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Consumer Behavior

How coronavirus is shaping consumer trends

Updated October 22, 2020.

As the United States navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, debate has focused on whether to enforce stay-at-home orders or re-open economies. The underlying assumption is that if businesses re-open, consumer behaviors will return to pre-coronavirus levels. Too often left out of this debate is whether consumers feel the same way. This data is critical: According to the Wall Street Journal®, two-thirds of the economy is based on consumer spending.  

So, taking a page from the baseball classic Field of Dreams, we are asking: If you re-open it, will they (consumers) come? To help you strategically navigate your organization through the pandemic, we’re keeping our pulse on the factors that affect consumer buying intention. Because intention is so closely tied to coronavirus cases and news, customer trends are revised regularly. We plan to bring you the latest statistics, so make sure to bookmark this page for frequent updates.

Oct. 22 Update

Consumer views of coronavirus

Shopping

  • It seems that while we are hunkered down at home more often, even a short ride in the car does us good. That’s evidenced by the popularity of curbside pickup. Early in the pandemic, online retailers struggled with their supply chain, and stores that relied more on brick and mortar stepped up to offer curbside pickup. The practice continues—Target recorded 700% growth in drive-up services last quarter. Industry analysts—and retailers themselves—speculate the practice will continue after the pandemic. (Source: New York Times, “Customers Still Like to Shop in Person, Even if They Get Only to the Curb,” Oct. 9, 2020)
  • Thanks to Amazon® Prime Day, upcoming holidays and high coronavirus rates keeping people at home, online sales in September surged 43% ahead of last year at this time. In addition, a new survey shows 50% of people have already started holiday shopping with many of them looking for unique gifts that express how much the giver cares. (Source: Adobe Analytics data, Oct. 19, 2020)

Leisure Activities

  • American’s comfort with resuming several leisure activities has increased, according to this week’s tracker. For example, 41% of U.S. adults say they would go out to eat, the highest percentage since the end of May. Also, 38% of Americans say they are comfortable visiting a shopping mall, the highest since the pandemic began. Comfort levels of all tracked leisure activities have been on the rise in the past few weeks. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 1,501-2,200 adults, Oct. 16-18, 2020)
  • As professional basketball and hockey look to their next season, they may find more fans willing to fill the stands. In a new poll, 50% of sports fans who attend several games a year say they would be “very” or “somewhat” comfortable attending an indoor sports event, if capacity was limited. In addition, 72% said they would feel more comfortable if everyone wore a mask. And good news for after the pandemic: 40% say they will go to sporting events and concerts more often when the virus subsides. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults, Oct. 14-16)

Winners and Losers

Informative ads vs. pandemic-specific ads: Since the start of the pandemic, certain marketing messages have become more appealing to consumers. For example, the share of consumers who say they would buy from a company that focused messaging on their products and services has risen 120% since late March. And they want those messages to primarily talk about how the products and services can provide comfort, happiness or well-being. On the flip side, consumers are less likely to respond to messages that express sentimentality, effects of the pandemic on the company or company values. (Source: Morning Consult Special Report, October 2020)

Previous posts

Consumer views of coronavirus

Leisure activities

We’ve been asked to keep our 6-foot distance from each other, but many consumers find the most comfort in simply staying home.

Dining and drinking

Entertainment

Travel

Healthcare

While we were unlikely to seek treatment in late April for non-COVID-19 ailments, that sentiment has since changed. A mid-July poll found that 65% of Americans are willing to visit their primary care physician for routine appointments and treatments, up 26% from April. The rate is lower for dentists—47% said they will keep their dental appointments. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, July 20, 2020)

Children’s Activities and Education

  • Good news for entertainment and education—kids are spending more time in front of the screen and more parents are OK with that. In a new poll, 77% of parents say their children have an appropriate amount of screen time, up 17 points from April. In addition, 72% of parents feel they know how much screen time is appropriate, up from 56% in April. The poll shows parents feel more confident in regulating screen time as the pandemic has children logging on for fun and distance learning. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 850 parents, Aug. 23-26)
  • According to a new study, the majority of parents say their children are spending more time in front of a computer screen or on a mobile device, primarily because these parents are allowing it to keep kids entertained and occupied. As 63% of parents say they’ve lowered their standards when it comes to limiting screen time, 3 in 10 also say they’ve purchased a new computer or device for their children because of the pandemic. (Source: NortonLifeLock™ in partnership with The Harris Poll®, study of 1,000 U.S. parents, Aug. 31, 2020)

