retail

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. 

“Show me the numbers.”

“Show me the numbers.”

Worry over the virus is decreasing, but folks continue to acknowledge that we are in this for the long-run. Consumers don’t seem to care how we reach a significant drop in cases and deaths — just as long as we get there.

It’s hard to remember life pre-COVID given that we have been stuck in this situation for months now. The grand impact of the virus continues to linger, but consumers are so used to it that it is no longer as big of a concern as it once was. Some consumers are even feeling more secure about employment than they have been over the past few weeks. What was once bringing us immense fear now begins to feel standard.

Some of the fascinating points that came out of this pulse-check include that (1) people do not think the virus will be gone any time soon (median length of expectancy is now up to 20 weeks!), and (2) unless there is a vaccine or a cure or at least a significant drop in cases, Americans will not believe that we are back to any sort of ‘normal’. Regardless, it is evident that we want to get to this new ‘normal’ one way or another…

Being able to discuss the data with one of our thought-partners has aided us in painting a picture about our current climate, as well as what to expect in the future. We are grateful for IRI Growth Consulting’s Mary Cooper for her time in contributing to our tenth report.

Pulse check on May 22: Awaiting.

Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: This is the week we have been waiting for! We are starting to see the turn for ‘better’, if you want to call it that. Concern about the virus has dropped. It’s the lowest since the second pulse check. Concern about unemployment has also dropped to the lowest level. But, what I find really interesting is that our expectation about how long this will last continues to extend! The median is now at 20 weeks and the average continues to go up as well. This is fascinating to see.

concern about coronavirus is decreasing
concern about employment is decreasing

Mary Cooper, IRI: I think people’s awareness is heightened. They are realizing that they can live within the COVID crisis and still have some good quality of life experiences. That said, this graph speaks to people realizing that this pandemic will not be done next week. We need to continue to figure out how to live in this new normal. Consumers are settling into some of the expectations but realizing that we need to be creative moving forward because this pandemic is going to continue.

median number of weeks pandemic duration

RI: For sure. Going back to your point about people settling in, if you look at the charts about eating out and ordering delivery, they suggest that we are slowly going back to normal.

MC: The data points to two things here. The online grocery purchasing for sure is continuing. The shift away from eating at home is an interesting dynamic. What’s happened is people bought a lot of groceries, cooked a lot at home, but then craved variety, got tired of cooking and wanted to support local businesses. Now that the country is opening up, there are places where only a percentage of restaurants can be filled and people are actually able to be on-site. What is also happening is that we are starting to see the spike of cases again that correlate with restaurants and bars opening. It’s going to be an interesting trend to watch.

shifting away from eating just at home

RI: Definitely! Shoppers are telling us that safety is still on their minds when they go shopping. They think about product packaging. They think about that interface between the outside of the home and inside the home and what happens when they bring products such as groceries across that line.

MC: It is interesting to learn how shoppers are taking shopper hygiene more seriously than in the past. They are instituting new behaviors in store and at home. I wonder if these will be permanent and if more people will adopt these new ways.

grocery shopping precautions

RI: You know, the one question I was not sure of what answers we were going to get was about the ‘sign’ that would mean that we are turning the corner and that this crisis is over. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the answers were about watching the numbers: drops in cases, deaths, etc., as well as having a treatment for the virus.

MC: I’m surprised that we are not seeing mentions of antibodies that will help fight against the virus in the future. That would have been an answer I would have expected to see along with these ones. But I agree that a vaccine pops out here.

RI: That is interesting. I guess the antibodies is the underlying driver for cases dropping. It’s like we don’t care how we get to it, as long as we see that we have bent the curve. I also would have expected seeing answers about businesses re-opening and kids going back to school. That didn’t register!

What is the one sign you are looking for that will give you confidence that the worst of COVID-19 is now over?

sign that the worst is over for pandemic

RI: Now going back to the seemingly contradicting trends, we seem to feel better about the crisis, but we also feel that this will take a while. In the last survey, we asked about how people felt their income might change in the future. It skewed towards income decreasing. Two weeks later, we asked the same question and it looks like people continue to feel like their income will decrease in the next 3–6 months. This is one trend I am keen on watching.

MC: There are certain verticals that people work in that are more concerning than others. For instance, travel and hospitality are on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there are many people who have learned to work from home and function with business as usual. There’s opportunity for disruption.

RI: I completely agree. The interesting thing about new businesses and opportunities being built from the ashes of the crisis is that it tends to leave some people behind.

disposable income in response to covid-19

RI: Maybe one more insight worth talking about is about product packaging. Consumers out there are conscious about the packaging that companies use for their products. We heard from consumers that they remove and discard packaging when they bring products home. Others wash or wipe down products. There is an opportunity for manufacturers to take active steps to make consumers more comfortable. Perhaps something like a COVID-free certification or “contact-less manufacturing” label can offer comfort.

consumers worry about packaging and manufacturing

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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.