Skip to main content

Consumer Behavior

How coronavirus is shaping consumer trends

Updated December 17, 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.

Dec. 17 Update

Consumer views of coronavirus

The coronavirus has kept consumer sentiment essentially unchanged during December. As of Dec. 15, Morning Consult’s Index of Consumer Sentiment stood at 87.14. This weekly index is up less than a point from the previous week and down less than a percent from the beginning of the month. This likely means there won’t be a surge of holiday spending in the next week. Data also shows that middle-income Americans are having difficulty understanding what coronavirus developments will mean for their finances. It’s expected that consumer demand from middle-income households will hinge on another COVID-19 relief bill. (Source: Morning Consult weekly survey of 6,000 U.S. consumers, Dec. 16, 2020).

Moody’s Analytics® predicts without a stimulus package to ease the pandemic’s financial effects, the economy will shrink during the first two quarters of 2021. Moody’s predicts, for example, that the unemployment rate could reach 10% next summer, up from 6.9% in October. However, the longer-term picture is brighter than the 2008 financial crisis. Households are not straddled with as much debt, so they are likely to bounce back quicker. And the vaccine may get people spending again in the areas hit hardest—hospitality and entertainment. (Source: New York Times® “The Morning” briefing, Nov. 23, 2020)

When California became the latest state to announce a COVID-19 contact tracing app earlier this month, it brought the number of states with the technology to 22. And while 69% of people say they believe these apps would be at least somewhat, if not very, effective in mitigating the virus’s spread, many have concerns about privacy. In a recent poll, 14% of people said they were using their state’s app, while 47% of those who were not using the app cited privacy as a major reason for not engaging with contact tracing. Respondents say they would feel more comfortable if the government or healthcare operated the apps, rather than major tech companies. (Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, Dec. 1-4, 2020)

When asked to consider their mental and physical health, finances and relationships, 37% of adults say their lives have gotten worse during the pandemic. Of the 19% who said their lives have gotten better, three times more live in urban areas. Most of those who said life has gotten worse cited declining personal finances as a cause. (Morning Consult poll of 1,000 adults, Oct. 12-15, 2020)

As we watch the first coronavirus vaccines being administered, registered voters are voicing their opinions on whether the vaccine should be required. Most say no—only 21% say the vaccine should be mandatory while 44% say Americans should be encouraged to get it. However, 58% of voters support a requirement for those who get the vaccine to carry a card proving they were inoculated. (Morning Consult poll of 1,990 registered voters, Dec. 11-14, 2020).

Leisure Activities

As college basketball gets underway and sporting events move indoors, nearly half of sports fans say they would be willing to attend an indoor game even if audience capacity was not limited. That percentage goes up to 61% if capacity was capped at 25%. As of late November, one-third of colleges planned to open games to fans. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 558 people who attend sporting events regularly, Nov. 18-23, 2020)

Spending on Essentials

As stay-at-home orders went back into effect, more people took to the web for the essentials. The number of online grocery orders increased slightly in November compared to August, the last month for which results are available. November’s orders totaled $5.9 billion, up $200 million from August. Of those who placed online grocery orders, 83% expected to do so again in the next month. It’s expected online grocery sales will experience triple-digit growth due to the pandemic. (Source: Brick Meets Click and Mercatus USA survey data, published Dec. 10, 2020)

Shopping

Could there be a correlation between a promise of the vaccine for the masses and holiday spending? In a Morning Consult poll, 65% of people said the latest good news won’t change what they spend for the holidays. However, 16% of respondents said they may start saving more to fund post-vaccine travel or experiences. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults, Dec. 4-6, 2020).

