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Consumers Learning to Co-exist with COVID-19

September 22, 2020

By Martha Rea

This blog piece was featured on Insights Association

For the first time since the pandemic hit the nation in March, consumers overall, driven by those living in the South and Northeast, are expressing the highest positive sentiment – and not just about current conditions, but also about the future.

Throughout the pandemic, consumers have harbored feelings that the future would be worse than current conditions on the ground today. That has now changed, according to our most recent wave of consumer sentiment research, where spikes in cases in the Northeast at the outset, and in the South during July, have now waned. Kids returning to school have not yet caused a huge spike in cases, unemployment rates are the lowest they have been during the crisis, and indications that vaccines and therapeutics are on their way all are pointing to a better future.

In addition, consumers have had the realization after living with COVID outbreaks for the past 6 months, that even though they remain very concerned about being in public spaces and protecting their health and others close to them, they are able to adjust to how they go about their day to day lives with the reopening of their states while this virus remains among them. 

However, the current and anticipated future picture for the Western and Mid-western states is not as rosy right now. In the West, sentiment must be impacted by the fires running ravage across the states, and in both regions, many states have been slow to reopen. Consumers have not been given the opportunity to adjust to living where they can truly balance safety and commerce. The Mid-west is also not being helped by now seeing it’s COVID case count surge.

More positive future expectations are also appearing as consumers’ intentions to return to normal activities continues to rise among consumers across nearly all behaviors, including intended travel behaviors like staying in hotels or flying. Consumers are starting to loosen up and willing to move around more than they have at any time since the outbreak started. Consumer experience, word of mouth, and not hearing horror stories about experiences in hotels, taking flights, or eating take-out or in restaurants are giving consumers more confidence that they can be safe, without being completely locked down. Efforts made to social distance, cleanliness, handwashing, low-touch environments, mask-wearing, and resulting experiences in actual practice, are again pointing to consumers’ realizations that they can safely manage their lives co-existing with the virus.

Given these experiences, the majority of consumers show strong concern over being locked down due to the economic consequences that have resulted from such lockdowns. Across all demographic groups, consumers feel that the impact of the shutdown on the economy is more of a concern than the health impacts. That is not to say health impacts are not important, but consumers want both: keep health risks managed while not destroying economic well-being. This destruction continues among many small businesses, with sentiment among small business owners is the lowest of all groups as they have been hugely impacted by shutdowns and limited capacity requirements.

Barring no additional huge spikes in cases and deaths, and the reopening of states that have been slow to reopen, the trends we see in our sentiment tracking research indicate consumer’s expansion of societal touchpoints cloaked in safety, giving everyone the ability to balance health concerns with economic prosperity.

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