[Latest Research] Cost of Living and Changing Consumer Behavior

How has consumer behavior changed in 2022, and what does this mean for brands?

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Consumer Trends for 2022

Learn about the impact of COVID-19 on shopping behaviors, opinions on telemedicine, consumer anxiety, and much more.

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REPORTConsumer Trends for 2022

How has living through a pandemic changed consumer behavior and perceptions?

We used social data from Brandwatch Consumer Research as well as a number of other digital data sources to find out. We also asked members of the Brandwatch Community about the questions they most wanted answers to about how the pandemic has impacted consumers.

In this report, you’ll learn about:

Trends in consumer shopping, like:

  • Why virtual carts are being abandoned
  • The changing conversation on impulse purchases

Trends in socializing, dining out, and visiting bars and clubs, like:

  • How smart gadgets in the pandemic kitchen have impacted appetites for restaurant food
  • The rise of at-home cocktail enthusiast

Trends in consumer mindset, like::

  • “Post-COVID anxiety”
  • Generational differences in conversations around COVID-19

Trends in the workplace, like:

  • How employees feel about prolonged remote work
  • The differing opinions on the return to the office

Trends in pharma and health, like:

  • The growth of the pharma conversation beyond traditional social channels and the rise of medical influencers
  • Patient perspectives on remote care

Trends in internet and connectivity, like:

  • The major customer pain points around top internet service providers 
  • Tips offered up by consumers for internet companies

As the global economy is slowly recovering and more job openings are created, consumer spending is also expected to pick up. Still, living through the long months of the pandemic has prompted many consumers to reassess their lifestyle and, in particular, their shopping behavior. 

We turned to Brandwatch Consumer Research to learn about how people described changes to their shopping behavior. Here are six trends we've noticed since the beginning of the pandemic that look like they’ll continue into 2022.

1. Has 1-click buying become a problem? 

Combined with stay-at-home orders worldwide, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to shopping online. Many online retailers worked tirelessly on improving customers’ digital shopping experience by offering virtual try-ons, simplifying the checkout process, and expanding delivery options. Shopping online is very easy. But has it become too easy, causing a problem?

The engagement this tweet received speaks volumes about the new shopping behavior many consumers have started exhibiting. While consumers turned to e-commerce as a safer and more convenient option at the beginning of the pandemic, months later that motivation started shifting. Consumers started using online shopping as a coping mechanism to fight ever-growing quarantine fatigue.

Whether it’s to get a quick dopamine fix, to feed a desire to impulse purchase, or to simply order something to look forward to, consumers have begun shopping online in greater numbers

We looked into social conversations where people shared their personal experiences using “I”/”we” appearing near “impulse shopping” / “impulse buying”. As seen on the chart, this conversation saw significant growth at the end of March 2020 and volumes remain higher than they were pre-pandemic. 

What does this mean for 2022? Consumers continue to report being more impulsive around shopping, and it doesn't look like this is going away.

2. Pre-order is in great demand worldwide

Likely inspired by the shortages in 2020, in 2021 savvy consumers were looking to secure their purchases by placing pre-orders for desired items. 

Accepting pre-orders presents retailers with a good opportunity to plan well in advance of events or seasons that typically see high demand, potentially helping them to avoid shortages caused by disruptions in the supply chain. 

But while a strong pre-order sales strategy can be very beneficial for a business, a broken process can take away that leverage, sending consumers online to share their negative experience with a brand, product, or service.

As savvy consumers continue to take an interest in pre-ordering, and especially if fears around shortages continue (see the section on mindset below), brands can continue to leverage this in 2022. We may even see pre-ordering become the norm for goods that wouldn't traditionally be offered up for pre-order, and it may be something brands should experiment with.

3. Is the panic buying phase over?

In 2020, between January 1 and July 31, Brandwatch Consumer Research registered 5.69M mentions around bulk shopping. And while the days of panic-induced stocking up on essentials are long gone, that’s not to say that consumers went back to pre-crisis shopping habits. We registered millions of conversations about buying in bulk and stocking up in 2021. While there were far less than in 2020, there are still plenty of consumers expressing insecurity and concerns about shortages in the future. 

