PH retailers need to listen to socmed chatter to understand COVID-19 consumer behavior: study

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Manila, Philippines – As the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, pandemic-relevant items such as face masks, face shields, and hand sanitizers have surged in demand. With this new ‘essentials’ in market, a new study from media monitoring and insights solution provider Isentia notes that Philippine retailers need to listen to the clamor of consumers regarding these essentials, especially through social media channels.

Isentia notes that face masks have naturally garnered high attention from the general public on social media, as buzz online has peaked at 75,715 impressions at least during March 2021. The demand has been also amplified with three local events, as follows:

  • The initial announcement from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) last 13 March where the agency stated that face masks should be worn, even inside of their homes. The statement was met with ridicule from the general public on social media, stating that wearing face masks at home was unnecessary. Some had sarcastic reactions saying that they should then wear masks while bathing, that policemen should be assigned inside their homes to monitor, and that they might as well require wearing a face shield at home.
  • A video of a woman onboard the Metro Rail Transit-3 Train line (MRT-3) last 23 March was met with outrage from netizens after not wearing a face mask and face shield on board the train, where she was met with confrontation from other passengers.
  • An online news report from 30 March stated that people from the English territory Gibraltar are no longer wearing masks due to the absence of COVID-19 cases in the territory. Filipino netizens perceived the news in awe and envy, while others expressed skepticism on how the Philippine Government has been handling the pandemic in the country.

In addition, Isentia notes that the most discussed face masks in the country are N95 masks and the brand Coppermask, as many netizens complain online about using disposable surgical masks when wearing makeup. Some netizens reacted negatively towards the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel’s suggestion that wearing two face masks reduces the risk of getting COVID-19 by 90%. Others praised Doc Adam, an Australian doctor and YouTube personality, for his critique of the Coppermask – saying that wearing the mask is just a fashion statement for most people. 

“Since the pandemic, what the public deems as essential has very much shifted. Masks are now a must-have and retailers and producers have found ways to cater to different tastes,” said Victoria Bernadette Lazo, insights manager at Isentia Philippines.

In regards to face shields, conversations about them were driven by multiple events during the month of March, garnering a total of 43,599 total buzz during the month. The highest momentum was on the Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III who went out on the streets of Baclaran to hand out face shields. The majority of the comments were highly unfavorable in nature, with netizens dubbing that it was a ‘failed PR attempt’ for the government arm and its top official.

Lastly, ‘hand sanitizers’ garnered 1,605 total buzz in the social media. One news article that included the mention of sanitizers struck out on 13 March when Thailand Prime Minister Paruth Chan-ocha sprayed hand sanitizer on the reporters of his press conference to avoid answering questions. Filipino commenters still found a way to correlate the news to Philippine government leaders such as President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo. 

“With the threat of COVID-19 still lingering, you can never underestimate any measure when it comes to your safety. A lot of luxuries were taken away from us but what we still have is a choice, an option to choose your face masks, face shields and even the hand sanitizer that goes along with your bag,” Francis Angelo Calucin, insights analyst at Isentia Philippines, said.

The report uses the example of Coppermask which engaged in a so-called ‘Streisand effect’, where the brand attempted to hide, remove, or censor information about negative reviews of their product, such as those of Australian doctor/YouTuber Doc Adam, which in return has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet.

“Social media, given its volatile nature, is a good avenue for retail brands to gain insights into customer preferences. Amid the clutter in online platforms, trendspotting reports unlock relevant organic conversations that may be leveraged by brands in devising strategies that will impact their consumers.” Kate Dudang, insights manager at Isentia Philippines, explained. 

Meanwhile, Gladys Mae Ruiz, insights analyst at Isentia Philippines added, “A critical situation like the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed human behavior in different directions. Trendspotting studies such as this will help brands and businesses better understand and respond to the ever-changing consumer behaviour.”

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