In 1981, Faith Popcorn, dubbed the Nostradamus of Marketing by Fortune magazine, coined the term "cocooning", defining it as "the need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the world outside".
During the 1990s, celebrity home maker Martha Stewart referred to "nesting" as the next social megatrend. Both social megatrends were highlighted before the internet age, and in recent years in-home-entertainment has risen exponentially in terms of both the time and money consumers spend on it versus out-of-home (OOH) entertainment. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated this.
We've been told that home is now the safest place to be. It has become the epicentre of our work and social lives.
Home office, work-from-home, home schooling, home entertainment - have all become the new norm. With the pandemic affecting our lives and lifestyles for the greater part of this year, new habits have not only been formed but also have been invested in and become entrenched.
As this recent New York times article explains:
"With limited restaurant options, even fewer travel options and little reason to spend money on nice clothes for the office, those fortunate enough to have kept their jobs during the pandemic are using their disposable income to upgrade their pandemic headquarters."
While, in the past, shopping centres may have been the biggest competitor to OOH entertainment, home (and the couch) has become the new hangout - which has only been reinforced after months of global lockdown.
Reduced discretionary income impacts leisure spend
Leisure activities are financed with discretionary spending. Even before the pandemic, consumers had been prioritising in-home leisure spending over out-of-home leisure spending for some time.
Now, as consumers battle job losses and salary cuts, with no indication as to when earnings may resume to pre-pandemic levels, discretionary spending has become severely curtailed.
Citing data from the Reserve Bank, the Parliamentary Budget Office reported in October that real disposable income of South African households had contracted by almost 50% in the second quarter of 2020. Reduced consumer discretionary spend means that people are looking for cost-effective entertainment options. In-home streaming, Netflix and entertaining at home is cheaper than going to the movies or eating out.
Research in the USA has indicated that a bifurcation in household spend on out-of-home entertainment has been underway for some years.
This bifurcation refers to the fact that an increasingly larger share of ticketing and admission spending comes from the upper socio-economic demographic. This divide is likely to increase as low-wage earners have been disproportionally affected by job losses and job cuts during the pandemic.
The only households with discretionary spend tend to be in the higher socio-economic bracket. As such, leisure activities targeting this group may survive, whereas those with more cost-effective entry fees could struggle to remain open.
Safety concerns in public spaces impacts the leisure experience
Public spaces pose hazards in the transmission of the virus.
Confined closed spaces and mass public events have become places to avoid. How we use and move through public spaces has changed. Outdoor parks and attractions have become more popular as indoor sites have had to juggle sanitising the space without sanitising the experience. As the wearing of masks in public remains compulsory this too is seen as a hindrance to the enjoyment of one's leisure experience.
Acknowledging personal boundaries and personal space is now a safety measure, and interaction with strangers has become a public health hazard.
What was once a reason to go out is now a reason to stay in.
New home-habits have been formed
Out of home shutdowns have led to in-home explorations. Consumers have not only learnt new entertainment habits, but they have also invested in these habits both in terms of time and money. And, having done so, consumers want to maximise this investment.
Investing in gardens, home-entertainment systems, lockdown pets, home fitness equipment and new hobbies are all long-term investments that don't quickly revert to pre-lockdown behaviour.
There has been a resurgence in old fashioned hobbies and puzzles, board games and card games. With traditional leisure options such as cinemas, theatres and live stadium sports and concerts still closed or significantly curtailed, these activities and investments will result in behavioural changes that become "sticky".
With reduced discretionary spend, safety concerns about public places and new home-habits becoming embedded, leisure providers will need to work much harder to prise us out of our new home-based leisure habits.