In October 2020, Chain Store Age reported that Americans’ average weekly grocery spending was up 17% from pre-pandemic levels. And a McKinsey report in March 2021 suggested that many European consumers intended to spend more on groceries moving forward because some have gotten used to cooking at home, and because others expect to keep working from home more than they did in the past. Based on the millions of conversations that continue to pop up about staying stocked up, retailers should continue to expect bouts of consumer anxiety, which may result in stockpiling.

4. Online window shopping and cart abandonment

Digital shopping cart abandonment has always been a problem in the e-commerce world, but it has become a serious issue for online retailers recovering from the pandemic. In December 2020, Baymard Institute shared that between 57.60-84.27% of initiated shopping carts were abandoned. 

Throughout our research, we saw consumers share several, sometimes surprising, motivations as to why they abandoned their shopping carts. Here are the most common three:

1. “Saving up” was one of the reasons. While consumers have reported feeling better financially, their financial security concerns haven’t disappeared entirely. 

2. Procrastination was among the most common reasons why consumers reported abandoning their shopping carts before completing the purchase. 

Google Trends registered that search interest around procrastination grew since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Several recent studies suggested that procrastination is affecting millions of people worldwide and could be linked to mental health issues, and is related to anxiety and depression. 

One of the knock-on effects of procrastination reported by consumers is filling up virtual shopping charts without finishing the order.

3. “Wishful-thinking" shopping and low purchase intent

While some consumers reported actively saving up as the reason why they abandoned their shopping carts, others simply had no intention of making a purchase and spending the money they have saved during the pandemic lockdowns. 

These consumers shared that they would fill up their shopping baskets and click out of the tab.

While there isn't much brands can do about certain consumer behaviors like window shopping online, investigating cart abandonment could mean finding improvements in the areas that can be controlled (eg poor UX, confusing checkout process, limited payment options, and security concerns). 

5. Fast delivery is making purchasing decisions easier

In 2021, we launched the Customer Loyalty Report that Brandwatch worked on in partnership with survey company GWI. In this report, we looked at social data and consumers sharing their experiences across 2020 around the top three retailers in the US and the top two in the UK by revenue. Delivery turned out to be one of the top three brand advocacy reasons as well as the biggest reason for detraction. A takeaway from the report is that brands really must smooth out delivery issues to help boost advocacy (a great sign of retention) and reduce complaints.

Analysis for this report found that consumers consider fast delivery to be an incentive when completing their orders, and offering express delivery options could help brands fight cart abandonment.  

To tempt cart abandoners to fulfil their orders and to ensure that pre-order customers are satisfied in 2022, ecommerce brands need to prioritize reliability above all else, and that means ensuring a smooth and speedy delivery process for consumers.

6. Rising expectations around online shopping and virtual try-on tech

Google Trends data suggests that interest around ‘virtual try-on’ has seen a boost since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce adoption, simultaneously elevating consumers’ expectations around their online shopping experience. 

Rapid digital adoption and increasing demands have pushed companies to innovate and explore new platforms and technologies such as virtual try-on. And consumers were quick to praise companies that offered virtual try-on services that lived up to their shopper experience expectations.

But just as quickly, consumers took to social media to express their dissatisfaction when their shopper experience didn’t meet expectations. 

Understanding what consumers’ expectations look like is essential for e-commerce and retail companies to succeed. As far as social data goes, consumers are looking for smoother, more convenient ways to shop online, and a virtual try-on service can address this demand. Brands who've not experimented with this option yet may want to get in on the action.

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How do consumers feel about getting out and about as we approach 2022?

Is it too early to envision social life post-pandemic?

Let’s have a look at what consumers have been saying about going out to restaurants, night clubs, bars, and brunches as worries about COVID begin to decrease.

The ‘post-pandemic’ restaurant

While people talked a lot about going out to restaurants compared to the other categories, the volume of conversation dropped by 50% when compared to the previous period of time. 

There could be several reasons why there was a drop in conversation volume around dining out. Here are the top three we found when looking closer at the data:

1. Dining out was perceived as “not worth the cost.”

Having purchased groceries and cooked their own food for a long time, some consumers coming out of the pandemic perceived prices at restaurants to be too expensive. 

