| Jan 21, 2021

Tracking Pandemic Consumer Segments Through Recession and Recovery

Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, consumers have had to make rapid and dramatic shifts in their shopping behavior. As consumers continue to adapt in the face of health and economic uncertainty, it’s critical for brands to understand these shifts in order to successfully support the needs of anxious consumers and those struggling most during these challenging times.

Numerator has been tracking the behavioral shifts of shoppers since the beginning of the pandemic through our Recovery Planning Segmentation Study. In a recent webinar, we discussed the results of this ongoing study and shared the most prominent segment shifts we’ve seen, which consumer groups are currently experiencing greater anxiety, and what questions to consider on the unpredictable road to recovery. 

The Crisis and Consumer Reaction in Review 

Our data revealed two distinct waves of consumer reaction during the first six months of the pandemic. During the initial wave, through June 2020, consumers grappled with a serious economic downturn as the country entered a recession amid the spread of the virus, lockdowns, and layoffs. As a result, trips per household dipped dramatically while sales and spend per trip rose vs last year as shoppers stocked up and began adjusting to a new normal consuming more household food staples. 
The second wave, through the end of September, showed signs of recovery, but the process has been slow due to high unemployment rates, loss of stimulus benefits, and continued concern over efforts to mitigate the crisis. Consumer behavior did stabilize as shoppers grew accustomed to the situation. Trips per household remained low, but overall sales and spend per trip remained higher than last year. This growth has benefitted food and beverage categories most with personal care categories still struggling to catch up. 

The Shift in Shopper Attitudes and Anxiety Levels 

Overall, during the period from June to September we saw consumer outlook improve slightly. Health concerns declined, and shoppers began returning to their preferred stores. 1 in 4 shoppers continue to prefer purchasing products online, which further indicates the switch to omnichannel shopping being here to stay. It is important to note that the overall shifts have not been substantial. About 31% of consumers surveyed are falling within the anxious bucket. 
Breaking down consumer attitudes even further into segments, we’re seeing a developing divide in how households are coping with the crisis. While anxiety levels have dropped for 13.7 million households, financial stress has repositioned 6.2 million US households into our most Anxious segments. Should economic concerns worsen, we expect more households to join this segment of worried shoppers.  

The New Adopters of Anxiety 

The newly anxious shoppers that have emerged from the second wave tend to be older as well as more affluent and educated. Less worried at the outset of the pandemic, they are now experiencing greater financial strain as the crisis continues. In addition to fears over job security, 1 in 3 have reported a decrease in pay and qualify as low income.  
The increased financial stress has these consumers pulling away from the market. While making more trips, they have cut back on spending by 1.7X the total rate nationwide, especially at brick and mortar stores. Their purchases depend more on urgent need, which is reflected in their smaller baskets at checkout. In addition, 70% are now turning to value-based, less expensive brands that better fit their budget.   


Looking Toward the Future 

Despite a drop in consumer anxiety, a good deal of uncertainty and instability remains. With the appearance of a divide among how households are faring and a newly anxious demographic of shoppers, consumer concerns need to be taken into consideration when brands address their messaging and decide what channels and products to prioritize. 
We invite you to watch the entire 30-minute webinar for a comprehensive review of how attitudes have shifted among several consumer segments and the way anxiety impacts their purchasing preferences. These important insights will help you meet consumer needs today and plan for potential changes in behavior should they face increased hardship in the future. 
To learn more about accessing our Dynamic Recession Segments and how your brand or category has been affected, please contact your Numerator Customer Success Representative or get in touch with us.