What does it look like? How can we adapt as a business? What are the opportunities lying ahead?
In this research, we take a look at the global impact brought by the COVID-19 pandemic to economies, consumer behaviors, and personal lives. We transferred our first-hand data into insights and crafted three representative Generation Z personae with diverse but interconnected needs and goals. From here, we made suggestions to businesses, especially the consumer electronics industry, on how to survive and succeed in this post-COVID era.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease. Since its first identification in China in Dec. 2019, confirmed cases have been reported across 213 countries, resulting in more than 1 million deaths as of Oct. 1st.
As countries are struggling against the pandemic, self-quarantine has become normal along with a harsh impact on our economic, social, and political systems. The world has indeed been changed for good.
The labor market faces a massive shift in supply and demand. More than 436 million businesses worldwide face serious disruption due to required workplace closure. The challenge is especially critical for wholesale and retail, manufacturing, accommodation, food services, and real estate, the ones that rely on significant customer traffic.
In the second quarter of 2020, the estimated decline of working hours is equivalent to 195 million full-time jobs lost, and 1.6 billion workers, which are equivalent to nearly half of the global workforce, are in danger of negative effects. A 60% drop in income is experienced by informal workers globally.
On the other side, the goods and services market also faces the threat of supply and demand fluctuation. Shortages and price changes are happening to many goods and services items. While an exceptional demand for items such as disinfectants and non-perishable staple foods emerged, services from restaurants and outlets were seeing substantially reduced demand.
However, because travel and operational restrictions brought disruptions to supply chains, even the industries that saw an increased demand were not able to fulfill their customers, no need to mention the ones who were impacted by the social restrictions directly.
The COVID-19 has impacted the world in all aspects. When the pandemic hit, social media became the primary way of communicating and socializing for people across the globe. We noticed the appetite for video and live content has especially grown while staying up-to-date with the news became the leading motivation for social media usage.
Digital health technology is becoming increasingly important, helping alleviate the strain on the healthcare system. Digital apps provide an alternative route for consumers to get both physical and mental support, and the increasing need for a face-to-face diagnosis is fulfilled by Telehealth.
Travel in 2020 will be primarily domestic. Countries were closing their borders to control the spread of the disease, and for those who have to travel during the lockdown, feeling safe is twice as important as prices for them.
Consumers around the world are leaning on apps to support themselves. In the first quarter of 2020, over $23 billion was spent in app stores, which is by far the largest spend per quarter recorded. Looking further into the stats, apps for communication, shopping, health&fitness, and entertainment have become a necessity to people. While social media has been helping with consumer sentiment for how it makes them feel less lonely and less anxious, virtual events came to the surface when social distancing restrictions were lifted, to bring people back together during this challenging time.
As a data-driven design agency, OneLab's research teams collected first-hand user responses through surveys and interviews to analyze how our customers use their phones, what trends they follow, and what applications they engage with.
According to Ofcom's report "A Decade of Digital Dependency Study," a typical smartphone user checks his/her device every 12 minutes from waking up to going to sleep; for those below the age of 21, this number becomes 8.6 minutes. Our interviews toward 12 perspectives Gen Z users also suggested that digital content consumption increased rapidly since the start of self-quarantine, which makes the phone-checking behavior even more frequent.
So how are the apps behaving during this global pandemic? The following popularity quadrant based on North American users' activities between Feb. and April 2020 will give us some insight.
As we previously discussed, transportation, real estate, and travel&hospitality industries were heavily compromised due to the global pandemic. We saw a decrease in both downloads and active users of multiple apps in these categories . But on the opposite, areas of the "Explosion" section are experiencing significant growth, especially the online conference products.
So why are these areas exploding? How have the underlying needs and lifestyles of our audiences changed? Let's take a closer look of the "Explosion" section and several outstanding apps within.
Further investigations of the user data highlighted five core user needs:
For the need of staying connected, we observed that on average, people spent 15 more minutes everyday on Instagram and Facebook during the lockdown. This habit remained after the partial reopening in the U.S., where people still spent 9 more minutes everyday in the recent 2 months compared to their usage before the pandemic. We also witnessed the rapid growth of new medium of communication, especially in the video calling apps and online conference platforms that promote virtual social interactions and remote working.
Staying informed naturally became important as the COVID-19 rampaged across the globe. And even after the the outbreak, people have kept up with this habit of reading news through various online platforms. However, different from the general trend, Fox News experienced a drop in screen-on-time, we suspected the reason to be their content offering during the pandemic, as well as the bloom of other aggregated news platforms like Google News and Reddit.