Previous posts

Consumer views of coronavirus

  • A University of Michigan study shows that 45% of consumers say their lives have changed significantly due to the coronavirus. And for 60% of us, the pandemic’s health threat is our biggest concern, over finances and social isolation, each of which were cited by 20% of respondents. The university’s Survey of Consumers director says results point to consumers’ belief that the recession will not “end anytime soon.” (Source: University of Michigan Survey of Consumers, July 24, 2020)
  • In a study of global marketing executives, 57% said they expect their company will “return to business as usual” as it relates to meeting performance goals in 18-24 months. However, that optimism isn’t shared in all industries. Only 22% of travel and hospitality CMOs and 34% of consumer products brands CMOs expect to return to return to pre-virus levels within two years. (Source: Gartner® annual CMO survey of 432 global enterprise marketing executives, Mar. and May, 2020)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said August 24 that people who were exposed to the virus but show no symptoms don’t “necessarily need a test.” But, 62% of adults said that if exposed, they would get a COVID-19 test, even if they were asymptomatic. And 80% said they would get a test if they were exposed to the virus and had symptoms. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults, Aug. 26-28)
  • Across the nation, states are either cutting budgets or holding off on planned spending projects to stay afloat through the pandemic. According to Moody’s Analytics, state and local budget shortfalls will collectively hit $500 billion by summer 2022. And that’s if the pandemic doesn’t get worse. Economists fear these spending restrictions could prolong the pandemic’s economic effects for residents who depend upon state and local government services—if governments can’t help residents, they will pull back their own spending. (Source: The New York Times®, “With Washington Deadlocked on Aid, States Face Dire Fiscal Crisis”)
  • Whether you’re back in the office or still at home, helping employees feel safe is tricky business. According to a new Edelman® global survey, only 14% of employees have confidence that their CEO or senior leaders can make the right return-to-the-office decisions. Yet, respondents were nearly equally divided on whether safety measures, like masks, social distancing and work area dividers are effective. And if you’re looking forward to a vaccine solving the stay-at-home vs. in-office debate, that may not be a game changer—42% of Americans say either they won’t get the vaccine or are unsure if they will. (Source: Edelman survey of 3,400 global employees, week of Aug. 22)
  • According to a new survey, companies that say they felt prepared for implications brought on by the pandemic were most likely to experience increased revenue compared to 2019. Seventy-seven percent of businesses that said they were “very prepared” for disruption reported higher revenue, whereas 63% of those who were unprepared lost revenue. In addition, 65% of U.S. business leaders say the pandemic has “exposed new risks and vulnerabilities” that they will need to prepare for in the future. (Source: Aon COMPLETE!)
  • While consumer confidence has not regained its pre-pandemic traction, CEOs have been described as “incredibly confident.” The latest from the Conference Board shows CEO confidence has jumped 19 points from July, going above 50, reflecting more positive feelings than negative. The meaning behind this, though, is not good for employees, as CEOs expect to cut jobs, hold wages and reduce spending. (Source: The Conference Board CEO survey, Q3 2020).
  • A new white paper reconfirms that as the number of coronavirus cases rise, consumer spending will stagnate. In addition to fear over job losses and sustained unemployment, demand for some items—especially household items—was pulled ahead in 2020, therefore the need won’t be there in 2021. The study showed one-quarter of households making over $100,000 likely won’t purchase household items during a second lock-down. Other 2021 predictions: slow job creation and greater reliance on savings. (Source: Morning Consult whitepaper, “The Effect of the 2020 Election on the 2021 Economy,” October 2020)
  • As juggling work and childcare became significantly more difficult during the pandemic, a new in-depth study also shows that people with children are more likely to suffer economic loss. Of parents with children 18 years and younger, 19% were let go or furloughed, 6% higher than other adults. In addition, 34% of those parents have taken a pay cut or lost income, compared to 26% of other adults. (Source: Morning Consult and Moody’s Analytics® survey of 5,000 adults, mid-September, 2020)
  • Households making over $100,000 saw income losses accelerate during October, which reverses a 23-week trend. That’s just one of the economic indicators pointing to an expectation that we are likely facing several months of more job losses and higher unemployment. In addition, 41% of furloughed or unemployed workers said they don’t expect to return to their jobs, up 7 percentage points from September. (Morning Consult poll of 15,000 Americans, released Nov. 5, 2020)
  • U.S. adult’s concern over the coronavirus is back up this week with 57% saying they are “very concerned.” It’s worth noting that Gen Z’s concern has declined significantly since the beginning of October—from 59% to 42%. Other notable stats this week: support for states’ handling of the coronavirus has been steadily going down since April and dipped 10 points in the last week alone. In addition, 74% of voters say social distancing is worth the economic cost—this belief has been on the rise during November. (Source: Morning Consult weekly survey of 2,200 adults, Nov. 12-14, 2020)

