and a lot of brand-switching activity due to out-of-stock situations.

After being formally locked down, people proactively sought for clear information about the epidemic, moving from channels on TV or radio to WeChat or Weibo to get the news faster—“media-shifting behaviour” due to confusion over sketchy information and rife rumours, Rao explains.

During the early stages of the pandemic in China, people spent more time doing stuff they are good at, for example, cooking dishes they already know. This is a display of a psychological need to enhance control over small aspects of their lives to reduce uncertainties.

“We also saw that consumers tend to stick to brands they are familiar with because they want to minimise post-purchase regrets,” says Rao. Moreover, if they have insecurities about their financial situations, more brand-switching may occur, because people may downgrade to more financially safe acquisitions.

The majority of Chinese consumers adjusted themselves to the lack of choices quickly, though an unmet need for outdoor activities remained dissatisfying.

An upside for brands can be gathered from comments on e-commerce websites, where some buyers remarked: “I finally decided to buy a TV for myself because I think I need to treat myself well.”

This is an emotional purchase, says Rao, that at the same time is mirrored when people were seeking novelties during the lockdown period because they think long stay-at-home periods will make them become boring.

Sourced from WARC