Pandemic concerns recede, rising prices a big worry in Southeast Asia, new study reveals

The majority of Southeast Asian (SEA) consumers are less concerned about COVID-19, with 71% saying that they are confident with the COVID-19 situation in their country (74% in Singapore). However, inflation has overtaken the pandemic as their biggest worry despite most economies performing better compared to 2021, a new Ipsos survey reveals.

The Ipsos SEA Ahead survey ran across the SEA markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam during May and June 2022. SEA has experienced strict and lengthy lockdowns, low vaccination rates, and a disrupted supply chain for the past two years. But now, SEA citizens are more eager to socialize with increasing vaccination numbers and the tourism rebound. 

The majority have expressed confidence in dining in restaurants (74%), visiting family/friends (77%), and participating in cultural gatherings/events (77%). In Singapore, 84% say they were comfortable visiting family/friends, 62% participating in gatherings and 51% travelling to another country.

While most citizens start to revert to their pre-pandemic ways, some behaviors adopted during the pandemic persist including being more health conscious and using online shopping. 

Across SEA, 87% proactively manage their health and wellness through food and beverage choices, while 85% buy products that support their physical and mental health and wellbeing. For example, 40% are using less e-cigarettes and 35% consuming less alcohol. In Singapore, 17% intend to do more exercise, and 19% intend to consume less alcohol.

More people are also shopping online, with 47% saying they are buying items online more now compared to 6 months before, and in Singapore the figure is 40%. In line with the rest of the world, concerns have shifted away from the pandemic in Southeast Asia. 

The COVID-19 pandemic now ranks third in consumers’ top concerns, with personal finances and rising prices or inflation now ranked as the top two concerns. In Singapore, the current top three concerns are rising prices or inflation (28%), personal financial concerns (19%) and the COVID-19 pandemic (15%).

The economic outlook across SEA remains positive (54%), and consumers seem hopeful that their personal finances will be better (56%). In Singapore, 37% expect the country’s economy to be stronger and 32% believe that their financial situation will improve in these 6 months.

Three in four SEA consumers say rising prices are having a significant impact on their lives. In Singapore, 38% of consumers say they are “very impacted’ by price increases. Despite this, they continue to spend on necessities such as food, cleaning products, and personal care products and are saving money in other ways. In Singapore, savings are being made with less spend on travel (32%), on clothing (26%), and electronics (22%).

Suresh Ramalingam, Ipsos Chief Executive Officer – Southeast Asia, said: “With most of Southeast Asia transitioning to an endemic phase of COVID-19 and coping with inflation, it is more important than ever that leaders exercise resilience and longer-term foresight to adapt to rapid, complex change. 

“Inflationary times are indeed challenging—how are we going to innovate? Adjust pricing strategies? Rethink brand differentiations? Amidst the uncertainties, the way forward requires determining what is right for your consumers, balancing short-term gains and long-term risks, and most importantly, building your empathy muscle to create real connections with them and take relevant actions.”

Photo credit: iStock/ NeonShot

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