Tech: App consumption fuelled by politics and disease

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on March 23, 2020 - March 29, 2020.

Srinivas: Contrary to popular belief, consumption has shifted to social and news apps rather than entertainment. This indicates that people are worried and they are not just sitting back and relaxing to watch a movie. Photo by Haris Hassan/The Edge

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AS Covid-19 continues to spread around the world, data reveals that more and more people are turning to news as opposed to other forms of content.

“Despite discussion on social media on the rise of gaming and movie-watching in the current environment as more people stay in, data shows that the mindset of consumers has shifted towards news at this point in time,” says ADA chief executive Srinivas Gattamneni. A subsidiary of regional telecommunications company Axiata Group Bhd, ADA is a data and artificial intelligence firm that designs business and marketing solutions.

“Contrary to popular belief, consumption has shifted to social and news apps rather than entertainment. This indicates that people are worried and they are not just sitting back and relaxing to watch a movie,” says Srinivas, adding that this also reveals that consumers are searching for facts and updated information on the current situation.

The results are based on data analytics of app usage on 37 million unique devices across Malaysia from January to mid-March this year.

Data analytics by ADA shows that Malaysians are shifting their focus to information-related apps as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rises.

There is a noticeably sharp increase in the use of news apps, as shown in Chart 1, which also indicates a rise in the usage of apps in the finance, social and communications segments.

Analysing the data, Srinivas says news consumption rose sharply, kicked off by the political turmoil in the country around the end of February.

“Then political fatigue set in and the Covid-19 outbreak took over. Overall news consumption spiked during this time,” he remarks.

“As for finance consumption, we saw two separate spikes — immediately after the political turmoil there was a 10% spike in the consumption of finance apps. The other big spike was after Covid-19 cases started picking up here in Malaysia — around March 6 to 10.”

The finance apps were of the currency exchange and KLSE (Bursa) screener.

Srinivas says he observed two different patterns of consumer consumption across two weeks with regard to Covid-19. “There was an early scare from late January to early February, and a much bigger scare at the end of February. We saw different consumer behaviours during the two periods. In between these two separate time frames, people were moving about and consuming normally.”

The first scare from late January to early February created a dystopia when it came to consumer behaviour but it was the second scare at end-February and the beginning of March when the real consumer behaviour started to shift and became stickier, he adds.

ADA’s data also indicates a sharp decrease in the usage of travel apps upon the confirmation of a local case involving a corporate personality.

“There was a short-lived spike in travel apps when AirAsia announced its RM499 unlimited deals in early March. Understandably, travel app consumption continues to be low,” Srinivas observes.

Interestingly, ADA’s data shows that as confirmed Covid-19 cases were increasing, mall visitation in Malaysia did not slow down.

“As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases was rising steadily, retail mall footfall started showing a slight upward trend. This could also be due to panic buying. With the Movement Control Order now in force, footfall is expected to drop sharply,” says Srinivas.

Offices were seen starting to practise social distancing by making provisions for employees to work from home from late February, according to ADA’s analysis. Its data shows that footfall has dropped by at least 30% in the past two weeks at a few office buildings.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia started picking up at end-February and the beginning of March following local clusters. There was a spike in March following a local tabligh gathering cluster. As at March 18, there were 790 cases in Malaysia — the highest number in Southeast Asia.

‘Up your online game’

Given the current consumer behaviour, how should brands respond? Srinivas reminds companies that it all boils down to reliability and trust. “During this time, how do you stay at the top of consumers’ minds so when consumer confidence bounces back, they think of your brand? Companies need to be reliable and trustworthy … be socially conscious.

“Secondly, as we spend more time working from home and being more remote, brands need to think about how they can adopt more digital efforts for their consumers and products. Now is a watershed moment for Malaysia with the Movement Control Order ... Malaysians will be looking for better online journeys for their products and services. Companies need to up their online game.”
 

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