We are getting used to this new normal, but what will the new new normal be like when the economy reopens and life tries to go back to usual? That’s the trillion-dollar question.
Currently, federal and state governments are faced with important decisions on how to reopen the economy. Some believe that reopening the economy will bring things quickly back to the way they were, a v-shaped recovery. But consumers are showing in this survey that they may not be on the same page. Our respondents are continuing to believe that things will take around 3 months before the effects of COVID will go away. They are now also saying that they don’t plan on purchasing unnecessary items or indulging in luxuries once things get back to normal. Instead, they will keep their pantries stocked in anticipation of another crisis. Consumers may not be in panic mode now, but they certainly have their guard up.
It’s been an eye-opening journey working on our pulse checks to deliver a glimpse into U.S. shoppers’ minds. Yet again, we appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Mary Cooper and Carrie Shea from IRI Growth Consulting on this report.
Pulse check on April 24: Waiting to see what happens next.
Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: Well, week seven! I think we are all kind of getting to the point where we’ve been doing this long enough and we are maybe able to draw some conclusions. We stabilized around 80% of people who have adjusted their shopping behavior. In terms of concern level, there has been a slight dip. It didn’t really go down, it’s flat. Now we are standing in front of the next major step, which is opening up the economy. What do we think is going to happen?
Carrie Shea, IRI: It’s going to be very interesting to see in the coming weeks, as certain geographies open, does the level of consumer concern go up or down? Does being out and about make people feel that things are getting back to normal and they’re less worried? Or if there is a spike in COVID infections again in communities that have opened, do we see concern go up again? People are becoming used to the new normal. But the new normal is still an average concern of almost an 8 out of 10. It’s still very high!
Mary Cooper, IRI: I think there’s going to be differences amongst various regions, geographies and among age cohorts. How people look at it is going to be different now and as we move ahead. There are some people who are kind of ‘over’ the shock of this and settling into the new norm. Some people are going to go back to business as usual and other people are not going to go back so quickly.
RI: What I am afraid is that if we think this ‘new normal’ is hard, then the new ‘new normal’ is going to be even harder when we open up a little bit and start venturing out. The new ‘new normal’ will require us to make yet another mental adjustment and compared to ‘shelter in place’ which is a pretty simple state of mind, being out and about with the risk of infection still around it will be an order of magnitude more taxing mentally.
CS: I agree. Consumers are going to have multiple decisions to go out or not go out every day and you won’t know which of them might have exposed you to the virus. People are going to not only have to keep careful track of everyone they’ve been in contact with, but also they will constantly worry about if they got exposed!
RI: One of the things we haven’t seen change much has been the primary purpose for shopping for either near-term consumption versus pantry stocking. But one interesting thing that came out when we asked what kind of purchases consumers will be doing more of is a lot about non-perishable items and stocking the pantry. It’s very likely that this will be one of the new behaviors we will observe when all of this is over.
MC: We also saw it more amongst youthful cohorts. They are going to be stocking a few more things at home so they are not caught on the spot like this in the future.
Question: Please list products or services you think you will be buying more after COVID-19 than you did before COVID-19 crisis.
CS: I suspect multiple stores searching is still being driven by out-of-stocks. In the beginning of the COVID lock down, it was mostly toilet paper and cleaning supplies that were out of stock. Now it’s pork-related and certain meat categories. What’s out-of-stock is varying by region and by retailers. I think we are still going to see a lot of people having to make multiple stops to get what they need.
MC: We also heard from a number of our clients that there are supply chain issues. So, they may not be able to get certain ingredients or certain packaging. They may be having a hard time making the product because they are unable to get a core ingredient or item to make their product.
RI: One thing that worries me is this: in the week when everybody is talking about reopening the economy, many of us are perhaps starting to get hopeful, the new cases are going down, our respondents still expect that the crisis will take another 12 weeks to end! It is the same expectation 4 weeks in a row. People don’t seem to be believing that this is going to end soon. Then, when we combine it with consumers telling us that they are likely to avoid unnecessary purchases, travel, eating out, fast food when it does end, it feels like the population is hunkering down for the long run.
Question: Please list products or services you think you will be buying less after COVID-19 than you did before COVID-19 crisis.
CS: I think it’s a really good point. Every week that passes the consumer is still telling us it will be another 12 weeks. I think the consumer expectations of the crisis timeline keeps moving out as the cumulative deaths go up. I am intrigued that 15% of people think this crisis will be going on for another 50 weeks or more. We’ve heard some of the doctors saying that this could last for a year and a half, maybe longer. I guess some consumers are listening to those warnings and managing their expectations that this new normal will last for a long time.
MC: Some of the restrictions also keep changing. You’re also seeing some industry shifts like Disney being closed until the end of the year. Their response depends on what impacts their personal world.
RI: The one positive news for the retail sector is that a lot of grocery stores have made a positive impression so far on our consumers with their reaction to COVID-19. In this survey, we asked which brands’ COVID-19 responses stand out to consumers. It warms my heart that the ‘forgotten’ part of the economy that we have been taking for granted such as Walmart, Target, and Kroger made the list.
CS: For many people, the grocery store is the only place they are coming in contact with non-family members. Shopping is becoming a little bit of a social outlet, although with very strange new behaviors. When a consumer ventures out to a grocery store and goes through the checkout, even though the person checking them out is behind plexiglass, there’s someone there that consumers appreciate, because they showed up to work and are taking risks by working.
RI: I think we are at a fascinating junction in our COVID-19 fight. Wall Street is making a bet that as soon as we open-up, everything goes back to normal and things pick up really quickly. On the other hand, consumers are telling us now, in this moment, that they are expecting more than 12 weeks and are saying that they won’t buy unnecessary products. Eventually the rubber will meet the road. That is the trillion-dollar question: what will buyers actually do when we touch down and put those wheels on the tarmac? That is the biggest unknown that will drive everything for the foreseeable future and will determine the pace and shape of our recovery.
Carrie Shea is a Managing Partner at IRI Growth Consulting with a wealth of experience in growth consulting and consumer insights. Mary Cooper is a Senior Principal at IRI Growth Consulting with a focus on CPG and Retail. Rasto Ivanic is a founder and CEO of GroupSolver.
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