consumer behavior

Riding the wave.

Riding the wave.

Are we in the second wave of COVID-19 already? With so much uncertainty, consumers don’t know for sure where we are at right now. 

Some may argue that we are already in the second wave of COVID-19, while others fear that the first may not even be over yet. Whatever the case may be, U.S. consumers have an action-plan as to what to do during a second wave.  

What is clear to the US consumers, however, is that it is going to take a long, long time before things clear up again. Months ago, we asked consumers how long they expect the COVID crisis to last. Back in April, the median answer was 12 weeks until we go ‘back to normal’, and now we are at 36 weeks. Seems like the more we know, the less faith we have in a quick recovery… 

Once again, we are delighted to have had the opportunity to converse with Carrie Shea and Mary Cooper from IRI Growth Consulting on this report. 

Pulse check on July 12: Unsure. 

Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: When I first started looking through the data, there were two things that jumped out at me. First, the reversal of the trend that we saw in May until early June when the COVID-19 index was going down significantly. But now that concern is starting to creep up again. I think that’s pretty easy to explain with a rise in cases and the national news squarely focusing on COVIDJust looking at the daily new case statistics, if we are not in the second wave, we are in wave 1.2. I think that notion is indicated in the data. On the right side, we see how little we believe that this will be over anytime soon. It’s up to 36 weeks now! People might be thinking that maybe by Spring 2021 this will be over. 

Carrie Shea, IRI: I think people believe that by then we will have a vaccine, or by then COVID will go away like the traditional flu. Yet, we are seeing now that this didn’t happen with this wave of COVID.  

RI: I would be interested to see when there will be an inflection point on that chart. It doesn’t look like it’s anywhere near. You’d expect that once people have a firm belief that the vaccine indeed is on some sort of a well-defined track to hit the market and people believe that timelinethey will update their expectations. It seems like at this point maybe we expect that by Spring most of us will be vaccinated. Once that becomes common knowledge, this curve will flatten and be reflected by that. That’s my hypothesis.  

Mary Cooper, IRI: I agree. I think we will have a vaccine in the spring but it will come with glitches and we may need to later get booster shots and just like vaccines it may not perfectly cover all strains. 

covid-19 concern index

RI: Here is something else we saw. The concern about unemployment is at an interesting number still. We’ve had some hypotheses about why that concern goes up or down. We ran an analysis correlating the income level with their worry about unemployment. There seems to be a statistically significant correlation between the level of income and worry of unemployment. Interestingly, the data suggests that while it does seem that those with lower income are more worried, it also shows that those who make over $150k a year are significantly more worried. Perhaps these are business owners who derive their income specifically from participating in the economy and slow rebound makes them more worried? 

CS: Do you think that it could partly be that those with higher income levels have higher expenses? If they are to lose their job, their impact could be more significant.  

RI: It could be. The level of concern is very U-shaped. The expenses may be a part of it. We just don’t know for sure. What’s fascinating, though, is that those who fall in the middle of the curve don’t seem as concerned. 

level of concern about employment based on income level

RI: I want to now move to some of the new questions we added for this pulse check. We asked people when they think a second wave will occur. Let’s ignore the extremes here (“a second wave has already passed” and “a second wave will not come”). A third of respondents think we are in a second wave right now. Another 40% believe it will be within the next few weeks to few months. 

second wave

RI: So, we then asked a question about how consumers expect they will behave differently in terms of grocery shopping habits during a second wave. The answers we as you may expect 

CS: Well one thing that does jump out at me is some are saying that they are focused on purchasing the necessary products. This is consistent with some of our other IRI studies. Consumers are no longer shopping for specific products because they want to make a meal. They are shopping to refill and replenish. It’s really cutting down the number of impulse purchases in the store.  

RI: For sure. And even the answer: “stocking up on key items sooner”. It’s more deliberate shopping.  

CS: Yes, and I’ve seen people do that in the store. They’ve got their list and are hustling down the aisle. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of impulse purchasing or consideration of new items.  

MC: And if a specific brand is out of stock, they are willing to grab the brand right next to it and give it a shot. They don’t want to go into a second store. They are willing to substitute brands more readily than in the past.  Shoppers are also less apt to go to multiple stores to take advantage of deals too.  It appears manufacturers are putting less on deal to address this phenomenon    

How do you expect your behavior to be different in a second wave vs the first in regards to your grocery shopping habits? 

grocery shopping behavior second wave themes
second wave grocery shopping ideacloud

IdeaCloud™ 

RI: Similarly, we asked what how’d they expect their eating habits to change during a second wave. Eating at home, more home-cooked meals are popular. There’s something about being more aware of what they are eating too. Maybe there’s some regrets in what they are binging. 

