Regular life has been thrown off the rails by Covid-19, and part of its effects is a massive decline in spending.
According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)’s recent macroeconomic review, about 60 per cent of consumer spending has been affected.
With air travel halted and non-essential services suspended from operating, spending has gone down in many areas.
For this period, no one is able to jet off on a holiday, hit the mall for some retail therapy, hang out at the bar with friends, or take their loved ones out to dinner.
On top of that, many have also adopted more frugal habits in view of the looming recession.
While consumer spending has generally slumped, it’s interesting to observe where the dollars are still going during this pandemic.
No surprises here — supermarkets, provision shops, and online grocery websites are booming with business as people first and foremost take care of their essential needs.
Without the option of dining out, people are now cooking their own meals much more than before. They often cook in larger quantities too, since the whole family is working from home.
Supermarkets have seen long queues daily since the start of the circuit breaker as people stock up on rice and noodles, fresh meat and vegetables, frozen food, dairy products and snacks.
The Department of Statistics recorded that while many other retail segments faltered, supermarkets and hypermarkets had a 35.9 per cent increase in sales in March compared to the last year.
In fact, the surge in supermarket shopping has even bumped up the Sheng Siong family to become newly minted billionaires.
Alongside supermarket-goers, many are also buying groceries online in a bid to avoid the crowds and stay safe. Be it major supermarket websites or smaller online grocers, delivery slots are almost constantly full.
Health is of the essence, now more than ever. When the outbreak landed in Singapore, surgical masks, hand sanitisers and antibacterial wipes flew off the shelves.
While demand is not as strong now as during the first wave of purchasing, people will still continue to buy these items from time to time when their supplies run low.
A Nielsen survey also found that one in three Singapore consumers are buying health products like supplements more often during this pandemic.
Face masks are especially important to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Some local businesses responded to the need for more masks by stepping up to import them from countries like China.
Even though each resident in Singapore is given a free reusable mask, some people are also buying handmade cloth masks with designs — perhaps to brighten up this dreadful situation a little and support small businesses at the same time.
Home Office Improvement
Many people suddenly had to adapt to working from home for the first time, and may not have had the ideal work station to begin with.
To make their home offices more workable during this period, people invest in items like office chairs, monitors and web cams.
Retail sales for office furniture and electronics spiked during the days leading up to the circuit breaker, with laptops being one of the most purchased items.
Following the closure of retail stores, people also continue to buy electronics online. Statista forecasted that Singapore’s electronics segment will grow by about 32 per cent year-on-year in 2020, and 79 per cent of sales will be online.
When they are not cooking their own meals, people look to the convenience of ordering food delivery, even though prices are higher than in-store and they also pay for the delivery service on top of that.
Food delivery platforms like Deliveroo and Grabfood saw orders increase by 20 per cent during the circuit breaker.
Other companies beyond the food industry, like logistics provider Lalamove and taxi firm ComfortDelGro, also introduced food delivery jobs for their drivers due to the huge demand.
More than just ordering meals, people are also huge on sending surprise deliveries to their friends, family, and significant others.
With fewer ways to stay connected these days, people show their love by sending special food items like desserts, bubble tea or even beer to one another. Of course, some also take comfort in these feel good foods for themselves.
If you haven’t already noticed, there’s been a great emergence of circuit bakers in the last two months.
With the extra time to kill, seasoned bakers are honing their skills by taking on new recipes, and first time bakers are giving the new hobby a try.
Besides being a classic home activity, its popularity may have something to do with the fact that sweets are known to improve moods — a boost that many people need right now.
It could also be partly fuelled by social media, where people see their friends sharing photos of their baked goods, and get inspired to try it out and show off their own.
Due to the strong interest lately, supermarkets and baking supply stores like Phoon Huat have even been facing difficulty in restocking items like flour, baking soda and cocoa powder fast enough before customers grab them all.
Although gyms and fitness centres had to be closed, fitness junkies made sure to carry on their workout routines at home.
In fact, many people who were not regular gym members before have also been motivated to start doing home workouts, thanks to the spare time they have now.
From exercise videos on YouTube, to Zoom workouts and fitness challenges, online workouts have become a big thing during this circuit breaker.
While some of these online workouts are free to take part in, people spend money when it comes to buying fitness equipment that can enhance their exercise at home.
Some of the top-selling fitness-related items according to Decathlon and Lazada have been yoga mats, weights, skipping ropes and exercise bands.
Consumer confidence may be rocky with a recession overhead, but even so, people aren’t just confined to their needs for food, work and exercise.
Lacking the social activities we used to have, we’re left to our own devices (pun intended) to seek entertainment without stepping out of the house.
As a result, people are keeping themselves occupied through streaming platforms like Netflix, watching and making TikTok videos, or indulging in video games.
One title in particular that has taken centre stage amid the pandemic is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. With a timely release in late March, the island building game sold 13.4 million copies worldwide in six weeks.
Psychology experts suggest that simulation games like Animal Crossing and The Sims are attractive during this challenging period as they provide comfort, escape, and a sense of control to grasp onto.
Self Care And Maintenance
This global health crisis has highlighted the importance of taking care of ourselves. Self care can come in many forms, including some of the areas mentioned above, such as developing hobbies like baking and exercising.
Some may also do this by spending more efforts to maintain themselves. Skincare items like facial masks have seen increased popularity online, and more hair clippers have been sold as people learn to cut their own hair at home.
When it comes to maintaining their mental and emotional wellbeing, more people have also picked up the help of counselling services to stay well.
Not Just Staying Alive, But Staying Happy Through A Tough Time
With the threat of the virus ongoing, and a long road ahead before economic recovery, people will have fewer reasons to spend and stronger motivations to be financially cautious.
The general consumer attitude has shifted toward focusing more on essentials, while discretionary spending will take a back seat.
However, patterns also show us that quality of life remains extremely important for people to get through this difficult time.
This would include reasonable and occasional spending on inexpensive things that make us happy, like leisure, hobbies and feel-good food.
But it probably wouldn’t extend to the higher end of the scale including luxury goods, and even vacations when it’s possible to travel again.
If this reveals anything about our needs during a pandemic, they would boil down to maintaining our health and wellness first, and then keeping in touch with simple pleasures that make life liveable.
Featured Image Credit: CEToday