Over a year and a half has passed since the World Health Organisation declared the swiftly spreading coronavirus pandemic on 11 March 2020. As vaccines now offer hope for an end to the viral carnage, we uncover the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on consumer sentiment in six Southeast Asian (SEA) countries, revealing effects on work, lifestyle, and spending power. Our survey also measured consumers’ points of view on the vaccine and the future direction of the pandemic.

Uncertainty — a common term for describing the future, but 2021 has given it a new meaning. Southeast Asian countries have been quick to institute measures aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. Regional healthcare systems are not typically robust enough to support a full-blown epidemic. In response, governments have instigated widescale lockdowns and strict measures with the aim of flattening the curve.

The general sentiment is that the current situation is dangerous, but this study reflects a positive momentum peeking through.


1. Concern that loved ones will catch the virus—Views on this risk varied by country, with 74% of survey respondents in Singapore expressing concern that their loved ones will catch the virus. For Thailand and Malaysia, those numbers were 78% and 79%, respectively. Indonesia had the lowest level of concern, at 69%.

2. Confidence in controlling the pandemic—Just 40% of Singapore respondents are confident that the COVID outbreak will be resolved in their country within 1-2 years. For Malaysia, it was only 33%, while Indonesia came in at 30%. In contrast, 60% of the people in Vietnam think the outbreak will be resolved within 6 months.

3. Confidence in vaccines—Vaccine adherence also varies by country, though in some cases, the issue is the availability of vaccines and access to care. In Malaysia, 52% of survey respondents are ‘very willing’ to take the vaccine. For Vietnam, it was 43%. On the contrary, only 19% in Indonesia indicated they were ‘very willing’ to take the vaccine.

Impact on the Economy

We can all agree that the COVID-19 outbreak has universally challenged many sectors, setting off a global economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Nearly every facet of society and the economy is facing significant shifts in consumer and user behaviour. Our survey explored the consumer journey while analysing the impact of the pandemic and other trends affecting consumers’ hearts, wallets, and minds.

Overall, the study found that consumer sentiment remains moderate despite economic headwinds, with high-income households and younger consumers exhibiting a more positive outlook.

Highlights included:

- Household income situation across countries described as ‘average’ across countries.
- Overall spending is likely to remain the same in 6 months as they do now.

There have been major ramifications on certain economic sectors:

- Non-essential segments of apparel, beauty products and services, and durable goods such as furniture have seen spending declines, indicating more cautious spending during this time. In Singapore, for example, 51% of the respondents said they would rather not spend on non-essentials. For Malaysia, it was 45%. These declines are a likely result of consumers deferring purchases, and lack of access to physical stores due to lockdowns, both of which are critical to the buying process for these categories.

- Big-ticket items are suffering as well, with 43% of consumers in the Philippines saying they would ‘definitely not’ buy a big-ticket item, while 40% in Vietnam and 46% in Indonesia also think the same.

The Silent Pandemic

The devastation of the pandemic — millions of deaths, economic strife, and unprecedented curbs on social interaction — has already had a marked effect on people’s mental health. In Singapore, for example, 50% of respondents ranked mental health as the biggest challenge during the pandemic.


Our survey also explored the emotional responses to the crisis. In Malaysia, one in five respondents expressed that they were sad, worried, bored, stressed, or tired. Other countries in the study showed similar results.

These are just a few takeaways from a study that reveals a great deal of change going on in SEA countries due to the pandemic. To see the full set of findings, visit the following links:

Singapore - https://canvas.mili.eu/sg/covid19
Thailand - https://canvas.mili.eu/th/covid19
Indonesia - https://canvas.mili.eu/id/covid19
Malaysia - https://canvas.mili.eu/my/covid19
Philippines - https://canvas.mili.eu/ph/covid19
Vietnam - https://canvas.mili.eu/vn/covid19

Methodology

This survey was conducted via Milieu’s proprietary survey community in Singapore (N=2034), Thailand (N=2098), Indonesia (N=2050), Malaysia (N=1990), Vietnam (N=2041) and The Philippines (N=1999). The data is representative of the online adult population aged 16 and above, and the margin of error is +/- 2% at 95% confidence level. Data was collected in July 2021.