As the financial impact of the pandemic continues to weigh on the public, consumers are thinking more about what’s in it for them, what goes into the cost of something, and whether the combination is worth it. 

2. Smart gadgets supercharged the pandemic kitchen

With dining out canceled and limited to one’s kitchen during the lockdowns, consumers were inspired to seek out recipes and new, exciting kitchen gadgets to help those recipes come to life. Whether purchased for a day of family fun or to breathe some life into a bachelor’s kitchen, kitchen gadgets such as air fryers became a hot commodity. As a result, for more advanced users such as the consumer below, eating out has shifted from “a necessity to a treat.”

In fact, Nielsen’s recent study revealed that many consumers who learned how to cook during the pandemic would continue with this habit. Home cooking habits were reported to be particularly strong among French consumers, posing a competitive threat to the restaurant business. 

Air fryer interest is still well above pre-pandemic levels, which suggests they could be a popular gift for Christmas 2021 as well as keeping some consumers out of restaurants! 

3. Changing expectations

In 2020, the mobile food delivery industry was estimated to be worth $38bn, and this number was only expected to grow. Plus, consumers have evolved digitally and in the kitchen (thanks to food delivery apps, meal prep, and meal kit services). Along with these trends, consumers’ demands and expectations around what an in-person dining experience should look like have changed.

Whether it’s food quality that wasn’t on par with expectations or a lack of restaurant staff that slowed down the service, consumers who didn’t get the experience they sought questioned whether it made sense to dine out at all. 

What other trends emerged from online conversations around ‘post-pandemic’ restaurant experiences?

Many online users were vocal about calling for the return of the popular “Eat out to help out” scheme launched by the UK government in summer 2020. The program offered diners a discount of up to £10 per person when they dined out from Monday to Wednesday throughout August.

But feeling protected from the virus is still on the minds of many. And when it came to discussing their safety while dining inside, consumers had strong words for the industry. Here’s one message for restaurant owners:

How do consumers feel about returning to bars?

As restrictions are being lifted, and with more people vaccinated worldwide, slowly but surely, consumers are beginning to venture out and going back to busy social spaces like bars. 

Here are the four major consumer discussions around ‘post-pandemic’ bar experiences that piqued our interest (and that brands should take note of in 2022!).

1. The rise of at-home cocktail enthusiasts

Similar to elevated expectations around the ideal restaurant experience, some consumers shared greater expectations for going to bars. Restrictions on movements and bars being closed both pushed consumers to come up with new ways to keep themselves occupied and entertained. And while some spent time binge-watching cooking shows and polishing their skills in the kitchen, others used their extra time to perfect their favorite cocktails and sharpen their mixology skills, raising the bar for drinking establishments at the same time.

According to Google Trends, cocktail recipe searches are still pretty high compared to the pre-pandemic level, so bars will need to step up their game.

2. Seeking to establish a sense of normality 

During the pandemic, many consumers have daydreamed about the good old days when things were normal, and fantasized about what they’d do “after the pandemic” or the lockdown they were in. Bars seemed to be a very popular theme in these conversations, whether it’s a dive bar with frozen pizza or a pub full of people singing “Sweet Caroline”.

These might seem like trivial posts, but they speak to a broader point about what ‘normal’ looks like, and the important part bars and pubs play in people’s lives.

3. Bars: A new kind of dating scene

Bars have traditionally been considered the ultimate place to meet people. Many businesses offer happy hours, enticing drink specials, and some even run events such as singles nights and speed dating. Even the popular dating app Bumble has joined the game by opening up a restaurant and wine bar in NYC.

After months of Zoom dates, single people have begun to meet IRL. But does everyone feel the same about in-person dating?

Consumers’ opinions seemed to be split. While some embraced being out in public wholeheartedly, sharing the excitement about seeing ‘single’ people again and the potential of meeting them, others reported planning to stick to the behaviors developed in the pandemic post-COVID.

4. Are post-restriction bar patrons “getting off the leash”? 

Another consumer trend related to bars might be the overconsumption of alcohol. Our social data suggested that consumers have been trying to make up for the time away from bars by overindulging in alcoholic beverages.

