COVID-19: Entering a New Norm in Consumer Behaviour

COVID-19: Entering a New Norm in Consumer Behaviour

As consumers all over the world stay home as a result of COVID-19, how will the way they shop - online and offline - change in the long run?

COVID-19 has spread all over the world and millions of people are forced to change their lifestyle habits until things get better. Challenges arising from this outbreak are likely to accelerate the use of existing and new technologies and tools as people enter lockdowns and are quarantined.

Consumer confidence in Singapore has been subdued at 89 points in Q4 2019, with health being a top concern in recent years. On the bright side, a syndicated report on the impact of COVID-19 across global markets in March showed that Singaporeans are rather optimistic about the country coming out of a recession in the next 12 months (54%). This could be a positive reflection of all the measures taken by the Singapore government to combat the outbreak.

COVID-19 will further accentuate this dynamic, and health and wellness products have been growing abnormally fast since the outbreak. Before the outbreak, there was already a long-term shift towards healthier products and categories. Even as COVID-19 continues or subsides, consumers are expected to continue to look after their health and wellbeing. More than four in five consumers in Singapore (83%) are likely to buy health supplements again in the next 12 months, and 58% of consumers will continue buying hand sanitisers.


A Nielsen investigation has identified six key consumer behavior threshold levels that tie directly to concerns around the outbreak. The thresholds offer early signals of spending patterns, particularly for emergency pantry items and health supplies, and these patterns are being mirrored across multiple markets. As many consumers around the world reach the third threshold, “pantry preparation,” they are increasingly opting for safer, non-physical stores, and that’s when e-commerce sales will keep rising.

Singapore is at “Quarantined Living Preparation” as of 31 March. Consumer shifts at this level include increased online shopping, a decline in store visits, rising out-of-stocks, and strains on the supply chain. It will be important for FMCG retailers to manage stocks in stores but more so on e-commerce sites.

Singapore’s FMCG sales saw a 43% growth rate at a supercategory level versus average weekly sales during the week when the government raised its DORSCON level to Orange. Supplements, household cleaning, personal and healthcare products saw a significant uplift in value sales, whereas alcoholic drinks, chocolates and ice cream declined. Understandably, consumers’ first reaction to the outbreak was to boost their immunity rather than indulge.

As people spend more time at home and are discouraged from going out, the virus will lead to a continued increase in consumers shopping online. Our COVID-19 dipstick showed that Singaporeans who shopped online for the first time during the outbreak are very likely to do so again in the next 12 months. 

Winning in omnichannel will be the best strategy. Hypermarkets have benefited from this situation due to pantry panicking, as consumers urgently bought in bigger baskets, while e-tailers didn’t have sufficient delivery resources to meet this increased demand. Driving availability to minimise out of stock is equally crucial.

For instance, Singapore previously saw a decrease in liquid sanitiser sales because of the lack of supply to meet abnormal levels of demand. Sales uplifted only recently when stocks were replenished.

Despite challenging circumstances and disruption caused by COVID-19, Southeast Asia has high consumer confidence, growing middle classes and increasingly digitally savvy shoppers, which can offer manufacturers and retailers opportunities to drive long-term growth.


1. Pantry stocking

Most people call this “panic buying”, and Southeast Asian markets have been dealing with panic buying for almost two months.

“Four weeks after the initial outbreak, sales in Singapore remain 40% above the norm. People are still going about their daily business but are not eating out like before. Shoppers dropped alcohol, beauty products and chocolates from their weekly baskets, and travel halts contributed to their decrease in sales as well,” observed Vaughan Ryan, Managing Director, Southeast Asia at Nielsen.

Whatever that was stocked in the pantry requires restocking for as long as the coronavirus lasts.

2. Increase in e-commerce usage

There is a huge opportunity for FMCG retailers and manufacturers to conceive a more proactive e-commerce strategy as technology-enabled solutions become more preferred.

Six percent of FMCG sales in Singapore came from e-commerce in 2019. After DORSCON Orange was activated, online FMCG sales reached 8%. This was driven primarily by the non-food category that rose from 12% in 2019 to 14% during COVID-19. On the other hand, the food category shifted towards offline markets – its e-commerce sales dipped from 8% in 2019 to 6%, highlighting the importance of physical stores and hypermarkets.

Availability, regardless of channel, is key. There were delays in consumers purchasing products online – some even gave up when they faced delays in restocking and delivery. 

Last year, 6% of hand sanitizer sales were online and was up to 60% by the end of February. On the other hand, a heavily-developed online category such as diapers has seen a different dynamic with 44% online sales in 2019. Due to the urgency in purchasing and unavailability, offline sales increased while the online importance decreased to 35%. 

Driving an omnichannel strategy will be paramount in this highly dynamic landscape. 

The penetration of users venturing into e-commerce will continue to rise. This is supported by the fact that 69% of people surveyed who bought household goods online for the first time during COVID-19, claim that they will do so again in the next 12 months. 

3. Price won’t matter that much

In the last two months, shoppers have been buying what they need and what they can get. Price remains a key driver in their decision-making, but quality has recently stepped up too. Given the climate, consumers may reprioritise health, safety, and availability in their consideration of a product. 

FMCG brands and retailers can deliver these quality and safety assurances by communicating, or highlighting, the steps that were taken to ensure healthy, hygienic, and safe provision of products, especially fresh ones.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean continued long term decline for categories that were impacted negatively by COVID-19. Though only time can tell how long COVID-19 will last, these consumer behaviour patterns can help provide leading and trailing indicators to those who want to understand how people will respond as developments continue to play out during this outbreak.

Visit our content hub for the latest global consumer insights into the coronavirus outbreak. 


  • Nielsen “COVID-19: Where consumers are heading?”

The Nielsen “COVID-19: Where consumers are heading?” March 2020 survey was conducted between March 6 and 17 in each of the 11 markets in Asia—Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Given the dynamic changes that have occurred over the last weeks, it is important to note that the impact of COVID-19 events will impact consumer sentiments differently by market. This study presents consumer insights from a global survey spread across 74 markets and reflects consumer behaviour and sentiments during the coronavirus pandemic. The insights from this syndicated report will assist FMCG brands, retailers and manufacturers to identify purchase trends as consumers shift their preferences while making FMCG purchases amid COVID-19 pandemic in their respective markets.

To purchase Nielsen’s latest report or request a study tailored more to your needs, please reach out to your local Nielsen Consumer Insights representative or contact

  • Nielsen COVID-19 dipstick Singapore
  • Nielsen Singapore Modern Trade to 12 Feb