Nidhi Sinha
Nidhi leads India’s research team and specialises in analysing and providing insights to better understand the Indian marketplace and consumer behaviour.

India has been under a month-long government-mandated lockdown, with citizens being asked to stay indoors and avoid any unnecessary travel as the novel coronavirus spreads to more parts of the country. However, with the number of infected cases rising steadily and the Indian government trying to flatten the growth curve, the situation continues to constantly change.

With normal life coming to a standstill, businesses have been trying to adapt to the current situation in their bid to survive and are set to face tough times in the near future. Retail spaces closing down and people being forced indoors will result in a direct impact on the consumption of impulse categories like luxury products and services including spas, salons, gaming zones, and gyms. In fact, Mintel research shows that a third of consumers agreed that they spent less on clothing and accessories compared to before the outbreak.

With the Indian market heavily offline driven, a shutdown of this nature will test the entrepreneurial spirit of Indian brands. Mintel research reveals that over two in five consumers have increased the amount of online shopping during the lockdown period, indicating how people are adjusting to life during this crisis. In fact, online grocery providers like Amazon, Grofers and Big Basket have witnessed a surge in demand, and players in segments such as food delivery, online beauty retailers like Zomato and Nykaa respectively have started delivering essentials.

Shifts across personal care, grocery retail, foodservice and in-home cooking

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across India, awareness campaigns from government bodies and social media influencers/celebrities on the importance of washing hands with soap and using sanitiser/disinfectant are changing consumer habits around hygiene and cleanliness. Moreover, Mintel research reveals a majority of Indians have increased their usage of hand sanitisers and have washed their hands more often. This emphasis on personal hygiene has led to a number of players entering into production of sanitisers to help bridge consumer demand.

Initially, the fear of an impending shut down led some consumers to stock up on essentials – including soap – which created unexpected demand for many FMCG companies. Indeed, as Mintel research highlights that over half of the consumers had stockpiled on groceries. This has led to retailers quickly running out of stock. As consumers continue to purchase essentials, brands struggle to keep up with demand.

In 2019, Mintel research shows that only 12% of consumers claimed to have shopped online for groceries. However, the lockdown has led to consumers opting for alternate shopping channels for essential items, including online grocery shopping becoming a preferred method. In fact, online grocery providers like Amazon, Supr, Daily, and Big Basket have witnessed such a surge in demand that there have been cases where they’ve had to cancel orders or stagger their supply.

According to Mintel research, in 2019 almost three in four Indians said they spent their disposable income on eating out. The current lockdown has obviously changed things dramatically for the foodservice sector. Contrary to other parts of the world where food delivery has been a bright spot for the foodservice sector, in India, the fear of contracting the virus from delivery agents and restaurant workers has resulted in steep declines in the number of consumers ordering food delivery. Despite some online food delivery players like Swiggy and Zomato making assurances about health and safety and introducing ‘no-touch’ delivery, the spread of the virus has led to aggregators stalling delivery services.

As a direct result, with people being forced to stay indoors, cooking from scratch is growing in popularity with many – including families – seeing it as an opportunity to break from the norm and try new recipes. With the availability of a large number of recipes for inspiration and chefs for direction online, consumers are increasingly cooking to counter the boredom of confinement.

An interesting result of the awareness campaigns of the importance of immunity support is reliance on age-old Indian traditions. As information about the need for strong immunity to prevent infection goes viral, the consumption of ayurvedic and traditional foods to boost immunity is coming to the forefront, with many consumers actively looking to foods like chyawanprash, vitamins, traditional supplements, and herbs to help keep them safe.

Digital to the rescue

With the country on lockdown, digital channels are providing a much needed respite for consumers and businesses. Prior to the lockdown, ‘work from home’ was a concept only familiar to software companies; now, it’s becoming the norm across industries – even for the Supreme Court of India. People are actively taking to the digital world to stay connected and work as usual without disruption. The pandemic has led to the trend of making ‘remote working’ possible and acceptable for many.

In 2019, Mintel research shows that over half of consumers had accessed an OTT platform, and today, with social distancing becoming a reality, OTT platforms are the preferred choice for entertainment. In fact, brands like Amazon prime have stepped up in the current situation by offering selected free content for kids and adults. As smartphones with low-cost data packages becomes the norm, the wide variety of content available online is helping consumers pass the time.

The legacy of COVID-19 in India

In the foreground of this crisis, it is critical for citizens to abide by the guidelines set by authorities and medical professionals. However, this one-of-a-kind shutdown is sure to have long-term effects on consumer behaviour – ranging from personal hygiene and health to and social interaction. It is important for companies and brands to connect with consumers now in a personal, yet responsible, way to establish or deepen build trust and loyalty, which consumers will remember once the crisis is over.

The speed with which digital services, tools, and platforms are being adopted by consumers during the lockdown, helping them manage through these difficult times, is a clear indicator of how consumers are set to rely more on digital services in both their professional and personal lives for the long term. Brands that can innovate and stand strong in order to be there for consumers to help them through times of crisis, as well as meet their evolving needs are the ones that will find success today and post-COVID-19.