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COVID-19 Crisis: How Are Consumers Faring?

6 MINUTE READ | March 25, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: How Are Consumers Faring?

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

Over one-fifth of the world’s population is currently under some form of “shelter in place” as the global economy grinds to a halt in an attempt to slow the novel coronavirus outbreak across borders. Of those with home internet access, over 20% of bandwidth is reportedly being spent on coronavirus-related content with news consumption becoming America’s new pastime amid live sports cancellations (most recently including the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics) and Hollywood shifting to on-demand and streaming.

For America and many other countries, most consumers are entering their second or third week of WFH, school closures, or some variation of increased time at home. This new normal has enabled various unanticipated shifts in consumer behavior across verticals that are worth taking note of. For many brands, ecommerce performance channels continue to outperform expectations as a delivery-only shopping lifestyle takes shape.

As more retailers evolve messaging from product-focused to purpose-driven, consumers are adjusting to life at home and responding with increased demand for athleisure and stay-in apparel. In one case, StyleSage has seen an incredible 171%+ increase in searches for “grey sweatpants” compared to exactly one year ago. It’s evident that during this time, all categories are not created equal as priorities shift to immediate necessities.

Self-care and mental wellness are a high priority during quarantine, with Pinterest reporting a 30% increase in searches for “spa day at home” within the last two weeks. Crafting messaging and content that highlights at-home makeup tutorials, spa treatments, and other DIY skincare will be a well-received opportunity for beauty brands to engage with online audiences across platforms. 

With reduced travel beyond the home, customer demand for virtual AR and AI-driven experiences that enables shoppers to “try on” and “test” products continues to rise. A recent shift includes a growing number of virtual skin consultations as well as community-centric facial and makeup tutorials across platforms. In one instance, these brand-supported online engagements helped to grow a brand’s clientele and improve purchase intent by up to 15x.

Despite travel demand essentially “disappearing” in recent days around the world, consumers are still searching for aspirational travel content. Pinterest reported a 20% increase in searches for “summer travel ideas” in the past 20 days versus the same period last year. This is likely due to consumers wanting something to look forward to post-quarantine. 

But for some, there’s no time like the present. A new stay-at-home trend has travel enthusiasts creating five-star hotel experiences right in their own homes. The options are truly endless — shoppers can easily buy luxury sheets, explore YouTube videos on how to perfectly make a bed or fold a towel into a swan. This shift enables ample opportunity for travel-related brands to leverage stay-at-home messaging and generate positive and uplifting content around the UGC or other mediums.

Consumer behavior and media consumption is changing dramatically as a result of self-isolation measures. Amidst all the chaos, Nielsen is estimating that sheltering at home could lead to a 60% increase in time spent with media. Within the last week, we’ve seen new and innovative ways that streaming is supporting both consumers and brands during this time. Isolating the week of March 15th, global streaming hours increased 20% WoW with spikes seen between the hours of 12 PM and 5 PM as more people have stayed home, according to Roku

Sharing is caring and beyond product limits at grocery stores, platforms Netflix and YouTube have reduced the quality of streaming to help avoid internet overload and massive outages. Animal Planet wrapped up its 96-hour marathon on Too Cute, a series that follows animals through life milestones while Hallmark aired its annual “Countdown to Christmas” movie marathon over the weekend. These efforts and others like it are forms of counterprogramming that quickly spun up to support people following social distancing isolation. 

Most (if not all) live sports, including the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been canceled or postponed for the foreseeable future, so ESPN and other sports broadcasters are cooking up alternatives. While ESPN works on securing the rights for classic games to air, it’ll also be trying its hand at stunt event programming such as the Acrobat Pizza Trials.

Two studies recently conducted by Survey Monkey and Fortune reveal that the economy is one of the top concerns for the majority of people, which has significantly impacted their financial behavior.

  • 64% of people say they’ve disrupted their usual spending habits.

  • 63% are worried about paying their monthly bills.

  • 54% of people are spending more than usual on groceries and 40% are spending more on household necessities.

Of course, personal finances remain a top concern as well. Traditionally seen as an inspirational platform, Pinterest reported an astounding 50% increase in searches related to the stock market in the last two weeks compared to the two weeks prior. Now more than ever, finance brands are looked to for guidance and can provide budget-related content such as tips for cost-savings and financial planning. 

Virtual conference and video call platforms continued to see a spike in users as more businesses rely on these tools while employees work remotely. Most notably, 

As to be expected, anxiety is at an all-time high with people preparing for the long haul of physical distancing (formerly social distancing) and lifestyle adjustments to curb the spread of disease. So much so that 43% of U.S. residents say they think the coronavirus outbreak will last globally for up to a year or more, according to the GWI Global Consumer Report on March 23rd

Regardless of vertical, brands are facing pressure to be more socially responsible as customers closely monitor how their favorite brands are responding to the global crisis and choosing to treat employees at this time. While most retailers close stores, many are still paying their in-store associates, but those that aren’t are being heavily scrutinized by both customers and competitors

In response to potential health concerns around products and shipments, consumers are also seeking greater assurance that the products they buy and receive are free of risk and meet the highest safety standards, particularly with respect to cleaning products, antiseptics, and food items. Intensified demand from consumers will pressure manufacturers, retailers, and other industry players to clearly communicate why their products and supply chains should be trusted.

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A special thanks to PMG’s Consumer Insights and Engagement Strategy team (Angela Seits, Caroline Norton, and Ruthie Nathan) for contributing to today’s briefing.

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