Exploring How the Pandemic is Pushing us to Cope with the Uncertainty of our Future


National Retail Federation | January 12, 2021


Andrea Bell, WGSN director of insight, presented “Consumer Behavior: Making Sense of the Aftermath of Uncertainty” as part of NRF 2021: Retail's Big Show – Chapter 1. Discussion of time perception and numbness and what it means for consumers.


Time perception is the idea that pandemic-induced uncertainty has altered our grasp of time, changing memories and giving rise to a renewed focus on an idealized past. In 2020, “days seemed to drag on, while months seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.”


There’s been a collective focus on how to pass time and how to make the most of it. Nostalgia has served as an anchor, and consumers have returned to products and experiences that feel comfortable and familiar.


Conversely, the consumer sentiment of numbness highlights how emotional turmoil throughout the past year has given rise to unique coping mechanisms as people look for ways to feel and heal. The year has led to a spectrum of “intense emotional clutter,” she said, “from fear to outrage, joy, grief.” Numbness is the psychological response. So, too, is compassion fatigue, when so much has been given that there’s simply nothing left.


Bell, however, was careful to note that it’s not all doom and gloom. By 2023, she said, new coping mechanisms will be in place. Structured caring is one example — “learning to step back and objectively examine every piece of information and determine the appropriate response.” Focusing our caring efforts drives down emotional fatigue and improves results.


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