Fall/Winter Holidays

  • If you’re planning Halloween COVID-style, you’re not alone. According to recent consumer research, 80% of people plan to find creative ways to celebrate the holiday, blending fun and safety into one “spooktacular” package. That’s up from 63% in July. (Source: National Confectioners Association consumer research, Sept. 2020)
  • As the holiday season approaches, consumers are split as to how they will celebrate. According to the latest poll, 53% say they will celebrate the holidays as usual, but 47% predict get-togethers will be canceled. As may be expected, 75% say they won’t travel for Thanksgiving, and 72% are not traveling for winter holidays. That likely means spending on food and drink—specifically alcohol—will be less than previous years. Nearly half of respondents said they would spend the same amount on gifts this year as last, but 39% said they will spend less. The most likely gift? A gift card, according to 49% of consumers. And due to safety concerns, the hustle and bustle of the season will be felt less in-store as about half of us plan to buy gifts online. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,212 Americans, Sept. 1-3, 2020)
  • Have you started your Halloween shopping? Shopping for the growing holiday has started earlier this year—4 in 10 Halloween consumers say they have or will start making purchases in September. While trick-or-treating and party plans are down, that doesn’t mean the holiday will go unnoticed. More people plan to decorate their home, carve a pumpkin and dress up their pets. (Source: National Retail Federation Annual 2020 Halloween Spending Survey, Sept. 15, 2020)
  • Black Friday and Cyber Monday are becoming a blur. In this case, that means you may not be able to tell the difference this year. That’s because 52% of us are opting out of the traditional Black Friday stand-in-line-waiting-for-the-doors-to-open-for-the-big-sale routine. A year that has been filled with social distancing will have more of us shopping from home—19% say they will start earlier due to shipment delays experienced since COVID began. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,212 Americans, Sept. 1-3, 2020)
  • While most people say they intend to skip Halloween celebrations this year, one generation is keeping pace with its 2019 plans. About 37% of Gen Zers say they plan to attend a Halloween party, down only four percentage points from 2019. (Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults, Sept. 23-25, 2020)

Spending on essentials

  • The latest spending data shows that Americans are cutting back at the grocery store. Less spending on food items is likely prompted by expiration of the additional unemployment checks and a sign that cuts in discretionary items may follow. The biggest losers in grocery categories—in-store and online—are soup, natural cheese and coffee, according to July 26 and August 16 data comparisons. (Source: Wall Street Journal, “With Stimulus Checks on Hold, Americans are Spending Less at the Grocery Store,” Aug. 27, 2020)
  • Until we are able to contain the virus, the future looks grim for those who are currently unemployed. The unemployed say they don’t believe they will be returning to the jobs, and 50% of those on unemployment insurance aren’t able to meet basic expenses. As unemployment eases somewhat, those who are working feel secure in their jobs, which has caused a noticeable divide in the workforce’s intent—those who feel financially confident and those who are pessimistic about their ability to keep up with expenses. (Source: Morning Consult monthly survey of 2,200 adults, Aug. 21-22)
  • The poll mentioned above goes along with a recent analysis of federal data from July that shows 11% of households reported not having enough to eat. That compares to 4% for the same time period in 2018. (Source: Wall Street Journal “How’s the Coronavirus Economy? Great or Awful, Depending on Whom You Ask”)
  • Rice. Beans. Flour. Yeast. Some grocery shelves have been devoid of products since the pandemic began. But the tide seems to be turning. Whether it’s because we are eating out more or saving more money, the grocery boom is waning—year-over-year retail food and beverage sales are up 11.5% in August, compared to 31.2% in March. This could mean that store sales and discounts will return as grocers woo us back. (Source: CNN®, “The great grocery boom is slowing down,” Sept. 14, 2020)
  • One essential that young adults are spending less on is housing. That’s because they are moving back in with Mom and Dad. Most young adults, 52% in fact, find themselves back home because they’ve lost their job or can’t find one after graduation. Coined “emerging adults,” these 18- to 29-year-olds also are suffering from depression or anxiety brought on by the pandemic. This is the first time since the Great Depression that a majority of young adults are living with one or both parents. (Source: Pew Research Center® analysis of monthly Census Bureau data, Sept. 4, 2020)

Shopping

  • After a free fall in March, retail sales rose in July for the third straight month. With a 1.2% increase in sales, retail sales are now ahead of pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, a GlobalData® report showed only 36% of consumers spent more or the same during the first week of August compared to one year ago. (Source: Wall Street Journal®, “Retail Spending in July Topped Pre-Pandemic Levels”)
  • It probably comes as no surprise that online shopping remains a popular COVID-19 trend. According to a recently released consumer study, online shopping is up 28% compared to before the pandemic. The study also sheds light on consumers’ opinions of promotions, particularly branded emails—39% of consumers say they have unsubscribed from a minimum of three brand emails in the last six months, with 55% citing “too many emails” as the reason. (Source: Selligent® survey of 5,000 shoppers, July 2020)