Whether this trend continues into 2022 remains to be seen, but there could be implications for health, emergency services, and bar brands if it does.

What does the ‘post-pandemic’ clubbing scene look like for consumers?

As the world slowly starts to reopen, the nightlife industry – one of the hardest-hit industries – is welcoming club goers back. How do consumers feel about the ‘post-pandemic’ experience in clubs?

We looked into social mentions with people sharing their personal perspectives on going to clubs, and hesitation seemed to be a common theme. Some jokingly mentioned being scared of witnessing popular TikTok dances in person. 

And others shared serious concerns over sexual harassment at clubs, citing prolonged social isolation as the reason. We’ll talk more about the post-COVID anxiety in our next section, uncovering what consumers say they’re worried about as the world opens up more in 2022. 

Brunch: The social activity consumers have been pining after?

Of the four activities we studied for this section of the report, brunch was the only one that saw growth in conversations over the course of 2021.

This presents an opportunity for restaurants, bars, and clubs who are yet to try hosting brunch events – it’s an activity with growing interest from consumers discussing their “post-pandemic” experiences.

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After months of stay-at-home orders, social isolation, and general uncertainty about the future, returning to the traditional, familiar ways of life could cause a range of feelings, from excitement and relief through to stress and anxiety.

We decided to take a look at the social data (news excluded) to see how people talked about post-COVID stress, and whether they had any concerns. 

To achieve this, we wrote a search query in our Brandwatch Consumer Research platform that was designed to pick up mentions containing phrases like “I feel” or “I am” followed by expressions like “anti-social”, “awkward”, “small talk”, etc in conversations about COVID-19. 

Mention volumes increased over the course of the pandemic (+35% comparing the first 7 months of 2021 to the previous period of the same length). And overall we found 22k people talking about their experiences – indicative of a lot of people suffering the negative effects of COVID-19 restrictions on their social lives. 

To start off, we looked into the trending topics in these conversations.

Right away, we saw several phrases that together told a compelling story. “COVID ruined”, “making friends”, “meet people”, and “conversation anymore” – all suggested that social isolation has persisted long enough for people to become more accustomed to behaviors developed in the pandemic. As a result, the difficulty to adapt back to ‘normal’ – the familiar social behaviors and actions as we knew them – caused major distress for some consumers. 

The amount of engagement this tweet received spoke volumes about the feelings of many consumers. 

“Practicing my social skills” was a big topic of conversation. Many consumers stated that they forgot how to interact with people in real life, and some said they planned to work on improving their social skills.

People discussed socializing and feeling anti-social, sharing concerns about being perceived as anti-social by friends, family, and in their social circles. 

Peer pressure, specifically, was one of the big concerns. 

And some consumers expressed mixed feelings about coming out of lockdowns, as social isolation has provided them with the level of emotional comfort and personal space they lacked before the pandemic. 

We also looked at the gender breakdown to see whether there were any differences in how female and male consumers discussed coming out of the pandemic. Here’s what we discovered.

“Leave the house” and “reached a crisis” were topics discussed more by women on Twitter than men. “Practicing my social skills” was also mentioned more in posts by women, while the theme of eye contact seemed to be common in discussions among both genders. 

However you look at it, the pandemic’s toll on mental health has had a lasting impact on consumers, and its effects are yet to be fully understood. 

A look into the impact of COVID-19 through a generational lens

On the subject of mindsets related to COVID, we wanted to learn about how different generations have been feeling.

We used Brandwatch’s Social Panels to look into how different generations spoke about COVID-19 in English-language conversations between January 1 2021 and July 31 2021. This enabled us to get an idea of differences in mood and how people of different ages reacted to the ongoing situation.

As we compared trending topics and sentiment in conversations among baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z side by side, there were some clear differences in what was on the minds of the authors from each generation. 

“Vaccinated” and “unvaccinated” were the biggest trending topics in conversations among baby boomers, with “risk”, “dangerous”, “problem”, “lies”, and “fear” seen trending in conversations with a very negative sentiment.  

Gen Xers echoed the conversation with “fear”. 

