The prolonged home stays necessitated by the social distancing measures introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19 may have a long-term impact on consumer behaviour, say experts.
Samia Khedr, a professor of sociology at Ain Shams University, says the “effects on consumer behaviour will be determined by the length of time people spend at home and the timeframe of the social distancing measures adopted to help stop the infectious disease” and the results will impact not just consumer habits but wider lifestyles.
On Monday, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said the coronavirus pandemic is “far from over” and “we have a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to do.”
If, as many predict, the coronavirus crisis lasts for a year or more, the changes to people’s behaviour as they adjust to new ways of living are likely to be long-lasting, says Khedr.
“The changes will have an impact on the psychology of individuals, on families and on society as a whole,” says Khedr. “The ramifications will be felt on a national level, in politics and in international relations.”
She predicts that years hence specialists will be busy examining deep-seated changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tarek Rashad, head of the central Department for Commercial Statistics and Public Utilities at the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAMPAS), says it is too early to predict the ways in which changes in people’s behaviour brought about by the pandemic will drive long-term economic change.
“The imposition of social distancing and home isolation in the face of the virus could actually act as a catalyst for a speedy return to normal once the threat posed by the virus recedes,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
There has been a noticeable increase in the activity of some sectors of the economy in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, particularly online services. Locally, subscriptions to video on demand platforms (SVOD) have skyrocketed, as has demand for online fitness coaching and online purchases of food.
Egypt’s National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) said on 20 April that Netflix usage in Egypt grew by 69 per cent during the second week of April. Play time of MBC Group’s SVOD platform Shahid rose by 40 per cent during the same period.
Mahmoud Mohieldin, UN special envoy on financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, warned during an interview with nation branding platform Narrative Summit that the current coronavirus crisis “will cause a labour market recession worse than that experienced amid the 2008 financial crisis” and “will have a tremendous impact on the global economy”.
More than 80 countries have already requested emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a result of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the entire sports industry. In Egypt all sports fixtures have been halted. Gyms closed their doors until further notice on 15 March.
In a survey conducted this month in the US by Morning Consult, 15 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 29, and nine per cent of respondents aged 30 to 44, said they had used video conferencing to take part in fitness classes during the crisis. In Egypt fitness and bodybuilding coaches report a similar increase in demand for their services.
Mohamed Sayed, fitness manager at World Gym, told the Weekly that “there has been a noticeable increase in private online subscriptions for fitness sessions.
“People are aware of the importance of exercise to their mental and physical health and have been training at home since the closure of gyms.”
Competitor of Mr Olympia – the world's most prestigious bodybuilding competition – Mahmoud Al-Durrah told the Weekly that “Internet training is definitely the future.”
But once the pandemic is over, will people return to their gyms or carry on training at home? Al-Durrah, who has more than one million followers on his Facebook page, said: “I think many will choose the gym... the gym is not just a place to exercise, it is also for social gatherings where you can find motivation.”
Many consumers have shifted their shopping online, relying on online retailers for basic food products and other household commodities.
Amazon-owned online retailer Souq says it has seen an influx of new customers in Egypt in the past few weeks, and more frequent orders from existing customers.
In an interview with Ahram Online, Souq says the most popular purchases by consumers across Egypt “are grocery-related categories, and purchases related to hygiene, including disinfectants, sanitisers, and cleaning products.
“Though a shift of consumption online, including of private and government services, had long been predicted, nobody expected it to happen so quickly in a country where the illiteracy rate is close to 30 per cent,” says Khedr. “That it has happened is a result of the pandemic.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Consumers adapting to the virus