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Endurance, Inequality, Innovation: How Covid-19 Has Transformed Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors

Explore six months of data on how consumers have adapted and how they see the coming months

REPORTEndurance, Inequality, Innovation: How Covid-19 Has Transformed Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors
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Reviewing digital data over the last six months, we’ve seen how Covid-19 has dramatically impacted health and healthcare, how we live, how we educate our children, how we work, how we socialize, and how we entertain ourselves.

This report serves as a review of our findings, looking at what consumers collectively think about our current reality, and what they see ahead in the coming months.

The study brings together data from eight countries (the UK, Italy, Spain, France, the US, China, and Australia) and six languages. Survey data includes ~120k interviews per country, while social data includes ~763 million posts from Twitter, Reddit, forums, blogs, and more (collected February 19 to August 23 2020).

We’ll split the report into three parts:

  1. Life under lockdown: What are some of the key trends we’ve found in consumer behavior over the past six months?
  2. The winds of change: What major developments have we seen in the last few months in terms of cultural moments and innovation?
  3. What’s next: How are consumers approaching post-lockdown life?

Read on to learn:

  • How the ‘back to basics’ trend took hold in lockdown, and could continue post-outbreak
  • How consumers are approaching medical treatment when fewer than half say they feel safe going to see a doctor
  • What many consumers consider as a key indicator of going ‘back to normal’
  • And much more

Life under lockdown

Back to basics

Consumers have been discussing taking up activities they see as a throwback to simpler times, such as walks or bike rides, enjoying cooking or baking at home, and family movie nights (~2.5M posts).

People often discuss making a conscious effort to focus on the things that matter, such as spending quality time with immediate family at home, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating well.

Many talk about a return to the basics as one thing they hope to take forward from Covid-19 living.

Consumers have also taken comfort from nostalgic experiences, such as watching favorite movies, reading, or playing classic video games like Super Mario or Pac-Man on old school consoles such as the Sega Genesis.

Board games generated interest, with some leveraging Zoom to play with family and friends in different locations. Board games are considered great for family bonding and a good way to get a break from screen time.

Drive-in cinemas also made a comeback in late April, generating 3.7m social engagements. People say they love the resurgence of a concept that offers safe entertainment and community during the pandemic.

Coping mechanisms

Consumers have relied on coping mechanisms that range from alcohol to hair dye in order to blunt the monotony of life in quarantine.

Alcohol consumption has been a trending topic in online discussion throughout lockdown (~24m social engagements). At the onset, people discussed virtual happy hours and drinking games as an opportunity to connect with family and friends during lockdown. Over time, people indulged more in day drinking or even while working from home. Many claimed drinking has become a daily habit.

Driven by boredom in quarantine, consumers talked about enjoying comfort food including snacks, ice cream, pasta, and especially pizza (~7m total engagements). Some admitted they were overindulging.

For many, drinking alcohol and eating comfort food has been a form of self-care during lockdown.

Meanwhile, gamers not only played to escape reality, but also to stay connected. Animal Crossing surfaced as the most-discussed game throughout the pandemic as it enabled people to embody characters, interact with others, and even attend in-game events, such as weddings or funerals.

Haircare dominated personal care conversation (~9m social engagements). When salons were closed, people talked about having their hair styled by family members or doing it themselves. “Quarantine hair” trended online and as lockdown continued, hair dye became a popular topic. Pink, purple, or green were top choices.

Women also shared makeup and skincare routines.

Quarantine makeup discussion among females of all ages included sharing daily looks and photos. Many said getting glammed up at home elevated their mood. Others opted for a more natural look in quarantine. As use of face coverings became more widespread, an increasing number of women say they are choosing to forego makeup.

Socialization and isolation

People have struggled with being isolated from family and friends, as well as the blurred boundaries between home and work life.

Staying connected has been a challenge for many during lockdown (~102k posts). People living apart from family complained about not being able to visit one another. A particular challenge cited was not physically being there for someone who was sick or dying from Covid-19.

Many shared worries online about the impact of lockdown on mental / emotional health. Two in five survey respondents across tracked markets confirmed the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental / emotional health.

Audiences of particular concern included children with an ongoing lack of structure, as well as seniors living alone.

Conversations about working from home have run the gamut, from positive discussion about increased productivity and the benefit of no commute to concern about burnout from working too many hours. For parents, the stress of juggling kids and remote learning has been an ongoing theme.

Women feel hardest hit, trying to balance family, homeschooling, and professional commitments. Many are concerned about whether schools will reopen at full capacity and how school-opening decisions will impact their careers.

