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Post-COVID, consumer psychology has seen a profound shift.
Post-COVID, consumer psychology has seen a profound shift.

Adapting marketing strategies to the changing patterns of consumer behaviour

During and post-COVID, consumers have been exhibiting unfamiliar buying patterns. For retailers, it’s a case of same, same, but different – and the approach to marketing should reflect that, says BARRY URQUHART.

They’re back: in every state and territory in Australia, bar Victoria, consumer foot traffic in key shopping centres and prime retail precincts is reportedly at around 86 per cent of the levels recorded in March, immediately prior to the declaration of the COVID-19.

And in nearly every way, the consumers are the same as before; the faces are familiar, addresses have not changed. Neither have the credit and debit card details.

Loyalty cards are still valid and accumulating points – however, there appears to be little consumer commitment to the businesses issuing them.

Advertising messages are eliciting fewer, and slower responses, while promotional activities are generating less interest, fewer responses and attendances.

Customers are, quite simply, exhibiting differing buying patterns. So, what is a retailer to do in this new ‘COVID normal’?

Scouting the landscape

First, let’s examine those marketing strategies that have been ineffective in the wake of COVID-19.

Big price-discounting campaigns are, seemingly, not increasing revenues as the price savings are being accepted – if not expected.

“Advertising messages are eliciting fewer, and slower responses, while promotional activities are generating less interest, fewer responses and attendances.”

However, volumes do not reflect the enhanced value offers.

Consumer loyalty and repeat business with individual stores and brands appears to be tenuous at best.

Relationships are founded on each transaction, alongside competitive pricing, payment options, and incentive post-purchase services, yet those relationships are now fractious, hard-earned, and short-term.

At the same time, online sales have not proven to be the saviour for all stores, particularly those with a bricks- and-mortar presence alongside an e-commerce offering. Indeed, during June, total national online sales declined by some 2 per cent for the first in more than seven years.

Analysis shows this was an expression and qualification of consumer dissatisfaction with poor, slow and variable delivery standards.

As it turns out, delivering the e-commerce promise – which Australian consumers were already more reluctant than most to embrace – is both difficult and expensive.

Closing the gap

Many bold statements and declarations by corporate management about their ‘customer-focus’, ‘customer-driven service’ and ‘customer-centricity’ have been found to be shallow over the course of the past few months.

The recognition of customers has frequently been limited to demographic profiles and historic buying patterns – such are the characteristics and typical deficiencies of algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Intuitive reasoning, understanding and responses are sparse. The nuances inherent in the spoken word and body-language are seldom recognised, comprehended and appreciated.

In the offline channel, the allure of personal contact with in-store sales and service providers has remained for consumers, yet sadly the expectations and promises have often fallen short because of rationalised staffing levels.

Put simply, the large capital investments in social, digital and online capacities have not been matched by complementary and contributing capabilities of experienced, qualified and enthusiastic team-members.

From a marketing perspective, it appears too many eggs have been placed in the wrong baskets – especially now that stores, for the most part, have reopened their doors.

The physical presence of consumers has been, and continues to be, conspicuous. However, their psychological perceptions, aspirations, expectations and purchase criteria have changed, often substantially.

Each is a consequence of lockdowns, social isolation and inhibited mobility. Yet looks can be, and often are, deceiving.

Converting sales and fulfilling needs requires closer analysis, understanding of the ‘new’ consumers, and refinements to business practices and promises.

When strategising for the next period, it is advisable to start wholly from scratch, rather than assuming the same marketing incentives will be as effective as they were before.

At the same time, it is critical for businesses to learn from the mistakes of others in adapting to COVID-19, and determine where their energies are best spent in attracting and retaining customers.


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Barry Urquhart

Contributor • Marketing Focus

Barry Urquhart is managing director of Marketing Focus. He has been a consultant to the retail industry around the world since 1980. Visit: or email

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