CS: The COVID-fifteen! 

How do you expect your behavior to be different in a second wave vs the first in regards to your eating habits? 

eating behavior second wave themes
eating habits during second wave ideacloud

IdeaCloud™ 

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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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Do you have a question you want to ask, or do you want to share feedback with us? Contact us at info@groupsolver.com. 

Facing Uncertainty.

Facing Uncertainty.

With cases in the U.S. on the rise and a second wave approaching, consumers are anxiously waiting to see what happens next.

We are now navigating into our 12th COVID-19 pulse check since we first started in March. At first, we were extremely fearful of the virus, causing some to pantry-load in order to avoid outside exposure. Now, we are used to living in a pandemic, with grocery shopping being our main outlet of socialization for many of us. However, we are also aware that things are far from over, with potentially worse to come.

What is going to happen to schools? Restaurants? Stores? Our everyday routines? And even more so, when will this be over? With the help of Mary Cooper from IRI Growth Consulting, we have delved into these questions to better understand U.S. consumer sentiment during this challenging time.

Pulse check on June 25: On the edge of our seats.

Balbina De La Garza, GroupSolver: So, we are now at pulse check 12! Starting off, I’d like to go over the concern level as we usually do. Concern is still high at around 70%, but it is certainly lower than it was at one point a few weeks ago. My understanding of this is that people are still worried, but even the word ‘pandemic’ doesn’t seem to be as scary as it used to be.

Mary Cooper, IRI: Yes, concern has recently dipped a bit but overall, it’s pretty stable.

concern about coronavirus

BD: Online purchasing this time around is still the same as it was in the beginning of June. What has shifted, though, is the number of those who are doing takeout and delivery. That has certainly increased. This makes me think that people are bored of being stuck at home and only eating home-cooked meals.

MC: It’s interesting that for online grocery shopping, it peaked and then tapered back off. It tells me that people are still interested in going into the physical stores. For takeout and delivery, I align with your thoughts. At first, people started eating more at home and getting creative because they felt the need to respond to the pandemic. Now, some people are bored of the same thing and tired of the extra work of food preparation at home. And of course, there are those who want to support local businesses—they don’t want to see them fail.

meal behavior during covid19

BD: I agree with that. People may be willing to risk it a little bit and step outside to support local businesses since this pandemic is going for the long run. This ties in with our next chart where we see that almost double the number of respondents reported to have eaten at a sit-down restaurant. This may be because as we mentioned, we are tired of just staying home and some are feeling more comfortable living their lives as usual.

MC: Also, many states are opening up. It’s all three of those dynamics in play.

BD: Certainly! Compared to the beginning of this month, although more people are eating out at sit-down restaurants, way more people are noting that they will expect to eat out much less frequently, if at all, in the next several weeks. It feels like we are much more comfortable with takeout. Or perhaps some restaurants are just not allowing people back in.

MC: That’s another good point. Not all of them are opening up. It’s hard for some business models to make it work when they can only have limited seating inside or outside. It’s very expensive for them to open.  But with it now being summer, there are some restaurants getting more creative with their outside seating options.   

restaurant behavior covid19

BD: I now want to look over the insights from the education questions we asked because I find them so interesting. Unsurprisingly, most children had their school shifted online.

online learning during pandemic

BD: 47% of parents felt their children learned less doing online classes, while 32% felt they learned more. Those who liked online more were mainly for reasons like safety. However, some felt that it was actually a better learning environment, which was fascinating to me.

MC: I am very surprised by this metric. I’ve heard from many teachers that they can’t hold the kids’ engagement for that long online. Let’s say school is 4-5 hours a day online. It’s hard for me as an adult to be online for that long! I think online learning is safer, but I don’t understand how they learn more.

Why do you prefer online learning for your child(ren)?

themes why parents prefer online learning for children
why parents prefer online learning

IdeaCloud™ 

BD: Well on the other side, we also had parents who noted the challenges with online learning. Some of the biggest challenges are socialization, being able to focus, staying on task, and simply understanding the material.

MC: I completely align with this finding. It’s hard for those kids to pay attention and be responsible when they are expected to independently engage for long periods of time online. The “texture” of in-person and group dynamics get lost.  

BD: For sure. I think it could also depend on age. It may be easier for students who are 17 or 18 in high school versus a 10-year-old.