Moreover, as digital health services become more promising and wearable technologies become more accessible, people have an increase awareness of staying healthy, and the emphasis on both physical and mental health increases during the pandemic. Because it is risky to go to the gym, no equipment workout becomes trendy, and despite a decrease in fitness app usage after the reopening, the average screen-on-time remains higher than pre-pandemic. We also see an upward trend for meditation apps since the outbreak, suggesting a growing need on maintaining mental heath along with physical health.
Another noticeable increment in our data since early March is video consumption, reaching its peak in mid-April and gradually decreased afterwards. On average, people spent 40 more minutes per day on mobile gaming during the quarantine, but the usage trended downwards to normal after reopening. Interestingly, the active rate of major podcast apps like Google Podcast increased by 20% in the recent two months, making "podcast" one of the few entertainment categories that keep growing throughout the pandemic.
Last but not least, remote teaching tools also experienced rapid growth in early March, when schools started shifting online, but not everybody can maintain this upward trend. Noticeably, the usage of ClassDojo quickly dropped after peaking in April, while Google Classroom remains popular in July. We think this is because ClassDojo has a more focused user group of young children, and they will no longer use virtual class rooms during the summer break. But as for adults, there are several channels for them to pick up new hobbies and skills during the time at home. Self-learning apps like Coursera, Duolingo, and Unacademy remain popular even after the lockdown, and video platforms like YouTube and TikTok are also offering appealing contents to learn, like cooking or TikTok dance, especially for younger generations.
At OneLab, our targeted user groups are Generation Y and Z. While comprehensive researches have been done to learn the habits and life philosophies of Gen Y, few have chosen Gen Z as the primary audience. Considering the potentials Gen Z has as consumers, and their life styles match with our brand image, we built the following three personae to better represent this user group.
Emily represents the group of Gen Z that are thriving on personal growth, but challenged by mental health issues like stress and insomnia. They value social connections with friends in the same age group and celebrate the major life milestones like birthdays and graduations, which cannot be fulfilled due to the lockdown.
Before the pandemic hit, Emily occasionally checked new posts from KOLs she followed on Instagram, but she checks new posts and chats on it much more frequently since the lockdown. Now, Instagram becomes her major communication tool to maintain virtual social interactions with her friends. After the pandemic, we anticipate a decreased screen time with Instagram due to the increase in Emily's physical interactions with her friends.
Michael represents a group of Generation Y and Z who received high level of education and have a consistent pursuit for live quality. They are self-independent, willing to explore new things or the latest technologies, and the lockdown moved his offline activities to online. Just like Emily, Michael shares a strong family bond, and he is particularly worried about his parents back in his hometown.
To Michael, food quality is life quality. He drove to the local market for grocery shopping every weekend before the pandemic, but now, he can only rely on the delivery service of Instacart and deal with the occasional out stock of the grocery he wants. We anticipate Michael to uninstall Instacart when the lockdown ends, because he will definitely prefer to visit the market himself to ensure the quality and diversity of raw materials.
Jessica represents the rational ones of Generation Y and Z. These young professionals just started a new chapter of their lives, and tend to keep track of the development of this global pandemic. Besides adapting into the new "work from home" scenario, they are the active practitioners of indoor fitness. To Jessica, the coronavirus is something that can be controlled, if everybody stay rational and do their own part.
Reddit was an important part of Jessica's daily commute, where she quickly glanced over the new posts related to her jobs and personal hobbies. Now, the lockdown made her a heavy Reddit user. After waking up, during meal time, and before going to sleep, Jessica spends much longer time on Reddit. It is becoming an important source of news and information for her, so she is likely to maintain this daily routine with a similar frequency after the pandemic.
From the three personae, we identify the core needs and goals of Generation Z during this global pandemic, as well as how they utilize different mobile applications to support these goals. By categorizing these apps, we are able to associate them with the five major categories discussed previously: be entertained, stay connected, stay informed, stay healthy, and to learn.
Gen Zers are lacking a school or working environment in which they can foster positive relationships during a crucial time of identity development. Above all others, they demand strong connections with family members and friends, which are also not fulfilled due to the quarantine.
As the generation that born with technology, Gen Zers tend to access a huge amount of information through multiple digital channels. While 61% of research participants plan to continue watching more news after the outbreak, it creates an opportunity for digital service providers to feed Gen Zers with up-to-date information.
To learn and to be entertained
With classes canceled and their gig or service jobs halted, a significant number of young people are experiencing boredom. Gen Zers are coping with the forced inactivity in a wide range of ways, with some embracing this as an opportunity for personal development and others using the time to catch up on entertainment content they previously didn't have time to consume.
Health is at top priority
Mental health challenges - already a big topic for Gen Zers prior to Coronavirus - are being amplified by the crisis. Gen Zers need to stay positive during the pandemic, while watching major life milestones roll by without being celebrated. In conclusion, physical and mental health should be considered in every experience, while products need to understand how they can be part of a new health ecosystem.
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