Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Consumer Behavior in 2020

*Note: This article utilizes survey data from 2020 and is available for historical reference only. Please explore our more recent work for the latest on consumer sentiment & COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life for individuals across the globe, from how we work to how we socialize and even how we shop. How has consumer behavior changed in light of COVID-19, what trends in consumer behavior and sentiment have we seen develop in the past 10 months, and what are consumers expecting as we move closer to a post-pandemic lifestyle?

Since early March 2020, Numerator has been fielding ongoing surveys to consumers to track their COVID-related behaviors and sentiments, using our consumer insights panel. We’ve combined the past ten months of insights into one comprehensive look at how consumer behavior has been impacted by COVID-19, what’s changed from month-to-month, and what consumers anticipate moving forward.

COVID-19 Consistently Impacts Shopping Behavior of 9 in 10 Consumers

Impact on shopping behavior ramped up alongside the pandemic itself in early March. When Numerator began fielding our survey the week of March 10, only 1 in 3 consumers claimed their shopping behavior had been impacted by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. The following week, an additional 1 in 4 claimed impact, followed by another 1 in 3 the week after that. By the first week of April, more than 9 in 10 consumers shared their weekly shopping behaviors and experiences were being impacted by COVID-19.

Despite fluctuations in the pandemic and ongoing lockdown – reopening cycles, the overall level of consumer impact has remained high, dipping below 80% only twice, in the months of September and October.

Specific Impacts on Consumer Behavior Have Shifted Throughout the Pandemic

At the onset of the pandemic, product shortages were the most prevalent issue shoppers were facing, with 79% experiencing shortages of some kind the week of March 24. While impact has significantly declined— aided by supply chain improvements, adjusting to new levels of demand, and less panic buying— consumers are still facing these outages, with 42% experiencing in recent months. Stock-up behaviors have generally remained in the 30% range since March, with many consumers choosing to keep extra goods on-hand after the shortages experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.

While store closures in March and April led some consumers to shop at new retailers or hold off on non-essential purchases or services, much of that impact decreased as regions reopened and adjusted to new operating norms. One behavior that has not declined— and has in fact increased throughout the pandemic— is consumers’ likelihood to replace in-store shopping trips with online orders. 30-50% of consumers have noted this behavior since March, with the highest numbers occurring in July.

The following chart is interactive: Click through to view individual behaviors across weeks, or to view weekly summaries of all behaviors.

The COVID-19 Online Shift is Significant and Sustained

According to Numerator Insights data, roughly 87% of shoppers placed online orders for delivery between March 2020 and December 2020, and 51% placed online orders for in-store or curbside pickup. These services attracted the most first time shoppers in the spring, but have continued to attract first-time and first-time-recently shoppers throughout the pandemic.

Between March and June, roughly one in three click and collect shoppers— those who ordered online for curbside or in-store pickup— were using the service for the first time ever or for the first time in six-plus months. Since July, these numbers have been closer to one in four or five. First timer numbers have been smaller for traditional ship-to-home online shopping, given higher overall usage pre-pandemic, but the service has shown fairly consistent levels of first time or first time lately buyers since March, hovering around 10%.

Toggle between views for In Store / Curbside Pickup and Delivery below

Overall COVID-19 Concern Peaked in Spring but Remains High

The overall level of consumer concern related to Coronavirus reached its highest levels in late March / early April, when 40% of consumers rated themselves as “Very Concerned (10/10)” regarding the virus. There was a notable increase in concern in July, as cases rose across the country. We’ve also seen a steady rise in concern in recent months, with roughly a third of shoppers very concerned about COVID-19, and half rating their concern 8 out of 10 or higher. Despite recent progress on vaccine distribution, consumers are still experiencing high levels of anxiety around the pandemic, which will continue to shape their behaviors for months to come.

Specific Concerns have Shifted from Economy to Infection to Social Implications

The most common concerns cited by consumers through the pandemic have been fear of infection— for self or family / friends— impact on the national & global economy, and inability to see friends and family. While the economy held the top spot for most weeks / months of our survey, it dropped to #3 in December, displaced by inability to see friends & family and fear of infection.

While we’ve seen some variations in top concerns overall, when it comes to consumers primary concern, fear of infection for self or household members has been by far the most prevalent concern for the entirety of the past 10 months. In recent months— similar to what we’ve seen with overall level of concern— economic concerns have fallen below fear of other friends/family becoming infected and inability to see friends & family.

Other finance-related concerns like inability to purchase basic needs or other goods & services, and the pandemic’s impact on job security, have also fallen lower in the list in recent months, while the social and emotional toll— being stuck at home, cancelling plans, school closures— rise. These concerns have implications for the types of products and services consumers will be seeking out as they deal with the continued desire to connect with others, and stick out the final leg of pandemic isolation and boredom.

Click the green arrows to toggle between numbers for overall concerns and primary concerns. Click the play button or use the slider at the bottom of the chart to see week-over-week changes in concerns.

Many Behaviors Likely to Stick Post-COVID

Currently, over half of consumers say they are baking, cooking and consuming food & drinks at home more frequently than they did pre-COVID. Looking ahead to when the pandemic is over, about a quarter think these behaviors will continue. 79% of consumers are going to bars and restaurants less frequently or not at all during the pandemic, while 43% are ordering take-out or delivery more frequently. After COVID, intentions for these behaviors are split: 32% plan to make up for lost time, visiting bars & restaurants more frequently than they did pre-covid, while 23% expect to continue going less. 18% think they will continue ordering take-out and delivery at a greater frequency, and 19% think they’ll use the service less post-COVID.

When it comes to shopping, 55% are making online purchases more frequently during COVID than they did before, and 50% are shopping in person at stores less frequently. Post-COVID, 22% expect to maintain a higher frequency of online shopping, while 28% expect to increase their frequency of in-store shopping, after months of tempered activity.

Toggle between views for Current COVID-19 Behaviors and Post-COVID Expectations below

Looking Ahead

As vaccine distribution ramps up and the country approaches new milestones and a return to normalcy, Numerator will continue to bring you the latest insights into consumer behavior and sentiment surrounding the pandemic and the economy. This will be the final update to this version our COVID-19 Sentiment Survey as we look ahead to new trends, market dynamics, and consumer behavioral impacts.

For more information on how your brand or category is affected by COVID-19, or to learn more about the latest research from Numerator, please contact your Numerator Customer Success Representative, review the latest resource below, or drop us a line.

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