Overall, both baby boomers and Gen Xers seemed to have a very similar conversations around COVID-19 immunization, with Gen Xers debating a COVID vaccine booster shot. While there are of course differences in the conversation, it’s interesting to see an affinity here. The same can’t necessarily be said for millennials and Gen Z. 

While looking into what was trending in conversations among millennials, several keywords grabbed our attention, revealing unique insights into the minds of the generation. The words “illuminated”, “burnout”, and “unlivable”, while commonly perceived as negative, all shared positive or rather positive sentiment in conversations related to COVID-19. 

Why have some millennials (and Gen Zers too) spoken positively about the relationship between burnout and the pandemic this year?

The answer is simple: to many people, the pandemic has been an eye-opener as it put many aspects of their professional and personal lives into perspective. Lockdowns, quarantines, and restrictions forced many to reassess their lifestyles and the future. 

While Gen Zers also talked about the above, burnout hasn’t been their only concern. 

“Shortages” and “resources” were trending in conversations among the Gen Z population – both sharing a very negative sentiment. As we head into 2022, this will likely continue to be a worry, with many goods and services impacted by the shockwaves of the pandemic.

Conducting research across generations can not only help reveal common behavioral patterns and interests, it can also uncover unique challenges, concerns, and differences in how different generations perceive and react to the world around them.

What can we deduce from the word clouds about the future? Although each generation’s worries slightly differ, consumers of all ages are and will be concerned about vaccines and booster shots, resources, shortages, and the environment but for different reasons and to different degrees of severity.

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What is work in a “post-COVID” world going to look like?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been permanently changing many aspects of consumer behavior, from how consumers socialize and shop to how work is performed. 

Work has been an ongoing theme in discussions around what a post-COVID world will look like. When we looked into the trending topics emerging from consumers discussing ‘post-COVID’ over a seven-month period in 2021, ‘adapting to the new normal’ and ‘remote working’ stood out.

Earlier this year, Brandwatch’s Strategy and Insights team published a report that sought to understand the future of work. One of the biggest themes found in their research was flexibility, and the findings revealed that employees want to have a say in where and how they work. There’s a real need for flexible work environments, schedules, working conditions, and technology. And the need was highlighted again in recent Brandwatch research conducted in partnership with Monster around people with disabilities and employment.

As working remotely has become normal and, perhaps, more socially acceptable, many people online have been sharing their reasons why ‘remote work’ works. 

By the look of online conversations around remote work, it’s clear that there’s a different set of priorities that employees are now embracing, and that will play a big role in shaping the post-COVID workplace. But there is still some divide as to how people think about the future.

‘Adapting to the new normal’ was another prominent topic we noticed in conversations about life post-pandemic. 

The trending terms around this topic could be arranged into two different groups. One describes mostly negative emotions and feelings associated with ‘the new normal’ and includes such words as ‘anxious’, ‘stress’, and ‘stressing’. And the other group appears to discuss solutions, including words like ‘manage’, ‘advice’, and ‘tips’.

While the ‘new normal’ is understandably causing distress among the public, social data suggests that adaptation has already taken place, and the following tweets confirm the shift in the public mindset.

How can companies prepare for 2022?

What the ‘new normal’ means will continue to evolve, and organizations must be proactive by monitoring the social landscape and understanding the trends, as well as prioritizing employees and their pain points, whether it’s about managing expectations around work/life balance, mental well-being, or workplace flexibility. The idea that everyone should return to the office will not work for all current and prospective employees, no matter how the pandemic develops.

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Let’s move on to trends in the pharma and healthcare sectors. Here are eight trends that we’ve discovered in our social data investigations while looking ahead to 2022.

Conversation volume around the pharmaceutical industry is particularly high in 2021. Overall, there were 4.62m mentions in the first seven months of the year, which is an increase of 92% when compared to the previous seven-month period. There was also a 35% increase in unique authors from 913.4k to 1.23m.

Blogs saw a 3352% increase in mention volume in the first seven months of 2021 when compared to the previous seven-month period. And forums also saw a huge increase in mention volume – up by 649%.

Many recent studies suggested that consumers turn to the internet in large numbers to learn about health issues and medical concerns. In fact, one stat published by Pew Research Center stated that 35% of adults in the US go online specifically to ‘figure out’ a medical condition. 

