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Consumer Behavior

How coronavirus is shaping consumer trends

Updated August 13, 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.

Consumer views of coronavirus

A graph from Experion™ shows how the daily consumer sentiment in the United States rose above zero in late April and continued to climb into mid-June when it began to decline.

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. The Morning Consult® tracks consumer purchase decisions based on their comfort level. Among this week’s findings:

Dining and drinking

  • The leisure activity with the highest comfort level—eating out—peaked at 41% of consumer intent the week of June 9 and has since declined to 36%. Twenty percent of people believe they will eat out within the next three months.
  • And, cooking at home, rather than eating out, seems here to stay. Almost one-third of Americans say they plan to cook at home more often, even after all restrictions are lifted. (Bloomberg News and Morning Consult survey of 2,200 Americans, July 7, 2020)

A recent Bloomberg survey gives us more of the story:

  • The news that bar-goers are contributing to higher rates of infection has more people drinking at home, a trend that is likely to stay. More than half of people say their desire to drink at a bar has declined considerably.

Entertainment

Also from Bloomberg:

  • Large-scale events like theater performances, concerts and sporting events may not bounce back as quickly as some may hope. More than half of people who responded to the survey said they weren’t looking forward to any of these activities.

Travel

  • The desire to travel has remained flat. Around 18% of people say they will go on a vacation in the next month. Those who do will likely avoid overseas travel—44% say a trip abroad won’t happen before the end of the year.
  • Since July 4, Americans’ interest in travel has sped forward. Searches for travel during that holiday weekend alone skyrocketed 352% compared to mid-June. The most preferred travel plans are road trips (which increased 22% since June) and boating (more millennials and women are renting boats). (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, July 20, 2020)

The Experian retail graph bears this out, showing the greatest decline in spending on entertainment (24% decline) and dining out (33% decline).

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)

Spending on essentials

Shopping

While buying online slowed during July, compared to June, sales were up 55% year over year. It’s expected that online sales will reach 2019 levels by early October. Back-to-school shopping has slowed since spring when students returned home to study. But apparel and shoes have seen an uptick, with sales 3.6% higher in July, compared to last year. (Source: Adobe Analytics data, Aug. 11, 2020)

Winners and losers

  • Shopping malls vs. small stores: According to the 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)
  • Safety protocols in place vs. not apparent: When consumers venture out, 25% of consumers place a greater importance on individual business safety. This means that the use of masks and barriers, as well as rigorous cleaning, will go a long way toward keeping customers now and in the long term. (Source: McKinsey & Company, survey of U.S. consumer sentiment, June 26, 2020)
  • 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)

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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