Nov 25, 2020

11/25 Update: The Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Consumer Behavior

man shopping during COVID-19
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.




As Americans head into the holiday season, COVID-19 cases are rising across the country, bringing increased concerns about contracting the virus and reinstated lockdown measures. COVID’s overall impact on shopping behavior this past month rose significantly, though specific behaviors like stocking up held relatively steady. 

COVID-19 Has Changed Consumer Behavior Long-Term

The way we eat and shop has drastically changed in light of the COVID-19 crisis. More than half of consumers are eating and drinking at home more frequently (56%) and going out to restaurants and bars less frequently (60%) or not at all (18%). When it comes to shopping, 51% of consumers have increased their use of online shopping, and 52% have decreased how much they shop in person at stores. Long term, many expect these behaviors to stick—26% say they will continue to eat and drink at home more frequently even after COVID-19 is over, 23% expect to shop online more frequently, and 18% will continue using click-and-collect / buy online pick-up in-store services more than they did pre-pandemic.  

Most Consumers Think a Return to Normal Will Take Six-Plus months

Many Americans are prepared for a prolonged return to normal, acknowledging that it is going to take longer than they previously anticipated. When asked how long they expect it to take before they can return to normal activities, one-in-three said they anticipated 6-12 months, and another one-in-three thought it would take a year or more. Only one-in-five thought a return to normal would come in under six months, and another one-in-five were unsure altogether. Compared to expectations a few months ago, 46% said they are now expecting a return to normal to happen more slowly than previously anticipated, while 45% said their expectations had not changed.

COVID-19 Impact on Consumer Behavior Up from Prior Months

This week, 84% of consumers said their shopping behavior had been impacted by Coronavirus, up from last month, and closer to what we saw in July and August. Consumers are learning to live with the restrictions that are in place and have found a routine in their COVID shopping behaviors, but the recent surge in cases across the country is leading to more impacted shopping. 

Most shopping behaviors remained in-line with what we’ve seen in previous months. There was a slight uptick in those experiencing out-of-stocks, which may be tied both to the surge in cases and also to the upcoming holidays.

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 half said they had placed an online order for pick-up (click-and-collect). 

9% 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; 17% 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 prior months

Overall level of concern was up from last month, with the number of consumers rating themselves as “very concerned (10/10)” rising from 27% to 28%. This is the highest level of concern we’ve seen since April. 49% rated their concern an eight or higher, which is the highest we’ve seen since the surge in July. 

Across the board, most COVID-19 related concerns were up this month. 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 sixteen iterations of our Coronavirus Consumer Sentiment Survey since early March. Moving forward, we will be re-tooling our survey and changing the way we share in order to keep it relevant and useful for our clients. In addition, 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.