While the pharmaceutical industry has historically been slower to innovate due to being highly regulated, especially when it comes to marketing and content, the times are certainly changing. 

The growth seen in blogs and forums is not all that surprising given that general health-related information is highly sought after, and both consumers and medical professionals are joining these conversations. The first group is looking to learn, and the second to engage and educate. 

2. The tone of consumer conversations is fairly negative

Growth is one thing, but what’s the tone like across different sites?

Conversations around pharma saw the highest proportion of positive conversation on Instagram and review sites, while YouTube and Reddit hosted the most negative comments. 

News outlets tended to be most neutral in tone, which doesn't necessarily reflect how consumers feel about the industry.

3. Online mentions reflect an interest in niche or technical aspects of the industry

The trending topics included ‘big pharma’, ‘research and development’, ‘big tech’, and ‘Indian pharma’, and another important one – ‘intellectual property’.

When it came to ‘big pharma’, key topics in the conversation included FDA, CEOs, and tech. Meanwhile, a major discussion behind ‘research and development’ was focused around drug pricing.

Given the negative tone but the fairly technical language, big pharma should continue to expect interest and scrutiny from well-informed consumers.

4. Dwindling engagement rates and the rise of medical influencers 

The pandemic has accelerated the shift online not only for consumers but medical professionals as well, providing the space for dialogue.

We looked at the volume of medical professionals saying that they ‘recommend’, ‘suggest’, or ‘advise’, and we saw an upward trend, suggesting that more experts in the medical field are sharing their opinions and recommendations online over time. 

Now is a good time to bring in an additional view on the situation. According to Buzzsumo data, while there is plenty of content being shared about pharma online, the engagement rates around all that content is actually slipping. 

This year (January 1 - July 31 2021) 7.5% fewer articles were published, but the engagement rate decreased by 76.23% when compared to the previous seven-month period!

This begs the question - if general conversation is growing and the volume of articles around pharma are staying fairly stable but engagement is falling, what is cutting through all the noise?

We looked into what types of posts related to pharma, medical, or healthcare received the most engagement on average during the first seven months of this year vs the previous seven-month period.

Three formats that got the most engagement were what-posts (up by 68.42%), reviews (up by 22.86%), and newsletters (up by 20.83%), suggesting this is the best way to attract readers on content around pharma right now.

We were also able to investigate who is cutting through the noise. With the help of Brandwatch’s Social Panels, we identified the top ten influencers in the medical field who tweeted about COVID-19 between Jan 1 2021 - Jul 31 2021.

Our research revealed that social influence – in this case, the potential reach and impact of influencer content on their audience – doesn’t always correlate with the number of followers the medical expert has.

Boosted by the pandemic, social media saw a rise of micro-influencers and soaring engagement rates. Taking that into account, it’s not surprising that an author with under 1000 followers could have more influence than someone with thousands of followers. 

To summarize the data above, overall, the online pharma conversation is growing, but there looks to be a declining trend in engagement with articles over time. Identifying the top 10 most influential HCPs on Twitter and the kinds of articles that do best helps us understand who and what is able to get users' attention in relation to pharma.

Another part of the growing conversation around pharma is consumers actively sharing the advice they've received from medical professionals online.

There were 1.36m mentions of consumers talking about doctors’ recommendations on social in the second half of 2020. And 769.1k unique authors shared mentions in the context. 

To compare, those numbers grew to 1.94m (total mentions) and 1.1m unique authors in the first seven months of 2021. 

That’s a huge increase in recommendations being shared online, and if trends continue we’ll continue to see consumers sharing advice with their followers in 2022.

The pandemic drove widespread changes in how medical services are delivered, substantially expanding access to care through telemedicine. Telehealth was thought to provide multiple benefits, from reducing mutual exposure to the coronavirus between patients and medical personnel to preserving personal protective equipment and helping patients with chronic conditions and disabilities receive the care they need without putting them at risk.

We created a query using several terms that people might use to describe the industry and related activities, such as ‘digital health’, ‘telehealth’, ‘teledoc’, ‘virtual care’, etc. 

