The pandemic has accelerated trends that young consumers were already fueling…
While quarantines have sparked many new trends among young consumers, what they have also unexpectedly done is act as a pressure cooker, accelerating trends that had already been developing. We called this out back in April when we started to see some of the trends we’ve been tracking among Gen Z and Millennials quickly become more important and amplified. Our data shows that TikTok, which had been seeing impressive growth through 2019, has seen massive gains in the last two months. Esports, which has been slowly moving into the mainstream for years, is suddenly the focus of major sports leagues and media, with viewership seeing monster gains. Live streaming, which had just begun to reshape entertainment for young consumers, has quickly become a necessity for entertainers, media brands, and influencers during this time. We also noted that their desire for a shoppable world, their tendency to use content as medicine, and their treat yo’self mentality around retail had become more important than ever before.
Since then, we’ve been seeing the word “accelerated” everywhere, as it has become clear than so many of the shifts in behavior that were just being fueled by young consumers pre-pandemic have been swiftly pushed forward. Here are seven trends that have been accelerated by COVID:
Pre-pandemic, young consumers were already fueling the fake meat industry—now sales are rapidly climbing, potentially speeding up plant-based protein’s takeover. According to data from SPINS, sales of plant-based meat were up 18% last year, with the category worth more than $939 million, and at the end of May, refrigerated plant-based meat saw sales increase 63%—it now accounts for 2% of retail packaged meat sales. Mashable reported that in the first quarter of 2020, Beyond Meat’s sales increased to $97 million, up from $40 million in 2019. Thanks to hygiene and health concerns, meat processing plant closures, and meat rationing in supermarkets, the fake meat trend could go mainstream even faster than previously predicted. And as more brands pivot to DTC to reach home-bound consumers, Impossible Foods has unveiled an DTC ecommerce site to make its burgers accessible directly to customers—which could speed up the trend even more.
Millennials were the original cord-cutters, and the practice has gotten even more popular during quarantines. According to Nielson, connected TV usage, which includes smart TVs, internet-connected devices, and game consoles, remains high and hasn’t returned to “pre-pandemic levels.” In May, connected TV viewing reached 3.5 billion hours and total hours spent on related devices was up 81% year-over-year. It’s numbers like these that have Adweek reporting that the “pandemic may have accelerated the migration from linear to streaming.” At the end of May, Wells Fargo also predicted that “cord-cutting as a secular trend that likely will kick into high gear during and on the other side of COVID-19.” Pay TV subscribers are decreasing at a greater rate than expected—a shift potentially spurred by unemployment. And as those users drop paid TV, they will often look for alternatives.
We’ve said that Coronavirus is likely to permanently change influencer culture and marketing—and as privilege backlash continues, one of the shifts accelerating is the preference for microinfluencers. As Women’s Wear Daily explains, “A collective change in attitude toward superinfluencers has percolated over the past few years, giving way to the trend toward microinfluencers. The coronavirus seems to have accelerated that trend.” While brands slash budgets, influencers have felt the pinch, but those with smaller followings are more affordable—and likely safer bets than the far more public and prone to backlash “superinfluencer.” Another reason behind the shift is the rise of new influencers, who are only just beginning to grow their followings. Adweek has outlined how TikTok influencers are poised to become brands’ new go-tos as young consumers crave authenticity and someone who “empathizes” with what they’re going through. Throughout the pandemic, TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and the McFarlands have connected with their audience with playful content while equally offering a realistic view into their quarantined lives.
In 2019, secondhand shopping marketplaces like Depop and Thredup were exploding in popularity thanks to young consumers, who were attracted to the budget-friendly and eco-friendly systems. Last year, we found that use of these apps was already becoming more mainstream: YPulse’s 2019 shopping and fashion survey showed that 25% of 13-37-year-old females, and 29% of 18-24-year-old females, said that they had bought clothing from a resale site/app—far more than those who said they have rented clothing. Now, despite the ongoing health crisis, sustainability and climate change is still a priority to young consumers—and budgets have most certainly become more of a concern. According to research from the RSA, 28% of consumers are either recycling or reusing clothing more than usual, while 35% of women intend to buy fewer clothes in the future. The Guardian reports that Depop saw a 90% traffic increase in April, in peak quarantine. In May, Walmart announced a partnership with Thredup expanding the secondhand shopping platform to a huge retail audience. And while lockdown measures are being lifted, YPulse’s data indicates that it will be some time before young consumers are back in stores in full force—making mobile secondhand shopping all the more attractive long-term.
Plant-based meat isn’t the only food trend that has been sped up by the pandemic. As restaurants have had to innovate to survive shut-downs, many have begun to rely on delivery—and for some that has meant creating entirely new menus that change their culinary approach to be to-go style. Visits to quick service restaurant sites and online orders have been increasing, and are up 43% among 18-20-year-olds—and some restaurants are preparing for a future where in-person restaurant visits are limited. Eater explains that this shift could mean a permanent change to fast casual models for many restaurants. As one owner tells the site, “We’d been thinking about [shifting to a fast-casual model] for six months, and then COVID-19 accelerated the process.” More casual versions of high-end restaurants and menus could become more common as well, as budgets are tightened and a return to eating in-restaurants is slow.
We’ve talked about how brands need to have an augmented reality plan to reach young consumers post-COVID –because the pandemic has accelerated AR trends across industries. Women’s Wear Daily reports that virtual beauty try-ons are surging during quarantine—and it could change the future of product testing. Ulta Beauty launched their GlamLab virtual try-on feature in 2016, but usage of it has increased during quarantine with more than 13 million shade try-ons in the last two months. As retail stores begin to reopen in parts of the country, the beauty retailer has been heavily marketing the tool to customers as a “convenient and safe alternative” to physical product testers. When quarantines begin to ease, augmented and virtual reality could become a big part of the beauty and fashion industry. Quarantines have also created new opportunities for AR creators on social media, as users spending more time on platforms look for new entertainment, and mood-boosting imagery.