As the world scrambles to fight COVID-19, the new normal of social distancing, travel restrictions and business closures is altering consumer behavior. We’re seeing this every day and across every vertical as consumers spend more time at home and on their computing devices.
Below we’ve compiled some key industry trend highlights as you consider your plans to connect with customers during this unprecedented time. You can find these and many more of the latest insights here: https://microsoftadvertising.com/covid-insights
As borders close and new directives restrict movement, travel has been the hardest hit vertical. As a result, we’re seeing greater interest in local travel and “staycations.” This is most pronounced from consumers who were forced to cancel previously booked vacations, parents wanting respite from crammed homes and urban customers looking to get away. Geographic query associations emerge among the strongest in the vacation rentals sub-vertical. Interest includes getaways that are safe, have cancelable rates and are socially responsible. Plan for consumer and business demand to return first in areas that lift regional restrictions.
Flight and car rentals shoppers exhibited price sensitivity and an appetite for a good deal, especially as states implement their own restrictions in response to the virus. For example, some increased flight interest in Las Vegas may have been due to travelers seeking deals just prior to hotel and casino closures.
It’s worth noting that some brands have responded by running ads with creative content that urges consumers to stay home in an effort to increase brand awareness and build perception.
Financial services industry
The impact to the financial services vertical comes less from COVID-19 and more from a significant drop in oil prices and the possibility of recession. In the U.S., additional factors include federal interest rate cuts, a tax deadline extension and health insurance open enrollment extensions in some states.
Stock market volatility is creating new opportunities for brokerage companies to target millennials interested in getting into the market at a low price. Many brokerage companies advertise on over-the-top (OTT) and video while using search ads to capture lower funnel activities.
Banking and investment sub-verticals are seeing the biggest negative impact since interest comprises a significant portion of income, and credit card businesses are experiencing similar effects. As a result, cash is becoming more important for investors. This could influence decisions on credit card options, which means that instead of travel points, customers may choose cash bonuses.
Additionally, we’ve seen volumes increase in loans and lending. In fact, some advertisers are scaling back since they cannot handle the volume and no longer need leads.
Finally, insurance for travel and life are on the rise, and generic searches for these services are outpacing brand-specific searches. In the U.K., searches for financial planning and management are growing more than 30% week over week.
In the retail industry, we’re seeing high demand for home furnishings and skin care as well as online food shopping and healthcare products. We’re tracking large shifts in consumer behavior in food & grocery, beauty & personal care, and computers. We’re also seeing smaller shifts related to fitness and sporting goods as consumers look for alternatives during social distancing and related directives.
There's strong consumer demand for products and services that enable people to work and learn remotely — especially in areas facing restricted movement. Consumers are looking to upgrade connectivity services like internet speeds and invest in new computers, hardware and services, including e-learning.
In automotive, we’ve seen an increase in queries for “modification parts” and “replacement parts” as consumers presumably have more time available to work on their vehicles and may wish to avoid an expensive trip to the dealer.
Conversely, service dealers have been hit the hardest early on with decreased demand for services as fewer consumers are driving and retailers are being asked to close in some states. Retailers that stay open are experiencing a surge in consumer interest for sanitizing services to kill bacteria inside vehicles, with at least one major chain offering that service free to first responders and delivery drivers in certain markets.
Additionally, manufacturers like GM and Ford are demonstrating their altruistic values by gearing up to produce ventilators and other undersupplied medical equipment in their factories. They’re also getting creative with new vehicle incentives to help consumers balance the financial burden of car buying during uncertain times.
Some local dealerships are having to close their doors due to government mandates, but they too are getting creative with virtual sales calls and at-home deliveries in order to stay engaged with potential buyers. Advertisers are leveraging search and extension products they haven't used before to get their new messaging out broadly and quickly, trying to soften the anticipated impact of slower sales months.
We’ll continue to monitor the shifting landscape in response to COVID-19 and other factors. It’s never too late to evolve your search marketing tactics as you adapt to changing consumer behavior. Check out these 7 SEM strategies for unprecedented times
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