The at-home consumer: Learnings from the global lockdown

Marie Gulin-Merle / May 2020

Around the world, life has been profoundly disrupted by social distancing efforts aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic. Physical and social isolation have become the norm.

These changes have shaped how we experience things as fundamental as time and space. And they’ve had a marked impact on how we approach work and leisure as well as our relationships. The way we express ourselves and the way we consume everything from content to products to media has also transformed.

And it’s not just me. These disruptions have altered the behaviour of billions of at-home consumers. The way people experience and fulfil their needs has fundamentally shifted.

While it’s still unclear how long this “new normal” will last — and it may well be the case that quarantines and lockdowns ebb and flow on a rolling basis throughout the year — we at Google believe that marketers who understand how consumer behaviour is shifting will be better equipped to adapt.

The at-home consumer experience with time and space

Time — which previously felt regimented and in short supply — is now more fluid. A drastic slowdown of most activities outside the home has increased the time we spend alone, with our loved ones, and in our own heads. And as boredom, anxiety, and uncertainty set in, people are looking for new ways to stay occupied, productive, and composed.

Search interest in “bored” spiked significantly between March 22 and March 29

Line graph shows upward trend of search interest in “bored” peaking between March 22 and March 29.

Meanwhile, as spaces formerly reserved for home and family are increasingly being transformed into the office/gym/school/restaurant/entertainment centre, people are facing new challenges in keeping their lives organised. Across Australia, we’ve seen a surge in search interest in “homeschool schedule” and “homeschool timetable”,1 and search interest in terms related to “nbn” has increased up to 850%.2 We’re seeing similar trends around the world as well — search interest is rising for “office chairs,” “desk chairs,” and “computer desks,” in the U.K.; for “vpn client” in Germany; and for “créer une adresse” (“create email address”) in France.3

The at-home consumer experience with work and leisure

The normal rhythms of days and weeks have given way to a long duration of sameness, blurring the clear separation between the home and business spheres.

Employers are looking for ways to both protect productivity and ensure team dynamics remain positive. And amid uncertainty about the future of businesses small and large, employees are trying to adjust and to think ahead. We’ve seen search interest in terms related to “team building” grow across Australia.4

Meanwhile, as travel restrictions keep many from getting on a plane or going to a hotel, the desire to experience, explore, and find inspiration can start to feel more like a necessity than a luxury. People looking to escape are turning to digital to connect with the arts and nature.

Search interest is up in travel guidance and virtual ways to travel

World map and VR goggles next to a 4-grid infographic of 4 national flags and countries.  Australia: “virtual tours”; Spain: “vista virtual” (virtual tour); New Zealand: “Safe travel NZ”; U.K.: “live zoo”

The at-home consumer experience with self and others

People with a new appreciation for the importance of staying well are prioritising their physical health, becoming more conscious of their emotional and mental well-being, and making time for self-care rituals.

At the same time, people are hungry to connect with both their immediate and global communities. There’s a desire to be “alone together” as we go about our daily activities and to empathise and learn from those in other countries around the world who have been impacted by the crisis. Search interest in “how to help” is on the rise, and search interest in the term “alone together” is up 75% since January. “Love in quarantine” also started trending on March 13.5

The at-home consumer experience with consumption and expenditure

Financially impacted consumers are taking a more conservative approach to discretionary spending as they focus on immediate needs — both material and psychological.

Yet even as they pare back discretionary spending, people are also looking for ways to give back and help the most vulnerable in their communities.

Dollar bill and stack of coins. 64% of Aussies say their household income has been or will be impacted by the coronavirus.

Marketing during a dynamic reprioritisation

Together, these profound shifts in how people experience day-to-day life have created a dynamic reprioritisation of the how, when, where, and why of consumption. They necessitate a rethink — from marketing to the needs of consumers to marketing to the needs of at-home consumers.

Here are three questions my teams are asking themselves as we work to pivot our own marketing to meet the needs of at-home consumers:

  1. How are we providing help to consumers as their needs evolve?
  2. How are we adjusting to the new 24/7 consumption cycle?
  3. How are we embracing novelty to help consumers fight boredom?

As we all continue to work through how to best adapt to a dramatically different environment, we’ll continue to share more detail about emerging behavioural trends and how we at Google are adapting. In the meantime, we invite you to dig deeper into each of the trends we’re watching as these new at-home consumer experiences with time and space, work and leisure, self and others, and consumption and expenditure evolve.

Rising retail categories: What people are searching on Google right now