COVID-19 US Consumer Behavior Report

Marc Mezzacca
Published on: 03/24/20

We've seen a massive shift in a very short period of time in how US consumers are behaving due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. Increases in online shopping in some sectors, and massive decrease in others, a significant shift to mobile and online grocery shopping, and notable amounts of additional time spent viewing streaming services- all within less than two weeks. The world has adapted, and rapidly.

This survey was conducted with the objective of understanding US consumer behaviors in adults with respect to the COVID-19 (a.k.a., Coronavirus) pandemic.

For the purposes of this study, we defined March 11, 2020 as the pivotal date after which major lifestyle changes occurred for many Americans. This is the same date the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. For this study, 1,859 US adults (18+) were surveyed on March 21, 2020.

Key Survey Highlights

  • 3 out of 4 respondents have had their job (employees) or business revenue (freelancers/business owners) affected by COVID-19
  • Almost half (47%) of respondents have either lost their job, had a reduction in their work hours, or lost substantial revenue as a result of the pandemic.
  • Since the pandemic was declared, there was a 47% increase in the average percentage of online grocery shopping (15% before vs. 22% after).
  • About 80% of respondents have changed their grocery shopping behaviors since the pandemic was declared.
  • Over half of respondents (54%) said that a stimulus package from the US government would motivate increased shopping behavior during the pandemic.
  • Of those with a streaming service, 2 out of 3 respondents have increased their viewing time by 1 hour or more.
  • 41% of respondents stated they would be motivated to purchase by additional discounts on products

Concerns and Consequences of Coronavirus

The most commonly-reported concern related to the pandemic was actually being infected with Coronavirus or having a family member come down with it (40%). The next most common concern was the impact on the US economy (25%).

Of note, 31% of men were most concerned with the US economy compared to 20% of women, while women edged out men with 21% concerned with access to essential food, supplies and/or medical care compared to 14% of men.

Job Loss, Income and Paying Basic Bills Are All Concerns

There is urgency in resolving the pandemic, for a variety of reasons, two major ones are job loss and ability to pay basic bills. This was evident in our survey.

Thirty percent of respondents claimed that they would not be able to cover basic bills (rent, utilities, loan payments, etc.) they normally cover if the pandemic extends through April, 2020.

Among those with an annual household income less than $50,000, that number jumps to 40%.

Close to half of respondents (47%) have either lost their job, had a reduction in their work hours, or lost substantial revenue as a result of the pandemic.

  • Among Generation Z, this figure is closer to two-thirds (62%). And close to half (46%) of Generation Z respondents either lost their job or had a reduction in their work hours.

Finally, about 75%, or 3 out of 4 respondents have had their job (employees) or business revenue (freelancers/business owners) affected by COVID-19 in some manner.

Grocery Shopping Behavior Shifts

About 80% of respondents have changed their grocery shopping behaviors since the pandemic was declared. Among those who did, the most common changes were buying more non-perishable goods and making fewer trips to the grocery store.

Other key grocery shopping behavior shifts:

  • Since the pandemic was declared, there was a 47% increase in the average percentage of online grocery shopping (15% before vs. 22% after).
  • Among respondents who have shifted toward more in-store grocery shopping, 30% made the shift because they were worried about online platforms running out of stock before their order went through, while 20% claimed that sites did not have the items they were looking for in stock.

Other Shopping Behavior Shifts

There have been swift and dynamic changes to the shopping behaviors of US consumers.

  • Since the pandemic was declared, over one-fourth (28%) of respondents have increased shopping in general, because of concern that products may no longer be available at some point.
  • Almost one-fourth (24%) have decreased shopping in order to be more conservative with spending at this time.
  • Over one-fourth of respondents (27%) have decreased spending at large chain stores in favor of increasing spending at local/small businesses.
    • Those in Gen Z were more likely to increase shopping at large chains and decrease shopping at local/small businesses than other age groups (38% vs. 27% overall).
    • Baby Boomers were more likely to decrease spending at both chain and local businesses than other age groups (36% vs. 27% overall).

How Long Will It Last?

About half (49%) of respondents believe the pandemic will impact their shopping behavior for up to three months, while 40% thought it would be between four and twelve months. Six percent thought it would last over a year, while another six percent thought it wouldn’t impact their shopping behavior at all.

Incentivizing Shoppers During the Pandemic

When asked which incentives would be motivating to increase shopping behavior during the Coronavirus pandemic, over half of respondents (54%) said that a stimulus package from the US government would motivate increased shopping behavior during the pandemic.

More availability of desired products was the next most cited incentive (53%), while 41% would respond to additional discounts on products.

  • Those in Gen Z were more likely to be motivated by additional discounts on the products they were shopping for (51% vs. 41% overall).
  • Millennials (58%) and Gen Xers (57%) were most motivated by the prospect of a stimulus package from the US government.
  • 57% of Baby Boomers would be motivated to increase shopping if there was more availability of the products they were looking for.

If a stimulus package were approved, giving each American adult $1000, respondents would be most likely to put that money toward food and household supplies, savings, and health and wellness products. Less than 5% of respondents would prioritize spending the money on travel or beauty products.

Shifts in Streaming Services

Among those who ever use streaming services to watch TV and movies, over half (55%) have changed their habits. Two-thirds reported an increase in time spent watching by more than an hour per day, while 18% signed up for at least one new streaming service.

Details About the Survey

As mentioned above, we defined March 11, 2020 as the major outbreak marker, and 1,859 US adults (18+) were surveyed on March 21, 2020. Missing and not applicable responses were excluded from analyses. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Survey Demographics

  • Roughly half (47%) of respondents resided in small towns or rural areas, while the other half (53%) lived in large cities or suburbs.
  • About half (46%) of respondents were male; 54% were female.
  • About one-fifth of respondents fell into each of the following annual household income categories: <$25,000, $25,000 - <$50,000, and $50,000 - <$75,000. 40% of respondents’ household incomes were $75,000 and above.
  • Generation Z (18-23) comprised 13% of the sample, while Millennials (24-39) made up one-third. Thirty-one percent were Gen-Xers (40-54) and 23% were Baby Boomers (55+).

Limitations

Data were not weighted to be nationally representative, and results were not tested for statistical significance. The survey was conducted online and therefore excluded those without internet access. Data are for exploratory purposes. All results are self-reported.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.