Mar 13, 2020

The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Behavior

To help support our clients during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Numerator will provide ongoing analysis into consumer behavior and sentiment by conducting a weekly survey of verified buyers.
Access the latest version of these insights here. We will continue to keep all prior iterations of these survey insights available on our blog. 



In addition to its impact on individuals and communities, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has notably impacted retailers and manufacturers around the globe and here in the United States. Retailers are struggling to keep products on the shelves, and sales data confirms for us that across the country, many categories are seeing elevated sales numbers. Our clients have been looking for more answers, so we’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions and attempted to answer as holistically as possible. Here’s what we’re seeing.

We analyzed purchase behavior captured from Numerator Insights data mid-February through Sunday, March 8, with particular attention on late February and March. We supplemented this with a survey of shoppers who had made purchases of household, grocery, and health-related products between March 1 and March 9. 

Given the fluid nature of the situation, we’ll continue to update and iterate as we see more, especially in light of the March 11 announcements regarding travel restrictions and event cancelations, which we anticipate will impact consumer sentiment and behavior beyond what we’re already seeing. 

Have consumers changed their purchase behavior in response to Coronavirus?

According to our survey, 1 in 3 consumers indicate news of Coronavirus has already impacted their shopping behavior. The impact is felt in several ways including: stocking up on products they wouldn’t otherwise stock up on, experiencing product shortages, purchasing products they wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, shopping online when they would usually shop in store, and shopping in new stores.

These metrics varied between shoppers who made in-store purchases versus those who made online purchases in the past week. Of note, online shoppers are feeling the impact of shortages slightly more than in store shoppers. 


Are consumers avoiding brick-and-mortar and shifting their purchases online?

Among those who claim their shopping behavior was impacted, 1 in 4 consumers with confirmed in-store purchases between March 1 and March 9 indicated they were replacing in-store shopping trips with online.

For those who had made an online purchase, 22% said the reason for that purchase was influenced by the news of Coronavirus. This was slightly higher than the 19% of in-store buyers who said their trip was influenced by news of Coronavirus.

What is the general sentiment from consumers regarding Coronavirus? 

3 in 4 Americans indicated some level of concern regarding the Coronavirus, with 1 in 5 very concerned. 1 in 4 identified as unconcerned.  

The most commonly held concerns were becoming infected (64%), not being able to go about normal routines (58%), stores selling out of needed products (37%), and having to cancel/postpone upcoming travel/vacation plans (35%). 


Which categories are seeing the largest jump?

Retailers are announcing elevated sales and stock-outages for a variety of product categories. This is creating irregularity in reporting, as out-of-stock items are now absent from growth trends. The categories seeing the largest lift in trips for the week ending March 1 versus the week prior are cleaning wipes, instant action air freshener, and hand soaps & sanitizers. These items are being purchased on roughly 1.5x as many trips as they were the week before. They are also being purchased at a higher rate per trip-- both units and dollars per trip in each of these categories is up, indicating stock-up behavior. 

The Look Ahead

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we can look to this first wave of behavioral shifts to inform what else we are likely to see. We expect to see a continued reliance on online purchasing in response to store stocking challenges and virus exposure concern. Early indications are that brick-and-mortar outlets are shifting from the impact of stock-up trips to the impact of social distancing.

We will continue to provide insights and updates into what we are seeing at a market level. Please work with your Numerator Customer Success and Consultants for brand, category or retailer level detail, or get in touch for more information on our data.