Search insights to help you understand consumer needs in uncertain times – 6 July 2020 edition

Lucy Sinclair / June 2020

Lucy Sinclair is the EMEA director of the insights team at Google, where she and her team analyse changes in consumer behaviour. In this consumer search insights series she highlights what is on people’s minds during this unprecedented time.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by everyone around the world. And as consumer needs and behaviours have changed, this poses new challenges to marketers. We’re regularly sharing the latest EMEA search insights from Google Trends to help you understand what is important to your customers, so you can continue to be helpful and relevant during this unprecedented time. You can also use Google Trends yourself to explore changing search interests to view a more instant analysis.

As people are adjusting to the current situation and trends are starting to become more consistent, we are focusing our analyses on the macro shifts in consumer behaviour — to understand what the long-term impact might be in a post-lockdown world.

The five key themes we cover within these are:

  1. What people do: Spending time and money in new ways
  2. What people know: Seeking timely and accurate information from trusted sources
  3. How people make a living: Changes to work and finances
  4. How people feel: Wellbeing, connection, and community
  5. How people learn: Formal and informal education for children and adults
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Lockdown saw a steep rise in substitutions as users looked for new ways to continue to meet their needs. For example, instead of eating out people would order in a luxury recipe box, or they’d host a virtual pub quiz at home rather than going to a bar. These substitutions could manifest long-term to redefine categories, and even create new ones.

Brands best set-up for success are those that are transforming their operations to keep up with these new needs and consumer’s accelerated digital adoption during this time. Beyond a digital transformation to establish a new infrastructure, businesses that are able to quickly identify and adapt to these new substitutions will thrive in the short and long-term. We see this with restaurants offering curbside pick-up and local pharmacies delivering prescriptions straight to the consumer’s doorstep.

With restrictions lifting across EMEA, it’ll be interesting to see which of these new behaviours will stick — and what opportunities this creates for businesses.

1. What people do: Consumers search for substitutes to fulfil their needs

With lockdown affecting many, restricting access to the places people frequented in the time before COVID-19, consumers have substituted their behaviours and needs with alternatives better suited to their current situation. Over the past few months this has resulted in what we refer to as ‘transformed’ trends, where one thing has become another.

For example, Google Trends shows that search interest has shifted from 'cinema' to 'movies' in the U.K. and worldwide for 'things to do this weekend' to 'things to do when bored', 'smart casuals' to 'lounge wear', 'restaurants' to 'deliveries', 'walking tours' to 'virtual tours', 'cars for sale' to 'puppies for sale', and 'classes near me' to 'online classes'.

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While for most of these we can see the original search slowly increasing again, it’ll be interesting to observe in the coming months which of the new trends will stick in the long-term, whether as an alternative to the original behaviour or alongside it.

2. What people know: ‘Near me’ trend continues — and travel-related searches are rising again

We previously shared that with lockdown measures easing across EMEA, searches were shifting from 'what is open' to 'open near me', and this is a trend that continues to rise as consumers search for the latest information on services closer to their home.

Examples include ‘bank near me’ ('bank near me') in the United Arab Emirates; ‘refill near me’ ('refill near me') in South Africa; and gyms, basketball courts, dance classes, etc. ‘near me’ ('near me') in Kenya.

Google Trends also indicates an increase in consumers preparing for summer travel, as some countries have reopened their borders. In recent weeks search interest has increased for ‘passport renewal’ in the U.K. ('passport renewal') and Finland ('passin uusiminen'), ‘travel insurance’ ('ubezpieczenie turystyczne') in Poland, and ‘charter flights’ ('charter flights') in the United Arab Emirates.

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3. How people make a living: Growing search interest for essential financial services, such as pensions and loans

The search trend in relation to job security has been consistent since the start of the pandemic, and so it will not come as a surprise that this continues to prevail — even though lockdown restrictions are lifted and many countries are moving towards a recovery phase. That said, in the last few weeks we’ve also seen a growing search trend towards other essential financial services, such as pensions, banking, and loans.

Google Trends shows a rise in search interest for ‘retirement pension’ (pensión jubilación’) and ‘renew job application’ ('demanda de empleo') in Spain, ‘mobile banking’ ('mobil bankacilik') in Turkey, ‘personal financing’ ('تمويل شخصي') in Saudi Arabia, ‘online loans’ ('prestiti online') in Italy, ‘create a resume’ ('cv maken') and ‘student job’ ('job étudiant') in Belgium, and ‘vacant jobs’ ('وظائف خالية') in Egypt.

4. How people feel: Consumers use Google Search to find information on food and nutrition

Restricted access to gyms and outdoor activities may have had their toll on the physical wellbeing of some, but health-conscious consumers are using Google Search for inspiration and information on food and nutrition, and to find general health and wellbeing tips.

In recent weeks, and months, we have seen an increased search interest for ‘nutritional value’ (‘القيمة الغذائية') in Egypt; cookies, diets, and elderberry syrup ‘without sugar’ ('bez cukru') in Poland; ‘what to eat’ ('what to eat') on keto diet, to lose weight, etc. in the U.K.; ‘how to prepare’ ('how to prepare') guava leaves, aloe vera juice, ginger and garlic, and more in Kenya; ‘activity tracker’ ('activity tracker') in Belgium; and aloe vera gel’ ('aloe vera gel') for burns in Sweden.

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5. How people learn: Consumers look for answers to a range of unique questions and curiosities

Consumers continue to use Google Search and YouTube for inspiration and learning new skills, and ‘how to’ searches continue to grow across both platforms. And while not always directly related to COVID-19 or local lockdown restrictions, consumers are also increasingly using Google Search to look for answers to a range of unique questions and curiosities.

For example, in recent weeks there has been a growing search interest for ‘when are’ ('wann sind') gooseberries ripe, eggs bad, etc. in Germany; ‘can we’ ('peut on') freeze cherries, cut zucchini leaves, and more in Belgium; ‘where to spend’ ('waar te besteden') gift cards, fashion vouchers, and more in the Netherlands; and ‘when to worry’ ('quand s inquiéter') about hives, high temperatures, etc. in France.

Explore more consumer search behaviour trends

You can view all our recent trends analyses in our search insights collection. While we provide a regularly updated snapshot of consumer behaviour trend changes and trends across EMEA, we understand it may be helpful to review the information more frequently, or for a specific country or region. To explore further insights, here are 10 tips for using Google Trends. By entering a keyword or a topic into the tool, you can explore what the world is searching for in near real time.

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