Driven by tech companies setting the precedent, millennials are expecting the flexibility to work from home at least part-time moving forward.

Safety

From the beginning of the pandemic, people have discussed and debated what practices they should follow to stay safe, such as washing hands, maintaining social distance, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Many have expressed frustration with conflicting guidelines, particularly in regard to wearing masks. One of the most frequently asked questions in forum discussions was “Why did the media keep telling us that wearing a mask was not effective?”

Safety has of course been an enormous theme within pandemic conversation. People have discussed adjusting their behaviors to prioritize personal safety, making more purchases online, and converting to pickup and delivery services.

Safety is also the primary focus of discussion about schools and workplaces.

The most frequently asked questions in online forums have included those around what measures have been implemented in people’s place of work to mitigate risk as well as seeking advice on what things people can do to reduce the risk of getting Covid-19 when they go back to work.

Retailers implemented in-store safety measures, such as plexiglass installations, managing store traffic flow, and requiring PPE to ensure customer safety. Customers often selected locations to shop based on how safe they felt in store.

Restaurants created outdoor seating and adjusted indoor seating to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Across tracked markets, 37% of survey respondents said they felt safe dining or drinking outside a restaurant or bar, compared to only 25% inside.

Some worried about the safety of carry out and delivery.

Hotels implemented contactless check ins, contactless room keys, and detailed cleaning procedures.

People discussed the safety measures of specific airlines, including mask requirements, not selling middle seats, and ‘fogging’ planes between flights. Travelers wondered why federal aviation regulators did not implement industry-wide guidelines.

Six months into the pandemic, perceptions of air travel safety are rapidly changing. While many travelers continue to express apprehension about flying, some are sharing research suggesting the odds of infection on airplanes are low.

DIY and creator mentality

Many leveraged idle time during lockdown to take on DIY projects or to pick up a new skill or hobby.

After the initial shock of lockdown, discussion soon turned to improving both indoor and outdoor spaces at home (~560k posts). People said they were repurposing money they’d have spent on travel or going out on décor and home improvement.

People talked about gardening and landscaping in order to make lovely outdoor spaces. Pools, hot tubs, and grills were also discussed.

Some thought outside of the box by using garage spaces to make a home office space or home gym.

In the early weeks of quarantine, people discussed engaging in new hobbies during lockdown. Baking was one of the most viral global trends (~5m social engagements), fueling the popularity of YouTube recipe/tutorial videos. Others talked about learning a new language or musical instrument, or taking part in arts and crafts. After binge-listening to popular podcasts, many decided to make their own.

The winds of change

Cultural moments

Cultural moments related to race, civil liberties, and politics have become a global focus in  recent months.

The Covid-19 pandemic contributed to mounting tensions worldwide, as individuals faced economic hardship due to unemployment and healthcare costs, as well as illness and general anxiety. 30% of tracked respondents indicated that they felt very cautious about the future.

Protest

Protests against issues ranging from police brutality, to infringement upon civil liberties, to the negative economic impact of lockdown on communities have contributed to civil unrest.

Research shows that Black Americans have been among the most negatively impacted in terms of unemployment and Covid-19 morbidity rates. Existing racial inequalities and heightened anxiety with the pandemic have contributed to the growth and longevity of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Protestors gathered in cities around the world to show support for the movement.

Brexit

As the December 31 2020 end to the Brexit transition period approaches, people online have expressed concern about a no-deal Brexit negatively impacting the UK’s access to medical supplies and unemployment, particularly as Europe faces the possibility of a second wave. Many say that PM Johnson indicated that the deal was “oven-ready” at the start of the transition, but no plan has been determined to date.

Elections

As countries prepare for general elections, many people have discussed how Covid-19 is impacting how candidates campaign, and how people vote in person and by mail. One of the most frequently discussed topics in forums has been whether the pandemic will impact the outcome of upcoming elections.

People online are talking about how New Zealand postponed elections due to a new outbreak. US conversation includes conjecture that electronic and absentee ballots could be tampered with.

Conspiracy theories

Covid-19 has created a perfect storm for discussion of conspiracy theories, which included assertions that the virus:

  • Was a result of the electromagnetic waves of 5G network towers
  • Was created as a biological weapon in a lab
  • Was part of Bill Gates’ plot to implant digital microchips to track and control people
  • Was the result of genetically modified crops
  • Was a plot by big pharma to sell vaccines
  • Simply doesn’t exist

The misinformation and disinformation within these theories (and where they appeared) politicized a global pandemic and highlighted how media sources influence information. Ultimately, 44% of survey respondents indicate they trust medical authorities and scientists for Covid-19 information.

