Surekha Ragavan
Jun 10, 2020

Changing consumption themes in Southeast Asia during COVID-19

TOP OF THE CHARTS: A vital need for contactless payments, an increase in app downloads, and a more prominent position for health and safety are among trends revealed in new research from Facebook and Bain & Company.

Changing consumption themes in Southeast Asia during COVID-19

According to a new report by Facebook and Bain & Company, Southeast Asians are contributing to new patterns of digital consumption. Here are six themes that stood out to researchers.

Essential shopping moves online

While this trend in particular may not be exclusive to Southeast Asia, the shift to online purchases—especially for essential items—has accelerated. In the current environment, at least 44% of digital consumers across the region have spent more on packaged and fresh groceries online. And this trend is here to stay, the report said. 

Among consumers who have been buying more since April, at least 80% indicated they plan to continue buying groceries online even in the future. The general manager of FairPrice On said that fresh groceries online have grown three to four times while the sales of packaged essentials have increased by at least twice.

Discovery of new apps accelerate

In Q1 of 2020, 85% of respondents said they have tried new digital apps. Apps that have seen the highest increase in first-time and continued usage are social media, video streaming, and instant messaging apps, followed by ecommerce, food delivery, and digital payments platforms.

Value for money is a key consideration

The report shows that there’s been a shift to value-for-money purchasing across markets as conservatism sets in. Across Southeast Asia, 57% cite “value” among their top-three purchasing considerations.

The effect differs by country, and is more pronounced in Thailand and Singapore, where approximately 70% say it is a top consideration purchase. The trend is likely to continue, as Southeast Asians say they expect to be less materialistic, save more and take out more insurance post-COVID.

Reliable brands are on the rise

Last year, consumers in Southeast Asia were open to trying new brands and purchasing habits were driven by inspiration and digital discovery. This year, however, 42% said they bought more established brands. This preference is attributed to the fact that established brands have the consumer trust and robust supply chain to ensure their products are always available and visible.

Health and welfare are top of mind

In this region, 73% of consumers said they were likely to be more health-conscious going forward. Interestingly, this is nearly twice as high as the increase in sentiment in the US, which stands at 40%. In Philippines and Vietnam, consumers prioritise health and wellness or corporate social responsibility even more highly than value-for-money.

‘At home’ and contactless to stay

Consumption habits have inevitably become more ‘home-centric’ as lockdowns and border controls take over the last few months. The report said that up to 77% across the region are now preparing food at home more often, while at least 65% are watching more on-demand and broadcast TV. Plus, at least a third of respondents felt more productive when working from home and felt that doing so had improved their mental health and stress.

This has resulted in an increase in contactless innovations and behaviour. Contactless payments are rising even in cash-dominant markets, while service providers and food services are innovating to offer contactless options. In the Philippines, mobile money service GCash has seen a 30% increase in transaction volumes since March and has become the most downloaded finance app in Google Play Store.

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