At first glance, the conversation around the topic saw an increase in the early months of the pandemic. Google Trends also suggested that there’s been a dramatic upward trend in search interest around telemedicine since March 2020.

“Online consultation" was also a particularly strong topic in conversations around telehealth, so we took a closer look at what people were saying. 

We saw four issues related to the online delivery of medical care reported by consumers. 

1. One of the major consumers’ pain points mentioned in negative conversations was about filling out online consultation forms. People complained about the forms being too long, complicated, repetitive, and simply not enough to get them the desired appointment.

Here are a few examples (these have been paraphrased to preserve anonymity in a healthcare context):

I called my doctor to make an appointment as usual, but it’s no longer possible to book an appt over the phone. Now we are told to use the website, which requires photo ID. I spent two hours trying to register, failed, and had to use the online "consultation" option that still gave me no appointment.
— Anonymous commenter
I just spent 50 minutes trying to fill in a terrible online doctor’s consultation form, with fields asking for the same information from the previous fields over and over again.
— Anonymous commenter

2. Another major issue with consumers was that some medical offices don’t utilize autoplay telephone greetings with patients on hold. Consumers stated that automatically played recordings could provide useful information about the next steps, saving them time and effort. In one example, a patient described having to wait for an hour to get through to a person who told them to fill out an online consultation form, which could have been conveyed while they were on hold.

3. Consumers also complained about the overall system inefficiency such as “no public email address” and “the phone lines are always busy”, and the inconvenience they experienced when trying to simply share new health information with their primary care physician (PCP).

4. And another major issue that was reported in the UK specifically was the wait time to get an appointment for consumers seeking medical treatment. Earlier this year, England experienced a record-high waiting time. 

Here’s what consumers had to say:

I need a new repeat prescription for the medication I used to take a few years back, but was told by a receptionist at the doctor’s office that I’d have to wait for 2-3 weeks to get a telephone appointment with the doctor to sort this out.
— Anonymous commenter
I moved to a different city and found out that I now need a referral from my previous doctor, so I could get X-rays done in my new area. The doc’s office told me they’d get in touch in a couple of days, and it’s been over two weeks now. I can’t get a hold of anyone as their phone lines are always busy, and no one responds to my emails.
— Anonymous commenter

We also looked into the mentions with positive sentiment.

Free consultations were perceived favorably by consumers. They also praised virtual care when the services were provided in a timely manner, using phrases like “the doctor was very quick to send the referral”, and “the evaluation was sent back quickly.”

Another trend that was seen in positive conversations was the proliferation of doctor on-demand apps.

Digital health tools took off during the pandemic, and the global mHealth apps market is expected to reach approximately $111.1 billion by 2025. On-demand virtual consultations with healthcare professionals provide consumers with a peace of mind, especially, when they are not all comfortable expressing their requests or wants in person. 

Here’s how consumers phrased it:

Thanks to this digital health app for such an easy online consultation!
— Anonymous commenter
The ability to get help online is what finally helped me overcome my fears and reach out for help. I wrote a big message, describing in detail how I feel. I could never speak so openly about how I feel if I had to come in person.
— Anonymous commenter

Note: You may have noticed one of the bubbles in the topic cluster chart mentions “orgasms” with positive sentiment. The pandemic-induced stress has affected the global community in countless ways, and female sexual function is one of them. Some consumers took to niche forums to discuss the topic from a solution perspective and to share their positive experiences with certain medications with other community members. 

7. Consumers are using forums to make recommendations

Lastly, we saw consumers refer their medical providers to other users on forums. Besides the traditional review sites, niche forums are becoming popular among consumers looking for recommendations from others with similar experiences.  

The internet has made sharing medical information easier than ever before, and monitoring social media is key for pharma brands who want to keep a finger on the pulse of their consumers. 

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The Internet: Understanding the state of connectivity

Technology took center stage during the pandemic. We relied on the internet for work, connection to one another, fitness, and entertainment. 

Connectivity has evidently become a vital part of our lives. A June 2020 survey published by Statista revealed that 51% of consumers in the United States would find it a major problem in their household if they were to experience an interruption in their internet or cell phone service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How have consumers been discussing connectivity, and what insights can internet companies take forward? We used Brandwatch Consumer Research to explore popular themes in consumer discussions in the context of Wi-Fi and the internet.

