The COVID-19 pandemic has forced consumers to abruptly adapt to new circumstances and adopt new ways of living their daily lives – from feeding their families, to staying connected to friends and family, to feeling productive and satisfied at work. As dramatic and sudden as these shifts have been, some of these new consumer behaviors will stick – and some will not. Companies that can anticipate how these changing preferences and behaviors will play out after the current crisis ends will be better positioned for spotting and seizing innovation opportunities.

Jobs theory is a helpful tool to predict consumer preference and behavior. The theory states that people do not buy products and services; instead, they “hire” them to get jobs done in their lives. A “job to be done” is the problem a particular consumer is trying to solve in a particular circumstance. There are three primary types of jobs: functional (“feed my family”), social (“fit in to my peer group”), and emotional (“feel connected to my loved ones”). People “hire” a solution to their “job” based on how well that solution meets their definition of quality. They “fire” it when it fails to adequately address their problem or as their definition of quality evolves.

Central to jobs theory is that while the job itself does not change, customers will adopt new solutions as their definition of quality evolves and innovators introduce new solutions that target important, previously unsatisfied jobs to be done. Consider an extended family that for years solves the job of “travel with my family” by booking three hotel rooms. One year, a cousin books an Airbnb. The family enjoys the trip because they now have the ability to spend time together in a private common area. When evaluating future bookings, the rest of the family that was (pleasantly) forced into “hiring” a new solution begins to place increased importance on the degree to which an option allows them to comfortably relax with their family at all hours of the day and night.

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Similarly, COVID-19 has forced consumers to adopt new solutions and new definitions of quality. As noted in our article, two jobs-related questions can help executives think through how to position themselves to emerge from this crisis stronger than before:

  • Where will temporary changes lead customers to discover new solutions that get the job
    done better?
  • Where will new habits lead to lasting changes in how customers define quality?

These questions can help to highlight both threats of consumers switching away from a company’s offerings and opportunities for innovations to address important, unsatisfied jobs to be done. Let’s examine a few jobs where the solution set has been affected by COVID-19.



What has changed? The desire to minimize exposure to public spaces has led to an uptick in online grocery purchasing. According to Gallup, 11% of consumers purchased groceries online at least once per month in the summer of 2019. Today, 51% of shoppers reported placing online orders in the four weeks ending April 7. Of those, 33% used online grocery services for the first time.1 The companies filling these orders have more demand than they can service, and consumers are left jockeying for limited delivery slots.

What is the lasting effect? Many of these first-time online shoppers have had positive experiences with a solution they were previously unwilling to consider. As a result, for many of these shoppers, convenience may well figure more prominently in their decision of where and how to grocery shop.

Where is the opportunity? Today’s online grocery shopping experience is closer to a digital version of the physical store than to a digitally native encounter. While there is a crowded landscape of consumer-facing companies filling grocery orders – Instacart, Ocado, and AmazonFresh among them – there is still ample opportunity to expand into other parts of the online grocery ecosystem. SaaS companies could develop offerings that harness consumer data to tailor product recommendations, thus increasing the average spend. Grocers could recover margin by servicing online orders out of Amazon-style distribution centers rather than neighborhood stores with high rent, beautiful displays, and checkout lines.



What has changed? Stay-at-home orders have dramatically increased the use of video communication amongst new consumers (e.g., the elderly) and in new circumstances (e.g., game nights). Zoom alone was downloaded by almost 27M people in March, up from 2.1M people in January.2 All these video chats have created new digital connection points between dispersed coworkers, family, and friends.

What is the lasting effect? While policy reactions to the coronavirus undoubtedly increase physical distance between people, video tools have the potential to effectively decrease social distance. Even after it is possible to spend time together in physical spaces, many consumers may continue the practice of incorporating previously inaccessible remote attendees into their gatherings. These consumers are likely to pay more attention to criteria such as: “can I seamlessly, meaningfully, and simultaneously share this experience with a remote participant?”

