The Age of Digital: How the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital adoption and literacy in Asia

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of people’s lives, disrupting both short-term plans and long-term prospects. Around the world, people have had to adapt their day-to-day routines, adopting new “normal” behaviours that require a thorough re-evaluation of the way they spend their time, energy, and money.

This is especially true in Southeast Asian economies, where the use of innovative devices, platforms, and services has allowed new consumption patterns to emerge despite overall economic slowdown. And as consumers’ needs, habits, priorities, and preferences evolve, so do the market dynamics that they drive.

What are some of the key trends observed in the region? And how can businesses leverage this knowledge to stay ahead of competitors?

To answer these questions, Blackbox Research, Toluna, and Archetype have published Into The Light, an in-depth study that reveals the emerging patterns, trends, and dynamics across six key ASEAN markets – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This article is the sixth and final instalment in a series of blog posts devoted to examining some of the major findings and implications of the study. It focuses on how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated digital literacy and changed the expectations of customers who interact with brands and organisations online.

Click here to read the first article on consumers’ rising preference for local brands; here to read the second article on consumers’ growing appetite for fun, uplifting entertainment across social channels; here to read the third article on how consumers are actively prioritising safety when making purchasing decisions; here to read the fourth article on the future of work and its implications for B2B marketing; and here to read the penultimate piece on the explosion of e-commerce triggered by the pandemic.

Tech-driven behavioural shifts

A recent report by McKinsey shows that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the digitalisation of the Asia-Pacific region by four years – faster than all other regions.

This acceleration is the product of two inter-linked phenomena: First, the fact that people have fully integrated social-distancing measures, which means they now prioritise virtual/digital interactions over face-to-face meetings. Second, these virtual interactions require everyone – including the least technologically inclined, such as the over-65s – to get up to speed on the latest digital platforms and devices.

On the first point, businesses must now engage with customers across digital channels to sustain the engagement momentum brought about by the pandemic.

For example, food and grocery delivery services are expected to sustain the most momentum because of the habits developed during life in lockdown. About 70% of ASEAN consumers state that they intend to continue purchasing food delivery services moving forward, while 61% will continue using grocery delivery services even after they feel it is safe to go back to physical supermarket spaces.

An interesting growth area is telemedicine, which has seen the biggest jump since the beginning of 2020. Prior to COVID-19, only about 10% of respondents stated they had used an online service to consult with doctors. But after the pandemic, 52% state that they intend to continue using this service.

In line with the safety-first mindset discussed in one of our earlier blogposts, more consumers will turn to telemedicine for basic consultations and pharmaceutical deliveries.

Education is algo going through deep transformations. According to LinkedIn data, hashtags such as #learning and #education were trending at the start of the lockdown period, as people sought to use their spare time at home to improve themselves. The economic challenges brought about by lockdowns has also spurred people to upgrade themselves to remain employable; 8% of ASEAN respondents state that they intend to continue learning and developing online even after the pandemic is over.

On the second point, the data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has advanced digital literacy among consumers, especially among those that were considered laggards on the adoption curve.

Indeed, 85% of Boomers state they are now comfortable using digital platforms for their day-to-day activities. This makes it both urgent and necessary to develop customer journeys and digitised offerings that are different than the ones used by younger customers; this new segment of customers has just begun their digital journey, and as such will have different needs and expectations.

But this does not mean that more traditional, offline patterns have completely disappeared. About a fifth of ASEAN consumers feel very satisfied with their pivot to digital living and spending, while a quarter state it has made no real difference.

Among various generations, Gen Xers and Boomers are marginally more satisfied with this change relative to Gen Zers. This is potentially an indication of Gen Z reaching a potential saturation point when it comes to digital living; having been effectively the first generation of digital natives, they are missing offline “experiences” that may be perceived as novel or authentic.

Looking ahead: Opportunities for forward-looking marketers

This whole year has seen reshaping of behaviours and social norms. A lot of this change has blurred many of the previously established parameters.

For example, the attributes and behaviours of certain demographics, be it age or generational groupings, no longer strictly hold true. Even before COVID-19, understanding consumer behaviour was an enormous challenge and helped mark out winners from losers.

With new behaviour trends, drivers and influence having emerged, both established and new players need to review their existing understanding of customers – from behaviours to buying journeys.

Our research into post-pandemic customer mindsets reveals a critical need to examine audiences, channels, and consumer expectations through a new lens. Some key questions to ask ourselves as we go into planning for 2021:

  • Are these fundamental shifts here to stay?
  • What untapped potential does this accelerated shift to digital bring?
  • In our race to provide that seamless online, omni-channel experience, have our narratives, messaging, and strategies kept up?
  • Do we understand what is driving consumers’ behaviours and their expectations?

These are important, strategic questions that will not be answered overnight. They require thoughtful reflection and investigation into audiences’ evolving mindsets and habits.

As you ponder these, we encourage you to speak to both BlackBox and Archetype, who bring together capabilities in research, insights, and strategic thinking to help you navigate the exciting, rapidly changing world of tomorrow.

Written by
Yashan Cama
Written by
Julian Chow