Given the role the internet played in consumers’ lives, it’s not surprising that the ‘internet connection’ phrase dominated consumer discussions around online connectivity in the first half of 2021. 

This topic cloud which shows key phrases in conversations about the internet also highlighted several other themes in conversations such as ‘hate the internet’, ‘internet issues’, ‘internet providers’, and ‘customer service.’ Let’s dive deeper. 

Internet connection: Stability and availability

One of the major asks people shared in social conversations was that they wished to have a stable internet connection. 

According to another survey from Statista, the pandemic has impacted the speed of mobile and fixed broadband internet networks worldwide in different ways. For example, while for some territories like Lebanon and Taiwan, the speed of the fixed broadband internet increased by 54% and 42% respectively, while for countries like Kenya, Peru, and Moldova it declined by 21%, 20%, and 19% respectively.

In the United States, fixed and mobile internet speed increased by four and six percent respectively. And in the UK, while the mobile internet speed experienced no changes, fixed broadband internet speed decreased by two percent. 

The shift to remote work and learning highlighted the lack of access to high-speed broadband internet service in many parts of the world, revealed digital inequality, and put more pressure on companies to make the internet more widely available and accessible.

Studies suggest that consumers without reliable internet access are left behind academically and economically. Additionally, increasing access and usage of high-speed internet in rural areas can lead to increased job and population growth, lower unemployment rates, improved health and life outcomes, and many other benefits.

‘Hate the internet’

One rather surprising insight that came out of this research was the context behind the ‘hate the internet’ keyword. It turned out consumers were sharing how the internet was altering their perspective on life and their self-esteem. 

Customer support: What did consumers report as the main challenges?

‘Customer service’ was another big topic in consumers’ conversations around their internet experience. When problems and service interruptions emerged, consumers turned to customer support in hopes to solve their issues. Here are some of the top themes.

Bad manners cost business

A bad customer service experience can go a long way (in the wrong direction), costing the business not only the existing client but potentially many more if a disgruntled customer decides to speak out about their experience and warn others. 

Inefficiency and bureaucracy 

Frustrated consumers took to social media to complain about the inefficiency of customer support when dealing with administrative issues such as a billing error or an account cancellation. 

When the issue isn’t resolved, digitally-savvy consumers know that one of the fastest ways to get the resolution is by speaking about their issue publicly on social media.

These issues don’t just happen for customers of smaller scale providers, as we’ll see below.

Spotlight:What were consumers saying about their specific internet providers?

With consumers confined to their homes worldwide, internet services have been under huge pressure to continue performing without interruptions.

We looked at conversations around nine top internet providers globally to learn more. 

A quick glance at the topic cloud revealed several themes popular among consumers in the first half of this year, including ‘service’, ‘network’, ‘wireless’, and ‘home’.

We used another text mining technique – clustering – to better understand the context behind some of those conversations. 

As you can see, ‘service’ was frequently mentioned in negative conversations accompanied by such adjectives as ‘slow’, ‘horrible’, and ‘worst’. 

On the other hand, consumers favorably mentioned qualities like ‘fastest’, ‘high-speed’, ‘unlimited’, and ‘reliable’. 

Customer service, in general, was one of the most frequently mentioned requests among consumers, followed by the ability to call the company, and to have email support. 

Of course, individual companies will each have their own set of specific pain points and moments of delight. 

The social data suggested that T-Mobile had the highest share of positive sentiment in conversations between Jan 1 2021 - Jul 31 2021. T-Mobile and AT&T also had the highest share of negative sentiment with 33%, 30%, and 27% respectively, suggesting consumers are having mixed experiences.

Consumers care about what the provider company stands for

Previously, we’ve talked a lot about how consumers view brand purpose, and the role businesses play in society. Consumers care about the actions businesses take and are vocal when those actions are misaligned with the views of the general population. 

The companies that are slow to adapt or take no part in effective action should expect a backlash.

This puts a huge responsibility on businesses to communicate and act responsibly to keep consumers as customers – and that means identifying what topics and actions will make them switch. 

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