Where is the opportunity? Organizations that facilitate the interface between physical and virtual participants will likely see new opportunities for growth. Restaurants might make it possible for an immobile grandparent to join family dinner by adding video screens to their tables or by simultaneously delivering identical meals to multiple homes. An entertainment company could sell virtual tickets to concerts, creating a new way for far-flung friends to enjoy an identical experience. Hotel chains might add digital frames to their rooms,  allowing loyalty members to feel surrounded by their loved ones while on the road.



What has changed? Statewide lockdowns have driven non-essential workers from their corporate offices to their home offices. Companies have been forced to invest in telework capabilities in order to continue doing business. Employees have created both the space and the routine to maximize their productivity from home.

What is the lasting effect? Employees are discovering that they don’t have to be physically present in order to contribute and be productive. They have found new uses for their commuting time and are challenging the need to travel for work. For many, working from home has gone from a distant possibility to a distinct preference, and these employees may seek ways to work from home more often. Because the need to get to work drives many major and minor decisions – where to buy a house, how many cars a family needs, where to eat lunch – industries ranging from real estate to restaurants will likely see a lasting effect from this crisis.

Where is the opportunity? Fundamental shifts in work-related travel will likely create tremendous growth opportunities for the businesses that successfully predict how work-from-home employees think through these questions. An accounting firm might sell a consulting service to help customers set up home offices that maximize their tax benefit. An office supply store could sell a “workplace amenity subscription,” delivering
printer paper, snacks, and coffee beans to employees’ homes.



Many of the new offerings resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will take advantage of brand new circumstances – for example, remote participants sharing a meal – or jobs whose prevalence has surged – for example, make working from home comfortable. Opportunities abound to design new products and services that better meet these emerging or increasingly relevant dimensions of quality. There are three places to look
to identify sources of growth.

First, where have your customers already started hiring a new solution to address their jobs? What about that solution do they actively like and therefore are likely to seek in the future? For example, many chain restaurants (for example, Panera, Subway, Shake Shack) have started selling
grocery items in addition to their normal menu items. Consumers may find they actively like the ability to consolidate errands and may continue purchasing more than their meal from these restaurants. One tool that can help here is a “journey map.” This map shows the steps the consumer follows to get a job done and pinpoints the pleasure and pain points they experience as they explore, shop for, pay for, transport, use, and dispose of your offerings. Ensure that future offerings incorporate the favorable and eliminate the frustration of today’s products and services.

Second, where are your offerings being used by new customers? What is it about your offering that is solving their job and could be separated out and/or expanded upon into a new product or service? For example, consumers have flocked to exercise apps, videos, and home equipment to keep themselves active through the crisis. They may find that these offerings do an adequate job replicating the gym experience at a fraction of the price and continue using these services even after gyms reopen. To identify these types of opportunities, start by identifying customer groupings with surprising growth. Then, determine where your new customers are well served or even overserved by your offerings, and create a set of products or services that best meet their definitions of quality.

Third, where do you see consumers using offerings in unexpected ways? When customers lack or are not satisfied with existing solutions to a job, they will often create workarounds by adopting new products and using them differently than their intended use. One example of how “compensating behavior” drives product adoption is the proliferation of virtual babysitting services. While a webcam is clearly not an optimal tool for monitoring active children, the adoption of this solution highlights a clear need to keep children safe and entertained while their parents are otherwise occupied. To identify these sources for growth, look for the anomalies where your offerings are purchased in unexpected volume, replaced at an unusual frequency, or used at surprising times of the day.

Connecting each of these opportunities is a deeper, more intimate understanding of current and prospective consumers. That level of understanding is important in normal times; it is imperative in times of uncertainty. Companies need to ensure they have both the quantitative and qualitative data to spot signs of shifts early, to sense otherwise hidden threats of being “fired,” and to surface the resulting opportunities to

Consumers are always on the hunt for improved solutions to their jobs to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic is shifting how consumers define quality, and much of which is likely to persist past the crisis. Understanding these changes can help companies determine what consumer new behaviors are likely to be permanent and which might revert to their pre-COVID patterns. Businesses that can quickly identify and design for
these behavior shifts will emerge from the crisis positioned for growth.



  1. Digital Commerce
  2. PrioriData


About the Authors


Leslie Rikleen is a Senior Associate at the growth strategy consulting firm




Scott D. Anthony is a Senior Partner of the growth strategy consulting firm