What are the biggest challenges for your children to learn online at home?

themes challenges to online learning
biggest challenges for children learning online at home

IdeaCloud™ 

BD: I want to touch on the length expectancy for this pulse check, too. For the last few studies, the median expected duration was at 20 weeks. But now it has risen to 26 weeks! I’m wondering if this has to do with the fact that we are most likely going to experience a second wave. But I am also curious if this is what folks think that the first wave is going to last for, or if this includes the second wave.

MC: Before, it was expected to last 12 weeks, then 16, then 20 and now 26 weeks. At one point I was optimistic that we were going to get a little break during the summer, before we get a new wave in the fall. But now with a resurgence in some of these warm climate areas, I am starting to think that we won’t get a break but instead power through until we get that vaccine.

median expected duration of covid19

BD: The last thing I want to bring up is this chart. We are seeing that more people know someone in their lives who has contracted COVID-19. It makes me a little uneasy because although 66% is still a relatively high number of those who don’t know anyone, this percentage is on a continuous decline. It’s important to recognize that this is very real, and unfortunately it may hit home for some of us.

MC: In addition, a lot more people have access to testing now. I think more people are also willing to talk about the fact that they have it. People are less afraid of being judged for it. These numbers are still going to climb.

BD: I agree. This is the reality we are in.

those who know someone has contracted coronavirus

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Mary Cooper is a Senior Principal at IRI Growth Consulting with a focus on CPG and Retail. Balbina De La Garza is a Marketing Coordinator at GroupSolver.

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Do you have a question you want to ask, or do you want to share feedback with us? Contact us at info@groupsolver.com.

Life as we know it.

Life as we know it.

We have gotten used to our life with COVID-19 and perhaps that is why our level of concern continues to drop. However, that doesn’t mean consumers are letting their guards down easily. 

As we tread into our 11th pulse check, we are finding that consumers are feeling about living with the pandemic, but they also don’t see it ending any time soon. Shopping is no longer as scary as it used to be, but many rely on protection such as face masks and hand sanitizer when venturing out. Data also suggests that despite being more open to lifting the restrictions, respondents continue to be unpleased with our nation’s response to the crisis. 

It’s clear that we are no longer stunned by the virus. We have digested the reality and are learning how to function within the given constraints. Some industries have adapted well to these consumers’ sentiments and concerns, such as grocery stores. On the other hand, this ‘new normal’ is going to be harder to adjust to for sit-down restaurants. Fewer than 1 in 5 of our respondents reported they have eaten at a sit-down restaurant, and a large majority of consumers still do not feel comfortable with the idea of eating out.  

With the help of Mary Cooper from IRI Growth Consulting, we examine where the U.S. consumer mind is at amidst the current climate and we ponder the future of food and food service industries.  

Pulse check on June 6: Settling in, but highly aware. 

Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: Pulse check number 11! And people are feeling better than two weeks ago, which was better than two weeks before that. So, are we officially over the hump and summer vacation can now begin? 

Mary Cooper, IRI: Hey, summertime sounds great to me and sounds great to everyone else I’m sure!  People want to move forward and resume some more normal activities.  The summer weather and being able to get outside should help spirits.  

concern about covid-19

RI: The data is showing that people are less worried. Perhaps they are just desensitized to the threat and perhaps they are truly less worried. But considering this data and the following chart about employment that keeps decreasing as well, it seems like people are feeling a little bit better. Maybe this is the good news we’ve been waiting for. 

MC: This news does look like some positive momentum with consumer sentiment. 

average concern about employment during pandemic

RI: For this report, we added one new chart. We have been quietly collecting data asking about whether people know anyone who’s had COVID-19. We broke down the concern data by those who do know someone with COVID-19. You can see that the worry over the virus is significantly higher for those respondents. By the way, in this last pulse check, about 30% knew somebody who had had COVID-19. 

concern based on knowing someone who's been infected with covid-19

RI: Speaking of trends, the behavior about food purchases data aligns with the peak of concern we saw about a month ago. That’s where people were more willing to do online grocery shopping. Since then we’ve seen a decline. People seem to be venturing into getting their groceries in-person more freely than before. 

MC: That is true. It  looks like the biggest spike was around May 10th and now people are seemingly adjusting their behaviors. I am curious to see how this evolves now that restaurants are openingup. 

RI: My hypothesis would be that this trend will continue for a little while, and if there is a second wave, it would be interesting to see if that fear picks up and it again starts leading to more online purchases and eating at home.  

