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The digital age triggered significant changes in consumers behaviour, with Covid-19 accelerating the shifts that are forcing businesses to adapt or die, says Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO Yael Geffen. “However, some changes were less predictable, and many have significant long-term implications for a broad range of sectors, including real estate,” says Geffen.

She cites recent data from the research company McKinsey Global Institute that shows the pandemic prompted 75% of US consumers to change shopping behaviours in response to financial pressure, store closings and changing priorities. The findings are predominantly relevant to the US market, but Geffen believes the South African market will largely mirror this trend. The result has been a massive switch of brand loyalties, with 36% of consumers trying a new product brand and 25% incorporating a new private-label brand. Of those who tried different brands, 73% intend to continue to incorporate the new brands into their routine. Gen Z-ers (born after 1996) and high earners are the most prone to switching brands.

Consumers’ current focus is on essentials and this trend is set to increase rather than decline, even among those with higher incomes, according to the report. This year about 40% of US consumers reduced their spending in general and are expected to continue to cut back on nonessentials specifically. “The Ernst & Young Future Consumer Index study found that 35% of consumers are currently in a ‘save and stockpile’ mode as they are concerned about their family’s future and pessimistic about Covid-19’s long-term implications,” Geffen says.

According to her, these trends affect the real estate sector too. “Even the biggest, most established brands can’t afford to rest on their laurels,” she says. “After months of lockdown, consumers’ new appreciation for the simple things in life has impacted their priorities and many would now, for instance, opt for the house with a garden to relax with family and friends rather than the one offering less maintenance with expensive bells and whistles.”

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