Winners and losers

  • Shopping malls vs. small stores: According to a Bloomberg poll, three-quarters of us will shop in person at small stores and groceries. And this looks to be a trend that likely will become part of the new norm—30% say they will shop small more often than they did before the pandemic. Our penchant for shopping malls seems to be a thing of the past. (Source: Following state rules vs. individual business safety)
  • Spending vs. saving: Shopping has taken a back seat to other needs during the pandemic. And Americans say they won’t be opening their pocketbook as often when the pandemic is over—77% say they will save more and spend more conservatively. (Source: Morning Consult late-June research, July 9, 2020)
  • High-end vs. budget-friendly: Buying premium items has waned since the pandemic began, and 66% of those who have made the switch anticipate continuing to buy more budget-friendly alternatives after the pandemic. Rates are even higher for boomers, rural residents and women. (Source: Morning Consult late-June research, July 9, 2020)
  • Ecommerce vs. in-store holiday shopping: It may not be surprising that most holiday shopping—like most shopping these days—will take place online. According to a study by tech firm Radial®, 60% of consumers expect to spend less time in stores this holiday. The good news—66% say they expect to spend more than they did in 2019. (Source: Radial survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, July 8, 2020)
  • Brand name vs. private label: Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they are buying more generic or private-label food items, and 16% say they plan to continue doing so after the pandemic. In addition, more than 25% of Americans say they are buying more bulk items. (Morning Consult/Bloomberg News survey of 2,200 Americans, July 16, 2020)
  • Back-to-school clothes vs. electronics: According to a new survey, 30% of parents plan to spend less this year on back-to-school supplies. And what they are buying this year, compared to 2019, reflects beliefs that students may be spending more time learning at home. The plan to spend back-to-school budgets on electronics is up 7 percentage points, whereas spending on clothes is down 8 percentage points. (Morning Consult survey of 540 parents, July 10-12, 2020)
  • Babies: Expecting vs. waiting: Although many had assumed that stay-at-home orders would result in more pregnancies, a study done in the spring revealed the opposite. Thirty-four percent of women said they planned to delay pregnancies or have fewer children because of the pandemic. That means 300,000 to 500,000 fewer children born in 2021, which can have long-lasting negative implications on the economy. (Source: Guttmacher Institute survey of 2,000 women, late April/early May, 2020)
  • Sustainability practices apparent vs. not apparent: Less driving and other practices that positively effect the environment have people thinking more about sustainability. When bio-tech firm Genomatica® noticed the change, it decided to conduct a study. The study found that most of us have sustainability on our minds, so much so that 56% of want the government and companies to make sustainability a priority. This will affect their choice of products and where they buy. (Source: Genomatica survey, July 29, 2020)
  • Social problem-solvers vs. non-problem solvers: Brands that have played a significant role in our lives, especially during stay-at-home orders, have gained trust with the public, according to a new poll. Seventy-five percent of us say we generally trust companies more than the government to keep America going, and 81% say large companies are more vital than ever. The winners in consumer trust: healthcare, grocery stores, consumer packaged goods, streaming services and pharmacies. The losers: social media companies, airlines and telecom companies. (Source: Harris Poll COVID19 Tracker Wave 20, July 30, 2020)
  • Pumpkin spice in August vs. September: If you’re in the business of selling pumpkin spice products—or any seasonal product—you may want to hold on your promotions a bit longer. While pumpkin spice debuted earlier than usual (in some locations Aug. 19), consumers say it’s too early. A majority of consumers say the sweet spot for spice is between late September into mid-November. The same hold true for upcoming holidays. The majority of consumers prefer to start shopping for Halloween merchandise in late September, Thanksgiving in late October and Christmas in mid-November. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, Aug. 9-12)
  • Urban areas vs. rural areas: Because coronavirus spreads easily in densely populated regions of the United States, many people are looking to move to the suburbs and small towns. Real estate agents are reporting that of the home buyers looking to move, 47% are searching in the suburbs, while 39% are looking in rural areas. Another one-quarter of home buyers are researching small towns. (Source: National Association of Realtors 2020 Market Recovery Survey, June 24-26)
  • Used cars vs. public transportation/new cars: Whether it’s because people want to avoid public transportation’s close quarters or because they want to save money during uncertain times, people are buying more used cars. Used car sales were up 22% in June, compared to a year ago, and used car values increased 16% in July alone. Sales are the highest they have been since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. (Source: The New York Times, “Looking to Buy a Used Car in the Pandemic? So Is Everyone Else)
  • Virtual experiences vs. live content: If the coronavirus forced you to take your experience virtual—whether that was an arts performance or a fitness class—one major generation was likely absent. Only 36% of Gen Zers said they’ve attended a virtual event since COVID-19 shut down live events. Likely reasons that Gen Z is tuning out: their virtual experience standards are high, they prefer not to watch a sales pitch, they want to engage with the event and the events aren’t offered on social platforms of choice, like TikTok®. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 1,000 Gen Zers ages 13-23, Aug. 21-23)

Think of consumer behavior like the Wizard of Oz, driving our economy behind the curtain. If you’d like help on positioning your business strategically through the pandemic and its aftereffects, we’d love to help. Let’s talk!

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