MC: There’s two points I am thinking about here. When we started the purchasing online, we were at around 39%. Now we are at 49% and I don’t know if we’ll ever go below that original 39%. My prediction is  that more people are going to grow accustomed to this and the nuances of it, and the supply chain is going to manage it better. So, in general, we’ve probably propped up online grocery shopping a little bit faster or at least more so than if we never had COVID.  Another thing is that we saw a little bit of a down-turn on the takeout and delivery, but that could be because more people are now actually going into restaurants.  

meal habits during coronavirus

RI: That makes a lot of sense. Now talking about people eating out at restaurants, not too many ventured out. Only 17% said they did go out and eat at a sit-down restaurant. And those who did, a vast majority said that they felt at least somewhat comfortable doing so. The interesting thing to me was when we asked them ‘compared to pre-COVID, are you going to go more or less frequently?’ Looking at top and bottom two boxeswe see data skewing toward eating out less. That is concerning if you own a sit-down restaurant, in addition to the extra cost you’re now incurring because of all the precautions you have to take. 

MC: Not only do they incur the cost of the extra precautions, but they also have staffing issues. A lot of these restaurants are staffing outside which can be unpredictable. Plus, restaurants seat fewer people and are investing in outdoor set-ups. 

eating at sit down restaurants during covid-19

RI: We also asked people who didn’t go out to a restaurant what it would take for them to go eat at a sit-down restaurant. As you can see, they want to feel that social distance is in place, staff are wearing masks, deep cleaning, etc. On the one hand, restaurants are saying that it’s what they are doing, yet on the other hand, many consumers are still not wanting to eat out. I imagine that it could be due to lack of trust, which takes time to build. Consumers were able to see the protocols being implemented in a grocery store, and they became comfortable shopping there. But they can’t see what is going on inside a restaurant, they can’t see what is going on inside the kitchen… at least not yet. This may be a fundamental difference between retail and food service that food service will need to address.

What would it take for you to eat at a sit-down restaurant in the next several weeks? 

restaurant themes
restaurant themes
what will it take to eat at sit-down restaurant

IdeaCloud™ 

MC: I’ve also heard people having their temperature taken before going inisde of  restaurants. I wonder does that makes them feel better or does it bring a heightened awareness? 

RI: Well, let’s talk about the people who actually did eat at restaurants. For those who said they felt comfortable, we asked them what it was that made them comfortable. Besides those very few people who just aren’t worried about the virus in generalmost are saying that they have seen protocols in place, whether it be spacing between tables, servers wearing masks or sanitizing.  

MC: I think that’s the cost of doing business for restaurants. They need to provide the space and make people feel  comfortable. It’s another level of work effort for them. Another oddity is that the restaurant staff wear the masks and the patrons don’t when they are eating and drinking.  While this is necessity for patrons, it seems like a bit of a double standard.   

What specifically made you comfortable? 

comfort themes
why comfortable eating at restaurants

IdeaCloud™ 

RI: This is a good segue to the question, Mary, you wanted to ask last time we spoke. You wanted to know if people are still concerned about going shopping. This could be a preview for what may happen with sit-down restaurants as they begin to reopen.  They are 2-3 months behind grocery stores, which had to adopt precautions quickly to stay open as essential service. You see on the left that it still shows some concern, but less than what we probably would have gotten a few months ago. 

MC: What’s happened now is that a lot of retailers have put protocols in place and communicated them to the shoppers so they feel more comfortable. And then there’s local jurisdiction putting ordinances in place for shoppers to wear masks.  

RI: I think that the level of protection and the fact that people are used personal protection is also reflected on the chart on the right. Maybe that’s why they feel more comfortable: they are not just physically protected, they are ‘feeling’ protected.  

concern about covid-19 during shopping

RI: The last thing I’d like to touch on is, how are we doing? The pie chart on the left is showing that people are maybe feeling more ready for restrictions to be lifted. But the grades on the right are still not looking good – people are not happy.  

MC: This will be interesting to see as a trend over time. People are at various stages of concern and acceptance.  Plus there are big variances as to how people protect themselvesHopefully, we will  see a more positive turn in the near future. 

RI: I would expect that until we have a vaccine, the grade will not go above a C. So much in our health and our economy is riding on the success of COVID-19 vaccine that I am having hard time imagining that anything but a success on that field will move the needle with consumer confidence. 

feelings towards relaxing coronavirus restrictions

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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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Do you have a question you want to ask, or do you want to share feedback with us? Contact us at info@groupsolver.com.