The coronavirus pandemic has raised a number of interesting and difficult questions surrounding the nature of society, human being’s relationship with one another and how the future may not be about to pan out in a way we all expected in a pre-COVID world.
Life has changed dramatically for all of us. For many, it continues to change every day. But what of people’s attitudes?
There has been a lot of talk about how coronavirus if there is a positive to it, offers the opportunity for a fresh start and a fairer world. People are more conscious of how to take care of themselves and people around them.
For many, this would mean a change in consumerist attitudes and an economic restructuring, not just for the greater good, but people’s individual finances. Let’s explore this idea in more detail and assess whether coronavirus will make us bigger savers than consumers.
The argument for yes
First, let’s take a look at why people think this pandemic may result in a world that prioritizes personal savings over having the latest products.
There’s no denying that one of the lasting effects of this pandemic will be the harsh economic repercussions.
Closing down much of the economy across the world was necessary but has inevitably set the western world at least up for a harsh economic crash. The United States has recorded its highest unemployment rate for almost 100 years. Small businesses are being forced to close permanently. Restaurants and bars await a slow return to normality. Many more people sit on furlough, awaiting news of their employment future as the virus creates mass confusion around the world of work like never before.
This will absolutely have a significant effect on what people are willing to spend once things start to get back to normal. Savings have been essentially wiped out for medical bills and efforts to keep businesses afloat. People will look to try and build these rainy-day funds back up, and having the latest products will not be at the forefront of their mind.
Saving money will become the common mindset out of necessity more than anything else.
One reason we may see a shift towards a more economic way of thinking from the everyday person is the number of tools available to help guide more frugal decision making.
It feels like there’s an app, tool or tech startup for every major purchase in life now. Companies like Breezeful.comcan help you find an affordable and effective mortgage broker with little effort. Tools like Honey claim to be able to help you save money on everyday purchases online. New banks such as Monzo make saving an essential part of their model. With the number of daily discounts available, as long as you’re doing a bit of daily research it’s almost harder not to save money.
As the pandemic continues there will only be more innovative money-saving tools and companies popping up, which may just lead the way to how we exist in consumers. This will streamline saving processes and make it a much easier practice for people facing economic hardship for the first time.
The sharing community
If coronavirus has signalled anything about humanity on a wider scale, it’s that at our core humans do want to share and look out for each other. Healthcare volunteers, neighbours shopping for each other and the copious amounts of personal sacrifice have shown that people are not just willing, but actively want to look out for each other.
Will these attitudes carry over into a post-coronavirus world? That remains to be seen. However, we have now been exposed to this capacity for community on a grander level than ever before, and some people won’t soon forget that.
There may be a change in how people look at their finances. The concept of purchasing something to impress someone is pointless in lockdown, and idea may carry over once measures are lifted. Rather than impressing their neighbours through their wealth and possessions, people will reign back on their spending and instead put a focus on securing their wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them.
The argument for no
Now, let’s cover why this pandemic will ultimately not change people’s opinions towards shopping and consumerism, and why we can expect business as usual as soon as fears of further infection are removed.
Of course, as much as this pandemic and our response to it has been characterised by acts of community, kindness and sadness, it has also been a period of great shopping.
With shops closed and people trapped inside with nothing to do, it’s only normal that the number of online purchases should go up.
However, this prolonged period of lockdown means that this idea has now been heavily normalised. People who never even used the internet before have now shopped online for everything to help them with their hobbies and their health. Now that they’re exposed to the ease and price of this type of shopping, it’s unlikely they’re going to fully go back to brick and mortar stores.
Online shopping doesn’t suffer from the same logistical issues a brick and mortar store does, allowing products to be more readily available and flash sales to happen in, well, a flash. Will tight-wallet shoppers be able to avoid the great deals popping up across their favourite stores every day? If shopping trends during the pandemic are any indication, it’s unlikely.
Once lockdown is over there won’t be a slow period of easing into regular life. It’s much more likely there will be a mad rush to get the economy on track, as we are already seeing. That involves regular people spending.
Businesses are being prioritised over many aspects of daily life in the majority of countries across the world, as leaders look to get the economy back on track. You may not be able to see family straight away, but you’ll be able to shop from an acceptable distance.
It might not be a case of whether or not people want to save, but more if they’ll have the opportunity not to. Consumerism is going to be pushed on the average person for the sake of the economic good. People may be wary about eating out or refreshing their wardrobe, but they’re going to be encouraged to do so to make sure those places are still in operation in a year’s time.
Consumer culture was growing to what some would consider a dangerous point prior to the lockdown and those habits are going to be hard to change, even with an extended period indoors.
Whether people like it or not, brands are here to stay. And they’re not about to start telling their loyal customer bases to stop shopping with them just because they might be financially less well off.
Brand culture has permeated many aspects of our lives. The brands we wear, shop with and stand up for on social media are part of our identities. Attitudes may have changed for some people and taken a more communal view, but, particularly young, audiences are still fascinated by brands and the culture they represent.
Social media stars aren’t going to stop promoting brands to impressionable audiences. Advertising is only going to ramp up once businesses have the budget again. Clothing is still going to be dominated by the idea of labelling yourself with particular key brands. It would take a seismic change in attitude to move on from brand culture, and not even a worldwide pandemic can do that.
Without sounding like a cop-out, it’s almost too early to tell whether or not the coronavirus will change consumerist attitudes. People will be poorer, there’s no doubt about that. But whether that changes them, in the long run, remains to be seen.