In Greek mythology, the God Zeus presented Pandora, the first human woman with a wedding gift. She was asked not to open it but Pandora's curiosity took the better of her. What then became known as Pandora's Box released all the illnesses and misfortunes into the world as soon as the box was unlocked. Realizing her mistake, an anxious Pandora quickly shut the box, only to save one last occupant inside the ancient artifact: hope. And indeed, it would seem hope is the only major instinct that is driving people forward today, even as fear, anxiety and the sheer spread of the covid19 pandemic is trying to crush it.
What is data saying? Consumers are in limbo, says a PwC report surveying over 1600 consumers. 1 in every 2 respondents were working from home; nearly 60 percent of respondents for the survey were socially distancing, while 49 percent were avoiding leaving homes altogether. A 78 percent of the survey respondents were found to be concerned about the economic cost of the covid-19 crisis in the form of either unemployment, reduced pay, or overall recession while 71 percent were worried about sickness and death. The findings are pretty standard by other survey collectors. Mckinsey found that even as lockdowns were being relaxed, most consumers (70% in hard-hit countries) were expecting their finances to be greatly affected over the next four months. Globally consumers are trying to ration spending by cutting it down to essential items only, steering clear of discretionary goods.
In Pakistan, as per a Gallup survey, 88 percent of respondents claimed their household incomes declined since the spread of the covid-19 in the country; 19 percent of salaried individuals were laid off, 18 percent were handed a pay cut, and 7 percent were asked to take an unpaid leave. Since April, 900,000 more households claimed to have reduced the number or size of meals for some family members to cover household’s basic needs. 1 in 4 Pakistanis were found to be relying on less preferred or less expensive food; 1 in 6 Pakistanis were using their savings to meet household needs; over 2 million households said they sold an asset to put food on the table and a whopping 22 million adults claimed they had borrowed food, or asked for help from a relative or friend to cover basic household needs.
This is daunting. But the silver lining here is that people are resilient, and adjusting to the new ground realities of the covid and post-covid world. There is a substantive move toward online and digital services across wealthy countries, but also in developing nations like Pakistan where digital transformation is in its very infancy. In fact, according to Google’s search data report, there was a marked increase (300%) in google searches by Pakistanis looking for online groceries while a 1.4 times increase in searches for “same-day delivery”. This opens doors for digital service providers and e-commerce companies that have so far struggled with the lack of pace in demand.
While Netflix usage grew, Pakistanis were also donating. During lockdown, a local consumer app found that donations and charities grew by 331 percent among users of the app (read more: “Spending behavior and covid-19”, June 25, 2020). Globally, the PwC survey found that people were spending significantly more time in not only entertainment but reading and picking up new hobbies (such as music and art) and caring about cleanliness, health and fitness. Nearly 48 percent of the survey respondents planned to maintain their newly acquired health and wellness habits over the long term.
This can be collaborated for Pakistanis as well through google search data. There is a marked search interest by Pakistani google users for health and fitness. A jump of 1.5x for vegetarian cuisine, and 1.4x for keto diet. More people are found searching for health clubs and gyms. YouTube searches grew by 175 percent for “HIIT workout” (high-intensity interval training), by 125 percent for “gym at home” and 80 percent for “home workouts”. There is also apparently a piqued interest in environment and sustainability. Google search report suggests Pakistani “users were seemingly curious about the visible impact on air quality and pollution levels, with search interest for clean air (up 225%), clear water (up 217%), cloth bags (up 150%) and electric cars (1.5x) recently.
The Mckinsey’s survey of 42 countries argued that consumers across the world were eager to resume regular activities whilst adapting to the challenges of the virus knowing that coronavirus is here to stay for a while.
Many of these findings are intuitive. Less spending on non-essentials, more savings, accessing goods through online platforms considering physical distancing, evolving interests, and a greater motivation to learn about the environment and making better lifestyle choices (possibly to avoid future catastrophic outcomes) and so on.
The fact that consumers are altering their behaviors and are adapting to changes fast is certainly a sign of hope, but there is also a simmering hope under the surface, of lives going back to normal soon. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Pakistanis hope that life will return back to normal by the end of the year despite acknowledging the medical and economic devastation the virus is leaving in its wake.
One thing is clear: however bad this pandemic is, and however dangerous its predicted and unforeseen risks still are, the human species is a hopeful animal. It is down, but not out.