“It was only when the disruption came in and said, no you can’t do it your normal way, you have to find a new one, people decided wow, the new way is best. How many everyday things do we do, that if we were forced to do it differently, we would never go back.” – Tom Harford 2016 TED Talk
Keren Novak, VP of Client Services in the Midwest, opened Curion’s first Consumer Pulse webinar with a quote from the 2016 London Underground Strike. The 48-hour underground closure forced millions of London commuters to deviate from their normal routes, but after the strike ended, many realized how enjoyable they were and continued using their newly found alternative routes. The radical effect of COVID-19 on the lifestyles of consumers will change future behavior. Through the Consumer Pulse Series, Curion strives to keep a finger on consumers’ ever-evolving decision-making processes.
With the commitment to deliver a deeper understanding of the consumer to bring successful products to market, Curion launched a nationwide pulse survey on how this pandemic has affected consumers purchasing behaviors. Curion presented their result findings in a series of streamed webinars. The first Consumer Pulse webinar streamed April 22, outlining the results of consumers during the first 30 days of quarantine. On May 20, a second Consumer Pulse webinar presented findings after 60-days quarantine. The data generated by the 30-day and 60-day checkpoints are the beginning of Curion’s journey to document and understand consumers’ post-COVID behavior. Of those 800 consumers surveyed by Curion, 93% shared that they would be willing to come into Curion’s facilities to participate in testing in the following month of June. Though much more is to come, the following insights from the 30 and 60-day studies illuminate some of the changes and shifts we’ve all felt forming around us.
Consumer’s emotional state and priorities shift from survival to entertainment
Consumer behavior in the first thirty days of quarantine revolved around enforcing feelings of safety and stability increasing activities such as cleaning, consumers reported in the 60-day study they were spending more time exploring how to use their free time and we looked for correlations.
In the 30-day survey, consumers reported a
While we expected many of these to remain similar, the theory that habits take two months was highlighted in the differences we saw from our 60-day study where consumers show signs of embracing their extra time.
Of the 70% of consumers reporting having extra free time, consumers reported
While purchasing is on the rise; but shifting from the safety ‘need-to-haves’, toward the daily routine ‘nice-to-haves’, is seen in the data collected. In both studies, sales of grocery, household, and cleaning products increased while personal care sales decreased. While this aligns with our 30 day study where 39% of consumers stated they are spending less time on personal care, there is a change in the 60 day study that showed 53% of consumers spending more time on personal care.
The types of foods consumers purchased varied between studies. In the 30-day study, consumers reported placing priority on canned goods (+37%), fresh vegetables (+35%), beverages, and fresh fruit (+34%), while sales of snack foods decreased by 45%. Consumers reported their purchasing decisions were driven by the desire to feel safe and protected (50%), comforted (35%), and replenished (31%) and avoided products that made them feel indulged (33%) and pampered (40%). A month later, we see these priorities shift to align with the increase in consumer interest in leisurely activities and entertainment. While fresh veggies and fruit remain top purchases in the 60-day study, snack purchases increase by 52% and alcohol sales by 41%. The motivation behind consumers’ decision making also shifts -- purchases made to feel safe and protected decreases from 50% to 34% and consumers begin to make more purchases for enjoyment (31% increase), indulgence (+26%), and feeling pampered (+24%).
Consumers are placing more importance on price
Unsurprisingly, considering the level of perceived danger is lower yet 1 in 3 people are still unemployed, product cost has become a pivotal factor in consumer decision making. In the 30-day study, product availability and supply created limitations causing consumers to place less of a priority on price. Consumers were split on how important price was to their buying decision. In the 60-day study, however, price becomes a core decision-maker. 52% of consumers indicate the price is more important, and only 12% report it’s less important.
Consumers mostly at the grocery store and it’s not a pleasant experience
45% of consumers responded to the 30-day study that they have decreased their shopping at all retail stores. These numbers are much higher for the older generation, however, with a 57% decrease for consumers 35-65+ shopping in mass merchandisers, a decrease of 54% of shopping in convenience stores, and a decrease of 51% in big-box retailers. In the 60-day survey, 65% of consumers indicated they do not look forward to going to the grocery store. 84% of consumers reported that they are not finding their usual products or brands. One consumer states, “Going shopping now is all about speed and limiting contact. I buy more now in one trip. The biggest surprise would be the whole experience and how negative it is.”
Consumers continue to discover and adapt -- but generation does play a part in how much they embrace change
In the 30-day study, 74% of consumers are trying new products, 45% are paying more attention to the products and brands they are buying, and 52% report they will continue to use these products after this period of time is over. The 60-day consumer study displays an increase in the percentage of consumers paying attention to the brands they are purchasing (52% from %45) and in the number of consumers who say they will continue to use the products (57% from 52%). While Gen Z and millennials are willingly trying new products, the 60-day study demonstrates boomers typically do so out of necessity rather than pleasure. 48% of Gen Z and millennials consumers reported they would try a new product just to try something new, while only 27% of boomers agree. Similarly, 39% of Gen Z and millennials consumers reported they would change products simply out of boredom, while 16% of boomers answered they would do the same.
What newly found alternatives will stick? Curion will continue to monitor and track consumers’ shifts in behavior during this tumultuous time to provide the most up-to-date and relevant insights. As this study suggests, consumer decision-making factors shift rapidly, especially throughout times of extreme change. Curion looks forward to walking through this time beside our partners and clients and help deliver products consumers want and need.
Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network
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Chicago, IL 60603
Tel (312) 525-9653