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COVID-19 Consumer Survey: Just How Bad Is It, Really?

by David Mercer | Apr 09, 2020

I tried to strike a note of cautious optimism in my recent blog, pointing out that while the near-term economic hit will be significant, some good may come of this, eventually.

We’ve now completed our first wave of consumer research since the pandemic took hold in the US and Europe. Not surprisingly, many people are gloomy and have seen a negative impact on their lives in recent weeks. Panic buying has meant that 41% of people in the UK and 27% in the US say they have not been able to buy household items that they needed. A third in the UK (and a fifth in the US) also say they have not been able to buy food items that they needed.

Behaviors are changing rapidly. More people are watching the news (54% US, 61% UK), and watching TV/streaming video generally (46% US, 45% UK). Mobile phone use is also soaring (39% doing this more in the US, 36% in the UK). Driving, not surprisingly, is way down, with 54% doing this less in the US and 48% in the UK, while fewer people are also picking up food from restaurants (45% US, 56% UK).

Brits seem more pessimistic than Americans at the moment: 48% say COVID-19 will get even worse, compared to 37% in the US, while most British people say it will be 4-12 months before things get back to normal, compared to 4 in 10 Americans who think it will happen within the next 3 months.

covid impact USPeople say the virus has had a significant impact on major purchases and life decisions. Travel has been hardest hit. In the US, a third of people have either postponed or cancelled altogether vacations or trips they were planning previously. In the UK it’s nearly 40%. Likewise around 1 in 5 people in the US and UK have postponed or cancelled purchases of cars, smartphones, furniture or appliances.

But what is perhaps more surprising is that some people are actually bringing decisions forward. 1 in 7 US consumers, and 1 in 10 in the UK, say they will purchase a car, smartphone or upgrade to 5G sooner than they had planned, or are going to do so when they had not planned to before.

The net impact on decisions over the longer term is therefore still unclear, since timing is everything. Clearly some purchases and plans are going to be delayed, but we don’t know for how long. At the same time, some activities will happen more quickly. The net impact appears to be most significant in travel, but there would appear to be a positive impact overall in online education and training in particular.

We will continue to track the impact of coronavirus over the coming weeks. Consumer sentiment will certainly evolve further as the situation unfolds. Our Consumer Insights team is working with clients to help improve their brand value propositions and relevance to customers during these extraordinary times.

David Mercer

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