Mar 19, 2020

3/19 Update: The Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Consumer Behavior

Woman stocks up on toilet paper
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.





Last week, we analyzed a snapshot of consumer attitudes and spending from March 1 through March 9. This one-week period indicated increased concern over Coronavirus and a jump in consumers stocking up on key items, leading to product shortages in food staples as well as household and cleaning supplies.

In this post, we’ll explore the same questions and discuss how the majority of the country is now indicating their shopping behavior has been impacted by events since March 11. With consumers still flooding stores and retailers scrambling to restock, product scarcity is top of mind for many shoppers who are leaning more toward purchasing these items online.

Have consumers changed their purchase behavior in response to Coronavirus?

In the week prior to the March 11 inflection point, our initial survey found 33% of consumers indicating they had already changed their purchasing behavior. 

This week has seen that number nearly double to 59% as school closures, travel bans, and the need for social distancing have impacted communities nationwide. Celebrity announcements from Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, and Idris Elba sharing they’ve contracted Coronavirus have also added to the urgency of the situation and influenced the shopping behavior of the majority of Americans.


Younger Americans report being impacted at significantly higher rates than older (and more at risk!) Americans. This could in part be that those younger shoppers are having to make more adjustments to their typical shopping patterns (e.g., their preference toward fresh categories over shelf stable).

We’re continuing to see shopping behavior upended across the board. However, a stunning 2 out of 5 Americans had not yet changed their behavior by March 17.  Among the 41% of consumers who indicate they haven’t yet changed their purchasing behavior, 68% are anticipating a need to adjust as shortages continue to impact product availability in stores with 19% planning to shift toward shopping online in order to contend with the shortfall.

Significantly, we are seeing a shift in product mix for shoppers. With shortages in key categories purchased within the last week, and even up to 2-4 weeks ago, fewer consumers are indicating they will purchase these same products in the coming week. This shift might signify consumers are using up/saving stockpiles from their original shopping trips, are expecting these items to not be available, or are increasingly reluctant to venture out.


Younger shoppers are bringing their “try anything” attitudes to prepping for COVID-19. Younger consumers whose shopping has been impacted indicate that they have been more likely to buy products they might not otherwise buy and shop in stores they might not otherwise shop. As these valuable shoppers try new products and stores, it will be crucial for brands and retailers to quickly understand younger shoppers’ experience with their products if they want to try to create loyalty over the long-term.

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

Initially, 25% of shoppers indicated they were replacing in-store trips with online purchases. This week, that percentage has grown to 28% with empty stores shelves and social distancing necessitating a move toward seeking out alternative retail options. However, as the Numerator Shopping Behavior Index shows, there continues to be more households shopping -- period. So the replacement of in-store trips with online is taking place while there is a spike in total households shopping.

What is the general sentiment of consumers regarding Coronavirus?

Previously, 3 out of 4 consumers surveyed had some level of concern about Coronavirus with 20% very concerned about the situation. Common consumer concerns at this time were becoming infected, not being able to go about their normal routines, stores selling out of needed products,  and having to cancel or postpone upcoming travel/vacation plans.

This week, that level of concern has risen sharply, with nearly all consumers showing some level of concern, and more than half very or extremely concerned.


Looking Ahead

Cities across the country continue to implement greater restrictions in order to flatten the curve and control the spread of the virus. These new protocols now include shelter in place orders, restaurant and non-essential store closures, and retailers adjusting their hours to allow for restocking as well as trying to accommodate more at-risk members of the community. In light of these updates and developments, we expect to see ongoing changes in consumer behavior both online and in stores.

Numerator will be closely monitoring the situation to ensure brands and retailers have the most up-to-date information on consumer behavior. Each week during the outbreak we will publish a Shopping Behavior Index providing a weekly year over year index of FMCG sales for 14 retail channels.

For more information on how your brand or category is affected by COVID-19, please contact your Numerator Customer Success and Consultants or get in touch with us.