Oct 30, 2020

10/30 Update: The Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Consumer Behavior

COVID 10-30 Header
The data in this post is from an earlier version of our COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey. Click below to view the most recent version of these insights.




COVID-19 cases are rising across the United States, bringing increased concerns about contracting the virus and reinstated lockdown measures. COVID’s impact on shopping behavior this past month remained in-line with previous months, though the recent surge in cases and impending winter season have consumers considering stocking up on essentials as they head into a period of uncertainty. 

Consumers anticipate big changes in coming months

Four-in-five (81% of) consumers think a widespread increase in COVID-19 cases is likely in the coming months, something that has already begun in many states in recent weeks. Many of these individuals (70%) believe this will lead to the reinstatement of lockdown measures in certain states and cities. To prepare for these potential developments, 71% of consumers say they anticipate stocking up on essential items.

Nearly 3 in 4 consumers plan to stock up 

Just over half (58%) of consumers say they stocked up on essential items in earlier stages of the pandemic. An even higher percentage-- 71% -- anticipate stocking up in the next two months to prepare. Top stock-up categories mirror what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic; paper products, cleaning supplies, and shelf stable foods are at the top of consumers’ lists. 

Brands and retailers should prepare for a surge in demand as consumers prepare to bunker down. While the overall number of consumers stocking-up is likely to be higher this wave, a variety of factors may make this round of pantry-stocking less tumultuous than the spring. Eight months into the pandemic, there is a bit less novelty to the situation, and consumers have a better idea of what to expect if stay-at-home orders are enacted. Additionally, retailer-imposed limits on the number of items purchased in key categories like toilet paper and cleaning products may help control behaviors and avoid widespread product outages like we saw in the early stages of the pandemic.

COVID-19 impact on consumer behavior steady this month 

This week, 77% of consumers said their shopping behavior had been impacted by Coronavirus, in line with last month, and down from 81% at the end of August and 88% at the end of July. Consumers are learning to live with the restrictions that are in place and have found a routine in their COVID shopping behaviors. Impact is likely to increase in the coming month if consumers stock-up as planned, but is likely to remain below the highest levels of impact seen in April.

Most shopping behaviors remained in-line with what we’ve seen in previous months. There was a slight uptick in those refraining from eating out, understandable given a number of regions have reinstated restrictions on indoor dining. Stock-up behaviors also saw a small increase, which is expected to grow in the coming month.

Online delivery and click-and-collect services continue to attract new users

Two-thirds of consumers surveyed said they had placed an online delivery (ship-to-home) order recently, and two-fifths said they had placed an online order for pick-up (click-and-collect). 

11% of those who placed an online ship-to-home order indicated it was their first time ever or first time in the past six months doing so; 24% of click-and-collect users said the same. While these numbers will fluctuate week-to-week, the overall trend is clear: there is a large, sustained shift to online that doesn’t appear to be stopping soon. Retailers must continue to prioritize and invest in these delivery and click-and-collect options.

Concern over Coronavirus up from September

The majority (88%) of consumers said their regions had entered at least Phase 1 of a reopening plan, which allows non-essential businesses to reopen their doors. 44% of these individuals said their concerns over the virus had increased in response to reopening. Attitudes surrounding reopening are split, but 38% think their region is re-opening too quickly and 40% think it’s opening at the right pace. Overall level of concern was up from last month, with the number of consumers rating themselves as “very concerned (10/10)” rising from 22% to 27%. 

Economic impact and fear of infection top-of-mind 

The economic impact of COVID-19 and the fear of getting sick remain at the top of the list when it comes to consumer concerns, though fear of infection is the primary concern for three times as many individuals. 

Looking Ahead

Given the fast-changing nature of the outbreak, we anticipate continued fluctuations in behavior, impact and levels of concern in the coming weeks and months. With cases on the rise across the country, it is likely we will begin to see behaviors and sentiments closer to those of the spring. However, adjustments made by retailers in light of COVID-19 and a broader understanding of safety precautions and risks is likely to make panic-buying less prevalent than seen at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Numerator has fielded fifteen iterations of our Coronavirus Consumer Sentiment Survey since early March. We will post a final update in November before retiring our ongoing survey. We will continue to publish a variety of resources to help you understand COVID-19’s impact on consumers. All of these resources can be found at our Coronavirus Research Center.

For more information on how your brand or category is affected by COVID-19-- or to plan any ongoing consumer coverage for your business--  please contact your Numerator Consultant or Customer Success Representative.