Posted: Friday 24th April 2020 in Performance Marketing.

When COVID-19 reached the UK, consumer behaviour changed in a way that even the best technology and tools might not have been able to predict. Shoppers rushed to supermarkets to buy their essentials, often in bulk and without much regard for the impact on other shoppers. Common products highlighted across news headlines included toilet paper, hand sanitiser and pasta, leaving shelves empty as if preparing for an invisible war.

Consumers were sent into panic mode, if not by the virus, then by other shoppers beating them to it for their much-needed items. But what does this ‘need’ phase explain in the grand scheme of consumer behaviour and what is next?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In order to better understand the motivations of consumer behaviour, especially amidst the era of COVID-19, several well-known theories have resurfaced, including that of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory states that five human needs are arranged and overtake its predecessor once each is satisfied. The five needs are:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love and belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualisation
Maslows Hierachy of Needs

Physiological Needs

The first physiological need usually appears at a time of distress or deprivation, in this instance, the pandemic. The panic buying, hoarding of items and living without products such as toilet paper, washed over the population in such severity that many were willing to leave their homes to acquire them, despite advice that this could endanger their own lives and the lives of others.

This basic human need resulted in a huge increase in demand, with many stores running out of essential products and many non-essential products being forgotten with sales dipping as a consequence. Staple food products saw a 70% increase whilst sectors like the automotive industry saw a 20% dip in sales. But it isn’t just essential groceries that saw a peak in demand. Beard trimmers and electrical razors shot up in response to people missing hair appointments due to the closures of hair salons and barbershops. Although maybe not an life saving essential, in the modern world the thought of being without provided enough for concern.

Google Trends Beard Trimmers
Source: Google Trends

Safety Needs

The virus has resulted in more concerns around employment, physical and mental health as well as access to resources. The latter is reinforced when looking at the search volume around hand sanitisers which skyrocket in early March, correlating with reports showing a 160% increase in personal hygiene sales.

Thermometers Google Trends
Source: Google Trends

Content in the form of articles and videos on how to make your own face masks also increased despite the uncertainty of their effectiveness. “DIY face mask” or “how to make your own face mask” on YouTube retrieves thousands of results; with one tutorial from mummy blogger Erica Arndt now at over 7 million views since it was uploaded on 21st March. The response of retailers to safety has also been amplified by the media with such brands as Amazon and ASOS coming under pressure to do more to keep staff safe in warehouses.

Love and Belonging Needs

Maslow goes on to state the third tier of the hierarchy as love and belonging. Finding a sense of connection and intimacy amongst COVID-19 can now be seen everywhere. Whether it is each Thursday at 8pm as we clap for our carers, or the rainbow posters which display each household window supporting the NHS, people are finding new ways to connect and stay in touch.

Rainbow House Wales
Image Source: Wales Online

Online conference calls using tools such as Zoom have seen huge surges in usage, from a previous 10 million users, the platform now boasts over 200 million users are using the platform as of March’s figures. Additionally, 90,000 schools across 20 countries are also using its video conferencing services to conduct classes remotely. The need for regular routine, belonging to a class, catching up with friends or even attending a virtual mass (of which there are now many globally) helps lower anxiety, stress and provides a sense of normality.

But how are brands and retailers using this to their advantage? Brands such as Virgin Media are stressing the importance of staying in touch and being connected with their ‘stay home, stay safe, stay connected’ campaign. The ‘low budget’ inspired advert filmed on phones and tablets sees people sharing their COVID-19 blog and includes why staying in touch is important to them. A simple yet effective strategy aligned with an essential need to stay connected correlates with the huge surge in demand for faster internet speeds as people work from home.

Esteem Needs

Maslow breaks down esteem needs into two categories, self-satisfaction or public acclaim, (internal and external needs.) The internal need of self-satisfaction can be achieved by being able to work effectively from home and gain personal fulfilment from doing a good job. Public acclaim however seeks external gratification in the form of something perhaps a little different. We have been inspired by charitable causes such as Captain Tom Moore’s 100th Birthday NHS Walk or the Run for Heroes 5K ‘run 5, donate 5’ challenge, and in turn people may have shared on social media their donations. It is arguable that this could fall into internal or external needs, yet people feel a sense of value as they contribute to society in a positive capacity.

Captain Tom Moore

Self-actualisation Needs

The final need in the hierarchy is that of the highest value. The desire and ability to be able to become the best version of oneself. This runs true as many people are now in positions of wanting to support the community in the most effective way possible. We see this with doctors, nurses and those on the frontline who risk their lives each day to ensure we get through the pandemic.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts the COVID-19 pandemic and consumer behaviour into perspective. But what is next as we move through the next phase on consumer behaviour from need to want? We will be covering this on the Summit blog in the next few weeks, keep your eyes peeled.

If you’d like any help with your marketing efforts or to discuss your business, please get in touch with one of the team via [email protected].