What Singaporean consumers want in the post-pandemic world

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Research by Qualtrics reveals how consumer behaviour and expectations are changing in Singapore, and the new experiences businesses should provide to meet the needs of consumers today and in the future.

The study from the Qualtrics Experience Management (XM) Institute, “2021 Consumer Trends in APAC”, examined the perspectives of 1,000 consumers in Singapore. The study highlights how companies will need to rewrite their playbooks to deliver great online, in-person, and hybrid experiences to attract and retain customers.

“Across the world and especially in Southeast Asia, we are seeing customer preferences and expectations evolve at a rapid pace. If businesses are going to adapt and thrive in this new environment, they need to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind these shifting behaviours, and then use the insights to proactively design and continually improve offline and online experiences for their customers,” said Harish Agarwal, Head of CX Solutions & Strategy for Qualtrics in Southeast Asia.

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“Our research shows that consumers are not going back to the way things were,” said Bruce Temkin, Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. “Consumers have adapted to a new, digital-first landscape, and the experiences that they have with brands across digital channels directly impact their purchasing decisions. In order to be successful, organisations need to prepare for the future instead of trying to recreate the past.”

Technology as the solution for new consumer needs

The report indicated that more than 75% of consumers took a new interest in online activities in 2020, transforming their usual in person touchpoints, from connecting with family and friends to taking classes, into digital ones.

As COVID-19 forced consumers to find new ways of communicating, shopping, and interacting with brands, businesses had to adapt quickly to catch up. Many organisations realised their offering had to change to fit the “new norm”: a new era of digital interaction.

No industry was left untouched, but companies that provided services that helped to fulfill basic needs – such as online banking for convenience, online shopping for food, and video-based calls for emotional support – saw a marked increase in demand. 

The vast majority of consumers turned to the internet to complete daily activities that previously were handled offline. Exercise classes were taken virtually, groceries were delivered to doorsteps, and doctor appointments were done via the phone. More than three-quarters of consumers reported starting new online activities during COVID.

These included video calls with friends and family (24%), ordering groceries (21%), and purchasing products (21%). Meeting consumer needs – both transactional and emotional – had to be fulfilled in a space free from the pandemic. With global restrictions, consumers quickly learned that online, their usual tasks and socialising could be completed, although in a different way.

Video calls, grocery shopping, and ordering restaurant meals were now the only option for many day-to-day activities. The broad range of activities that took place online for the first time demonstrated exactly how much consumers had to adapt to meet their needs, both new and old.  

The study highlights for trends in Singapore are:

  • Consumer satisfaction in Singapore exceeds the global average. Three-quarters of consumers in Singapore (73%) said they were satisfied with their brand interactions, in comparison to 66% globally. Grocery stores (76%), and medical clinics (76%) both delivered the highest levels of satisfaction, followed closely by banks and streaming services (both 75%).
  • Consumers went digital, and most of them are not going back. Having embraced new digital channels for most engagements during the pandemic, there is now a clear differentiation between what behaviours consumers will continue to adopt and which ones they will revert to – if at all.

Transactional and self-serve engagements – including online retail and grocery shopping, using food delivery services, online banking, contacting customer support, online education, and streaming content – is expected to increase. Consumers also said they expect to continue accessing medical advice online.

However, consumers in Singapore are going back to face-to-face engagements for more personal interactions, such as exercise classes and religious services, or catching up with friends and family.

  • Customer service is an important differentiator. Consumers are more discerning than before about their purchasing choices, and organisations need to do more than market the quality or price of their products and services: 19% of consumers would prefer to buy from an organisation that treats them well.
  • Consumers increasingly expect great experiences across multiple platforms. Organisations need to invest in delivering quality customer service and meet customers where they are – whether that’s online, in-person or somewhere in between: 30% through self-service, 28% of consumers expect to resolve support issues over the phone, 25% in person, and 17% through online chat.
  • Satisfaction breeds trust and advocacy. Positive experiences inspire greater levels of trust and advocacy among consumers. Consumers who have good experiences with organisations in critical industries — such as education systems, hospitals/medical clinics, and government agencies — are more likely to trust them. And when consumers trust an organisation, they’re more likely to recommend them to friends and family, helping to attract new customers.

Organisations must continue to change and adapt to the changing consumer expectations in the post-pandemic environment. Three key findings from the report are that:

  1. Emerging economies will see a greater shift to digital. Emerging economies such as India and Thailand saw the greatest potential for continued online growth, with significant numbers of consumers likely to do online activities more after the pandemic ends. However, there are some exceptions, such as the Philippines, potentially due to cultural preferences or digital experiences encountered during the pandemic.
  2. Online streaming will continue to grow globally. With other forms of entertainment limited, streaming channels became more popular than ever before. And it seems online streaming is here to stay, with consumers across all nations polled likely to continue to watch media online. Streaming as an industry had a high level of satisfaction, with seven countries out of the 18 polled reporting it as the industry with the highest level of satisfaction.
  3. Education will continue to be delivered online and offline. However, education is likely to continue to be split, with around half of the nations surveyed likely to take their classes offline in future, and half choosing to continue using online sources. Emerging nations such as India, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia are most likely to turn to online courses.

To continue to change and adapt at scale, organisations will need experience data – what consumers say they want and expect —to stay ahead of customer expectations and design the experiences that attract and retain them.