Over 18 months into the pandemic: Thailand is catching up on a cautious return of optimism among Southeast Asians

Latest survey by Ipsos reveals four waves of the pandemic affected region’s economic confidence. 80% of Thais are being more mindful of how much they spend when shopping, causing impacts on product categories and businesses. Top five areas businesses are expected to focus on.


Highlights

  • 80% of Thais are pessimistic about the economic situation, which is significantly higher than the region average

  • More than 1/3 of Thais rate their financial status as ‘bad,’ which is highest among SEA countries

  • 50% of Thais report a significantly higher response of worsened mental health than total of SEA.

The ‘New Normal’ is not exactly new anymore

Over eighteen months have passed since the world began living in what has been generalized as the ‘New Normal.’ From the first wave in May 2020 to the latest fourth wave in 2021, the world has been going through ups and downs as individuals adapt to the pandemic rollercoaster. This June, Ipsos conducted a study among 3,000 adults in six Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, to understand how citizen opinion and consumer behaviour have changed throughout the crisis.

Entering the eighth month of 2021, Thailand is unceasingly facing the battle against the virus outbreak, which in this fourth wave appears to be more severe than all the previous ones. The face of this pandemic war has changed drastically ever since the Delta variant came into the scene and made the containment even more difficult than before. From April 2021, Thailand sees a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases and is now under a full-stream lockdown.

Expectations of citizens from their governments and businesses

SEA countries report similar expectations and top priorities from governments and businesses alike. Citizens across SEA feel the governments should still play an active role in many aspects of the economy. The top priorities citizens anticipate from their governments are to keep everyone safe from Covid-19 (53%), control prices of goods and services/inflation (38%) and protect and create jobs (35%).
Only 8% felt addressing climate change/sustainability issues should be a key priority now. Similarly, people expect businesses to focus on keeping employees and customers safe from the virus (53%), paying fair wages to employees (40%) and controlling prices of products and services (38%).

Economic outlook and personal financial situation

Across SEA countries, the sentiments are that the economic conditions have improved, but not all are equally optimistic about the future. Thailand is, in fact, the most pessimistic about the current economic situation compared to other SEA countries. 80% of Thais describe the current economic situation as “very bad” and “somewhat bad”. Nevertheless, most countries show optimistic signs when asked about the future. While Singapore and Vietnam are most confident about their economies six months from now, other countries remain cautiously optimistic. Only 39% of Thais expect the economy to be stronger in the next six months. The Thai economy relies heavily on tourism and export. Thus, it could take longer than one to two years for the economic situation to return to the state before the pandemic. 

On average, 76% of respondents from all countries surveyed feel that their current personal financial situation is good or fair, with the highest being Singapore (83%), and the lowest being Thailand (64%). More than 1 in 3 of Thais rate their financial status as ‘bad,’ which is the highest ratio in SEA.

Changes in spending behaviours and impact on the business sectors

Although the overall confidence towards major purchases has increased across SEA, especially in the Philippines and Vietnam, Thais are becoming less comfortable with big-ticket purchases (house/car), seeing a consistent decrease in the last three waves. Most are only spending on necessities items, reducing all indulgences. Across the region, Southeast Asians are spending more on cooking at home (+46%), personal care (+28%), and cleaning products (+34%). On the other hand, they are spending less on travelling (-47%), cultural activities (-42%), toys (-37%), and dining out (-35%).

In terms of smaller expenses, more demands can be expected for groceries, personal care items and cleaning products as movement restrictions are gradually lifted across all countries. Based on the study, 77% of Thais are being more mindful of how much they spend when shopping. Thais are least comfortable among the 6 SEA countries to be visiting restaurants (28%) and second least comfortable to be visiting friends and family at their homes (41%).

There is an increasing demand for digital activities, e-commerce, and cashless payment facilities. SEA consumers find greater comfort with cashless and online purchases. There has been an increase in using cashless payment options when going to a physical store and buying items online. 57% more SEA respondents are buying more items online, 52% more people are using cashless payments, and 39% more people are streaming more content such as Netflix.

The online shopping experiences and e-commerce channels continue to grow extensively and are here to stay. Livestream shopping is filling the gaps for an active shopping experience. Across the region, 56% have accessed Livestream shopping and among those who have accessed 36% have purchased. These numbers are expected to rise in all countries as the containment of the virus is still undergoing. With this transformation in consumer behaviour, omnichannel marketing is still the key for large enterprises and SMEs to connect with their customers.

Besides online shopping, this pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on social norms, people's lifestyles, and the decision-making process. Thus, these changes will impact consumer behaviours in the long term. For instance, remote social gatherings (e.g. a wedding) will soon be socially acceptable. 

The Mental Ill-Health Pandemic: 

Thailand, no longer the “Land of Smiles”

Thailand reports a significantly higher response of worsened mental health in the past 6 months. 50% of Thais said they were feeling more down than before, which is significantly higher than total SEA. High suicide rate within the country as compared to the ‘Tom Yum Kung’ financial crisis in 1997.

This could be the result of the stress and anxiety on unemployment. Compared to six months ago, only 11% of Thai respondents are confident in the job security for themselves, their family and other people they know personally. Although the percentage has increased from February (7%), Thais’ confidence is still below the regional average.

Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation

Experts across all sectors agree that vaccine efficacy is a crucial factor in driving down the number of daily cases. The research presented that the interest in vaccination has risen from the previous wave among most countries from 79% in February to 82% in June. However, the same cannot be said with Thailand and Indonesia, where greater hesitancy towards vaccination is observed.

This could be due to the spreading of misinformation in online communities. Although the majority of Thai citizens are satisfied with the level of clarity on the communication by the public officials on the prevention guidelines, as many as 41% of Thais believe the vaccine itself can cause them to contract COVID-19. 38% believe the health risk of the vaccine is bigger than the risk of the virus itself, and 32% believe that taking the vaccine could have a negative long-term impact on their health. Apart from dispensing enough vaccines to the citizens, another crucial task for the Thai government is to control miscommunication and provide accessible information to reduce the hesitancy towards vaccination among Thais.

 

About the study

Ipsos took on a journey in mid-2020 to understand evolving consumer opinions and behaviours around the crisis in the 6 Southeast Asian markets: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam 
One year into the global crisis and Ipsos continues this journey, launching wave 4 of this survey to assess evolving consumer sentiment around the crisis, society, and economy.

This study enables organizations and businesses to look ahead beyond the pandemic - anticipating future consumer behaviour, patterns and opinions while each market in the region goes through various phases of crisis management, recovery, and vaccination roll-outs.

Wave 4 of the study was conducted online between 16th and 24th June 2021, among 3,000 adults (500 per country) aged 18 years and older. Quotas were employed to ensure a nationally representative sample for each country.

Waves 1 to 3 of the study were conducted in May 2020, September 2020 and February 2021 respectively.

 


Consumer & Shopper