Brand insight: How and when each SEA market can be expected to recover

Despite the disruption and negative impacts of COVID-19, consumers in Southeast Asia countries are retaining an optimistic view for the future. Last month, Nielsen reported that Southeast Asia still shows strong consumer confidence, growing middle classes and increasingly digitally savvy shoppers. A report by Wavemaker echoes that economical trend, showing that level of optimism remains high across APAC. According to the report, 57% of people across APAC (excluding China) felt somewhat to very optimistic. Confidence is clear, especially amongst younger audiences.

However, the level of optimism is highly situational. The level of optimism is co-related to the  level of consumer confidence prior to the start of the outbreak.

The lower the consumer confidence level was in Q4 2019, the higher the level of optimism observed during the outbreak.

Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong with the least consumer confidence last year saw significant increase in the level of optimism, while countries such as India and Philippines with the highest level of consumer confidence both saw a slight decrease.

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This co-relation causes the shape and speed of recovery to differ by market, with markets with higher levels of initial confidence, experiencing a V-Shape (quick recovery of two to six months) or W-Shape recovery (three to nine months). For other countries a U-Shape (four to 12 months with no recession), or even L-Shape (yeas of recovery after full recession) is more likely.

The report states that we are currently in the Outbreak phase with major disruption, and will soon move into Recovery with the gradual opening up of economy, before eventually establishing the “New Normal” where Covid-19 is under control around the world. Brands are urged to consider the context of their market, category or brand prior to this crisis, while planning for recovery and growth in the "New Normal". 

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Lets take a look at Southeast Asia fares currently.

Singapore

Currently, Singapore is one of the few countries experiencing a second wave of Covid-19. The government has implemented a ‘circuit-breaker’ to ensure social distancing measures have been implemented to curb the spread.

As a nation that benefits from strong government support, Singapore is adhering to the measures. Even the world-famous Merlion is WFH.

Being pragmatic and practical, Singaporeans on the whole have become more conservative. While Covid-19 has restricted movements, it hasn’t significantly changed incomes or expectations for the long-term. Rather in the short-term, Singaporeans have become more conservative. Singaporeans are worried (57%), fearful (42%) and challenged (39%) and so are focusing spend on essentials – with NTUC and Lifebuoy listed as ‘critical brands’.

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Larger investments have been put off, with those aged 40+ being particularly financially cautious. Singaporeans are keeping themselves updated on the developing situation both locally and globally, putting more trust in traditional news channels (77%) and approved websites. They’re tending to watch more TV and videos (56%), especially via mobile.

With travel grinding to a halt, it is no surprise that once the outbreak is over, Singaporeans are looking forward to travelling again (43%). Many feel that they have learned to be grateful (33%) for what they have received via government support and are motivated to work hard (21%) and invest for the future (24%) after the outbreak is over


Malaysians:

The COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time where Malaysians have started to feel the slow burning effects of an increasingly slowing economy. Luxury and consumer appliance sectors had already projected negative growth for 2020, and their decline will accelerate after the recent lockdown measures were imposed. Malaysians however are reacting with incredible resilience, and mindsets reveal much optimism for the future.

For Malaysians, their main priority post-crisis is to focus on reconnecting with their social circles, with 45% keen to spend time caring for their families. Shopping (38%) and travelling (35%) are also high on their post-crisis to-do list.

Following that, brands should work with and acknowledge this “human-first” sentiment when reaching out to Malaysians.

Malaysians are also found to be pragmatic during the outbreak, with 63% feeling at least somewhat optimistic about the future and 61% believing the pandemic situation will be controlled by July. The report found that this is more apparent in younger Malaysians, and might change with recent developments in government responses to the pandemic. It is also found that despite 65% of Malaysians surveyed saying they are worried and 43% describing their current state as fearful, many are maintaining spending and consumption habits, with 56% reporting that they will still buy what they want regardless. Meanwhile, eCommerce has also grown 80% year-on-year and is set to continue growing as Malaysians adapt to the restricted living measures.

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Indonesia:

While Indonesia continues to be the country with the highest case-fatality rate in Southeast Asia, Indonesians have maintained a net-positive sentiment, with 77% still optimistic about the future. The majority also believe the situation will be resolved in three months.

Staying connected socially has also moved online, with 56% spending more time online, 76% increasing WhatsApp usage, 61% increasing Instagram usage, and 59% increasing Facebook usage. News, health-related content and entertainment and life style genres have gone up. Retailers are exploring alternative ways to reach shoppers, for example, ordering via WhatsApp directly from the manufacturer, with particularly positive outlook for key categories: germ-kill, nutrition, and ready-to-eat/easy-to-cook meals.

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The crisis has necessitated new behaviours among Indonesians leading to long term irreversible shifts. During this time, more than half of Indonesian respondents said they expect brands to create positivity (56%), play their part in supporting consumers (53%), and inform them on how to face the situation (52%).

Thailand:

The pandemic has compounded an already challenging time for Thailand’s economy: continuing debt, drought affecting agriculture, high household debt, income disparity, have all been accelerated by the pandemic. However, local consumption, particularly the FMCG sector, has held onto growth, as consumers prepare themselves for uncertain times. Spending has also increased on pantry products as well as health safety and household essentials.

Although Thailand saw a relatively high level of optimism when compared its consumer confidence level last year, 30% of Thai consumers feel somewhat optimistic with 62% describing their current state as “worried” and 47% as “fearful”. Optimism is higher amongst younger Thais aged under 40 with 14%, while only 8% of older people are optimistic.

Unsurprisingly, health is the top topic for consumers with 71% consuming content around COVID-19 and 65% around health. Finance has also emerged as a priority for Thai consumers, with a 32% increase in investment behaviour, and 49% consuming content around business, finance, and news.

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During this time, Thais are keen to sustain their current lifestyles and consumption habits, with 41% of consumers agreeing that they would continue buying what they want, and nearly two out of three Thai consumers reporting no decline in spending. After the pandemic, Thai people look to focus on taking care of their family (54%), travel (52%), and re-plan their lives (42%).

Among the surveyed, 41% said they will look to diversify their skills through learning and self-development. Brands should hence consider how they can provide value in people’s planning for immediate and long-term concerns.

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