Leisure activities

Dining and drinking

  • 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. (Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans)
  • While coronavirus cases have continued to climb, the percentage of Americans who feel comfortable dining out has remained steady since the beginning of October. The latest poll shows 40% would dine in a restaurant. The percent of people who feel comfortable engaging in other leisure activities, like going to a mall or taking a vacation, have fallen slightly this month. The most drastic change is among millennials, 32% of whom say they are not comfortable taking a vacation, down from nearly 40% two weeks ago. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, Nov. 16, 2020)

Entertainment

Travel

Healthcare

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

  • For many children, the annual trip to see Santa Claus makes them believe they have a greater chance of the perfect present landing under the tree. This year, like almost everything else in life, Santa is going digital. Typically, 38% of parents take their children to see Santa in person, the same percentage who expressed interest in a 2020 virtual experience, according to a new poll. With fewer parents planning an in-person Santa visit (27% still include it in their plans) and mall foot traffic down considerably, Santa performers and companies are hoping virtual options rise in popularity as we get closer to the holidays. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 1,111 parents, Oct. 1-4, 2020)
  • Holiday shoppers who have not yet bought a gift are more likely to hold off until late November, according to a recent survey. Forty-two percent of these people speculate they won’t start shopping until late this month. Part of the delay may be due to concern over the economy—58% say they are worried about finances during the holiday season, and 46% are worried about their job security leading up to the holidays. (Morning Consult poll of 2,199 adults, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2020)
  • The upcoming holidays will look a little different for most of the United States this year, according to a new survey. Nearly three-quarters of Americans expect that holiday celebrations will be smaller this year, survey results show. And, almost half of respondents say some celebrations are going virtual, while another half say celebrations will be canceled all together. Shrinking celebrations are also helping fuel shrinking holiday spend—45% of people say they are spending less on gifts this year. (Source: Morning Consult Special Report, “The State of the 2020 Holiday Shopper,” November 2020)
  • Just like the pandemic has been good for the home DIY industry, it looks to also be good for holiday décor sales. Although polls have shown that people are likely to spend less on gifts and forgo friend and family get-togethers, they plan to go all out in holiday decorating. Forty-one percent say they plan to buy new holiday decorations this year. This may be especially good for sellers of live trees—people will be home to care for them, and they have a strong desire to venture outdoors to get one. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults, Oct. 1-4, 2020)

Spending on essentials

  • 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

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Higher coronavirus positivity rates likely drove consumers to online shopping in the first 10 days of the holiday shopping season, which kicked off Nov. 1. In those 10 days, shoppers spent 21% more than during the same time in 2019. More than 60% of consumers say they are avoiding stores. Of that, 81% say they aren’t visiting stores due to health concerns brought on by several factors that include people not wearing masks, lack of social distancing and waiting in lines. (Adobe Analytics study, Nov. 11, 2020)
  • Meanwhile, retail sales grew only .3% in October, .2% less than economists had expected. Though the growth is positive the National Retail Federation suspects the increase may be in part caused by early holiday shopping. (Source: Forbes® “Retailers Grapple With New Coronavirus Surge As Sales Slow Ahead Of Holiday Season,” Nov. 17, 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)

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!

Get in Touch