In this edition of Spotlight Australia, WARC Asia Editor Gabey Goh looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting consumer behaviours in Australia, with the shift from DIY to DIFM (do it for me), and even DIWM (do it with me).

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how retail brands in Australia can balance the opposing trends of DIY and DIFM (do it for me) as consumer priorities shift Read more

The rise of the DIFM (do it for me) movement was already taking place pre-pandemic, as time-poor consumers opted to hire help rather than roll up their sleeves. But the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a spike in DIY projects as people stuck at home sought to occupy their time.

But 1.5 years in, the allure of DIY has dimmed for many in Australia.

With snap or extended lockdowns still ongoing in the bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, brands are finding themselves marketing to a populace both angry and resigned at the seemingly unending volatility of restrictions on daily life.

With mental health concerns topping priority lists, weary consumers are opting for on-demand services and professionals to help tick off to-do lists and complete projects – a proverbial case of “throwing money at the problem”. This isn’t limited to just the home improvement sector – from spending less time cooking and ordering delivery, to trading in and buying new clothes instead of upcycling; serving the at-home consumer has become the driving raison d'etre of the current on-demand economy.

While current restrictions still limit activities and services, leaving DIY as the only option to get things done, it’s safe to say that when/if offered the option for DIFM, there will be pent-up demand from consumers.

This poses an interesting looming challenge for retail brands in a market like Australia, long known for its bent towards DIY. With huge investment and resources thrown towards supporting DIY desires and e-commerce channels in 2020, brands must now cater to a growing number of consumers not looking for specific materials or products, but for complete solutions.

With the economic outlook for the market still hazy, and marketing budgets under tight scrutiny, how can retail marketers prepare, and balance attention and money, between two tribes with opposing preferences?

Consumers continue to want more from their brands

Data from research firm GWI shows that unsurprisingly, DIY and DIFM audiences want brands to be reliable above all else, at 87% and 63% respectively. DIY audiences also show a notable over indexing against the total population in wanting brands to be authentic (64%) and innovative (61%), while both DIY and DIFM consumers over index against the total Australian population when it comes to wanting brands to be smart (57% and 51% respectively).

Whither post-COVID

With lockdowns still in place, the answer to the oft-asked question of what a post-pandemic landscape would look like remains in flux. Contributors to this Australia Spotlight edition outline some key considerations that retail marketers must address to stay relevant and futureproof amidst uncertain conditions:

  • The balancing act begins with empathy: Spark Foundry’s national head of strategy Anna Cherry argues that DIY and DIFM are two behaviours that have become habitual and these two distinct mindsets – one stemming from a need for control and the other from loss – make it important for brands to understand the values and beliefs that sit behind an individual or group’s behaviour.

    “Deep human understanding and empathy will be the biggest competitive advantage for marketers in a COVID world,” she writes.

  • Consumers have reevaluated their priorities and retail must follow suit: The emergence of “reimagined” consumers, who are actively changing their habits and motivated by new factors beyond just price and quality, is creating opportunities for brands to reset their strategies and meet and exceed new customer expectations.

    “Retailers have already stretched considerably to meet the needs of consumers throughout the pandemic and this is likely to have come at a substantial and unsustainable cost. When planning for post-pandemic growth, insights into consumers’ willingness to switch brands, stay with brands or pay for extra services will help companies understand the risk and rewards of retaining or losing certain customer experiences,” says Accenture’s managing director and retail lead for Australia and New Zealand, Michelle Grujin.

  • Dig deeper to find the right path forward: Consumers are now looking to an alternative solution – DIWM (do it with me). With this model, retailers and restaurants are pivoting to providing a service that brings their skills to consumers when they can’t do it in person. But ultimately, the decision to DIY, DIFM or DIWM is driven by attitudes towards an underlying value equation based on whether the consumer has more time or more money on their hands.

    “Research will enable understanding of this attitudinal segmentation and will inform the strategy to target communications to best effect,” writes Jeremy Sankey, head of strategy and insight at Distilla Strategy.

  • Be prepared for a recalibration: When life eventually returns to normal, there’s bound to be a recalibration as dining options open up. This is where grocery brands, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the lockdown measures, will have to get proactive and creative to maintain their current share of mind and market.

    “It’s clear the big players are ensuring they cater to both the DIY and DIFM consumer with the products and services they provide. Grocery brands would do well to follow suit to ensure COVID isn’t simply a blip of a sales boost,” writes Nicole Miranda, director of client services, Spinach.

The chances of a complete return to life before COVID-19 is slowly decreasing as the fight to manage the pandemic drags on. But the experiences that Australian consumers have had with brands during lockdown will certainly influence the choices made when their world begins to open up again.

For retail marketers, the opportunities will lie in understanding the many roles they can play in daily life – no matter what shape it takes.