Inequities

Covid-19 has widened socioeconomic inequities that impact people’s ability to work, educate their children, and access necessary healthcare.

Internet access

The pandemic has magnified the fact that internet access is a basic necessity. Internet connectivity enabled non-essential employees and students to work and learn remotely, and for many to continue to receive the routine healthcare they needed via telemedicine. People also leveraged video conferencing software to safely stay connected with loved ones.

Not everyone, however, had access to the technology they needed, as not all individuals can afford the internet or have the electronic devices to support their remote needs. Communities worked to bridge the digital divide by providing loaner laptops for students, and cable companies provided free internet access to underprivileged communities.

Health insurance

News that 5.4 million people in the US lost health insurance during the pandemic – the highest annual increase of uninsured ever recorded – yielded ~40m social engagements.

Online discussion lamented the expense of health insurance, and some asked why dental and vision are separate types of insurance.

Many in the US shared statistics about the number of unemployed and uninsured in their state.

People with healthcare expressed frustration over the quality and accessibility of care. Long wait times in crowded lines for testing were a common concern.

Innovation

Health

While telehealth is not a new technology within the medical field, its use and adoption grew during the pandemic, reducing the risk of exposure to the virus.

Telehealth provided an option for people to maintain their preventative, chronic, or routine care during the pandemic as fewer than half of survey respondents say they feel safe going to a doctor (40%). Social discussion supported this sentiment, as people described falling behind on routine health appointments out of fear of exposure to the virus.

40% of overall survey respondents say they feel comfortable having a virtual doctor’s appointment. Comfort was highest in the UK (51%) and US (47%).

Online, healthcare providers and industry analysts discussed how telehealth represents the future of medicine. The convenience of meeting virtually was appealing to patients, reducing travel time to the office. 33% of survey respondents said they would choose to have a virtual doctor’s appointment post-Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for comprehensive integration of digital patient data across medical platforms to allow healthcare professionals to provide patient-focused treatment. To date, healthcare professionals have used multiple platforms to access patient information.

Similarly, patients need access to their electronic medical record (EMR) to advocate for themselves or even to make travel easier. There is growing online discussion about health passports that provide select information from an individual’s complete EMR using blockchain technology to transmit encrypted Covid-19 testing records. This would allow travelers to avoid quarantine and some people have speculated that use of this tech could allow sports and entertainment venues to reopen sooner.

Going cashless

The pandemic has raised health and safety concerns about handling cash and coins, prompting merchants and consumers to use digital payment methods.

People have opted to avoid cash in favor of contactless payments during the pandemic given that research has shown that paper bills can contain bacteria and viruses.

Survey respondents across tracked markets indicate that contactless payments are their preferred method of purchase (31%).

People online are discussing a cashless society, sharing examples of how little they use cash now, the ease of cards and mobile wallets, and their preferred methods of payment.

As Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of a cashless society, conversation about digital currencies has also increased. The impending launch of Facebook’s blockchain digital currency Libra and China’s proposed central-bank digital currency reflect shifts in the global financial paradigm. People online are describing a #GreatReset.

What’s next?

Post-lockdown life

Taking it slow

Many say they will work to maintain some aspects of a slower lifestyle and won’t return to overbooked schedules and fast food on the run while shuttling kids to practices and playdates. We plan to continue family dinners, daily walks, baking bread, and game nights.

Tight purse strings

Thinking ahead to the holidays, many say they’ll be keeping it simple, prioritizing family traditions and togetherness over gift giving and consumerism. Budgets will be reduced this year, according to both social discussion and survey responses.

On finances, 30% of our survey respondents indicated they’re focused on building or rebuilding their savings in the next 12 months.

‘Back to normal’

Safety

Life may not look normal for a long time yet, especially with focus turned to safety. Many are concerned about a second wave and the upcoming flu season.

The impact on healthcare systems is a key worry, and we’re also concerned about keeping kids safe in schools and employees in offices healthy.

Masks continue to be the subject of controversy, especially in retail discussions. Several incidents about grocery employees confronting mask-less customers went viral with the trending hashtag #covididiots.

Vaccine

On average, 45% of survey respondents across the countries we studied say that things will be back to normal when a vaccine is available. This is a particularly polarizing conversation online, with concerns about rushed development and mistrust around the pharma industry.

This report originated as the final edition of our bi-weekly Covid-19 consumer insights reports. You can find the full archive here.

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