Skip to main content

Consumer Behavior

How coronavirus is shaping consumer trends

Updated February 16, 2021

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.

Feb. 18 Update

Consumer views of coronavirus

A Morning Consult Index of Consumer Sentiment analysis shows that opinions of the U.S. economy depend upon where you live. A drill-down into the data shows a growing divide based on geography. Measures of month-to-month standard deviations show consumer sentiment in the West has steadily risen since August 1, 2020, whereas the Northeast’s sentiment has nosedived since Dec. 1, 2020. The takeaway: business sales and marketing strategies need to take a regional approach to be successful. (Source: Morning Consult Economic Intelligence, published Feb. 3, 2021)

Since actual consumer spending data is not immediately available, Morning Consult has been using Current Buying Conditions (CBC) Index to track spending. This index finds that actual high-income spending has a strong correlation with overall consumer spending and retail sales. January’s CBC index ticked up slightly, showing that consumer spending and retail sales are at a turning point after two consecutive months of decline. (Morning Consult Economic Intelligence, published Feb. 4, 2021)

As we head toward the one-year mark since the first coronavirus stay-at-home orders were put in place, Americans’ perception of risk from the pandemic is the lowest since October 2020. About 66% of people consider returning to a pre-COVID “normal” as moderately or very risky. About one-quarter of us are already gathering with family or friends. (Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, published Feb. 9, 2021)

Winners and Losers

Pizza vs. buffets (and more): While many restaurants were hit hard by the pandemic, many of those that served up pie—the kind with veggies, meats and cheese—came out winners. Whether chosen as a comfort food or an inexpensive way to feed a family, pizza became a take-out and delivery go-to in 2020. Pizza sales grew 4%, and the combined growth of Domino’s and Papa John’s® was the equivalent of the pizza chains selling 30 million more large cheese pizzas. Meanwhile, buffets, soup and salad spots, and French bistros were all hit the hardest. (Source: Technomic® food industry research company, reported in the New York Times®, “Pizza Was the Restaurant Hero of 2020,” Feb. 12, 2021)

Previous posts

Consumer views of coronavirus

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • When California became the latest state to announce a COVID-19 contact tracing app in early December, 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).
  • For the past two months, the percentage of people who worry about the coronavirus’ effect on the local economy remains slightly above 80%. The percentage has hovered within 5 percentage points of 80% since April. Slightly more people are concerned for the U.S. economy—85% fear repercussions for our nation. (Source: Morning Consult survey of 2,200 U.S. adults, Jan. 8-10, 2021)
  • Now that stimulus checks have landed in bank accounts, many are asking how Americans will spend the extra cash. Of high-income earners, 60% plan to keep the money in savings. Lower- and middle-income earners—those who make less than $100,000 a year—plan to pay rent, buy food or pay back debt. Less than 10% of any income group say they will spend it on discretionary items. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults, Dec. 18-20, 2020)
  • As vaccines become available for older Americans, 61% of survey respondents say they would get the vaccine. That up from a low of about 50% in late November. At the same time, 37% of adults say the coronavirus presents a severe health risk in their community, down 5 percentage points from mid-January. (Source: Morning Consult survey of 2,200 adults, published Feb. 2, 2021)

Leisure activities

It may come as no surprise that confinement during the past several months has been a boon to the video-game industry. Video game spending was up 22% in 2020 over 2019. In fact, video games dominate the Gen Z’s social culture much like music defined the social cultures of millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. Instead of going to music performances, Gen Zers are meeting up online to play games and socialize. Games also are being used to engage youth in politics as well as to hold virtual events, like graduations, parties and protests. (Sources: The Washington Post® “The biggest questions facing the gaming world in 2021,” Dec. 30, 2020, and The Guardian “Video games have replaced music as the most important aspect of youth culture,” Jan. 11, 2021)

The news is getting better for the hospitality industry—Americans’ comfort level with dining out and traveling is at a record high since the pandemic. Forty-four percent of adults say they are comfortable dining out, the highest level since the pandemic began. At the same time, 33% of us are ordering takeout at least weekly. More Americans are saying they feel comfortable going on vacation. Thirty-seven percent—another record high since March 2020—say they would take vacation. Vacationers prefer cars over planes and major hotel chains over boutique or home-sharing options. (Source: Morning Consult survey of 2,200 adults, Jan. 28-31, 2021)

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)


It turns out that those who are traveling are not going far—anywhere from—backyards to local road trips. Just more than a quarter of people have taken a “staycation” during the pandemic. About 40% say they feel more comfortable traveling within their state, a trend being noticed by Airbnb® and TripAdvisor®. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, Aug. 9-11, 2020)


  • While more Americans are visiting their healthcare providers at higher rates than when the pandemic started, healthcare experts believe that we are headed to a permanent shift in how care is delivered—toward telehealth. In a new poll, 68% of people said they were willing to see their primary care physicians for non-COVID related visits, up from 39% in July. But 19% say they are delaying doctor visits due to the pandemic, and comfort levels are not as high for other providers, including dentists, optometrists and mental health providers. (Source: Morning Consult poll of 2,200 adults, Oct. 23-25, 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)

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”)
  • 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)


  • 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)

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)
  • Working out at home vs. at a gym: Maybe it’s due to New Year’s resolutions—more people are committed to working out in 2021. Forty-two percent of people say the will work out more this year. But even those who pay for gym memberships are planning to get their cardio at home—52% of all adults, and 37% of those with gym memberships plan to work out at home. Online workouts, either through local gyms or other channels, are expected to continue this year. (Morning Consult poll of 2,200 Americans, Dec. 17-20, 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