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COVID-19 – “The New Normal?”

As of this writing (from my home office, of course), over 5 million people in the United States have contracted the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. After a period of reopening businesses across the country, climbing case rates have driven many states to begin closing back down again. Almost seven months after the first U.S. case was reported, there are still no clear indicators of when life will return to normal.

We decided to ask people when they thought life might return to normal for them, and also what life looks like right now, in the middle of the pandemic. In July of 2020, DDG conducted an online study with 396 residents of the U.S., balancing the incoming sample to Census proportions for key demographics using our proprietary method called IGAGE (income, gender, age, geography, ethnicity). No qualifiers were added – to participate people only had to live in the United States and be at least 18 years of age. A brief summation of our findings follows.

People’s lives have been substantially disrupted. Not surprisingly, respondents reported high levels of disruption across a number of areas. Over half said the pandemic has had at least some impact on their employment status, and close to that same amount said their employment location has been affected. Shopping, travel, and leisure activities have also all taken a hit. Fewer than 10% of respondents said that retail shopping was unchanged for them, 82% reported shifts in personal travel, and almost all respondents (91%) said their leisure activities had been impacted.

Patronage is down overall, but bars and movie theaters are taking the biggest hit. Among those who are eating out and going to the grocery or other stores at least some of the time, over 70% said they were doing so less often than they did before. Just about 10% of the people we interviewed said they were currently going to movies and bars. Grocery stores, as an essential business, are getting a larger slice of consumer outings, with about half of respondents currently shopping in store and another 14% picking up their groceries curbside. Restaurants (both chains and mom and pops) are doing at least some business (35% chains and 31% mom and pop), with the majority being curbside pickup.

There are some differences in behavior by demographics. Geographically there seem to be few differences in current behaviors in terms of shopping, dining, etc. People living in suburban areas are more likely than those in some other communities to visit big box retailers or chain stores for home improvement and automotive, while those in urban areas are more likely to be going to bars. Men are more likely than women to be going to bars (15% vs. 7%). All racial/ethnic groups are more likely to be visiting large chain grocery stores than Hispanics are, with African Americans being most likely to do so.

There are things retailers and other businesses could do to increase traffic. Most often mentioned (51%) was to enforce guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing, followed by about a quarter of respondents who wanted to see evidence of cleaning and sanitation. Twelve percent told us that nothing would make them feel more comfortable except a vaccine. Almost half of our sample (45%) told us they had delayed a major purchase due to COVID-19, and online retailers certainly seem to be benefitting from people’s unease, with two thirds purchasing more online due to online discounts and sales being offered.

 

Conclusion? While close to 70% of those we interviewed said they had at least some confidence in their economic status for the rest of the year, economic status is certainly not the only factor driving in person shopping, dining, etc., and many people are still being careful about where they go and how they shop. Retailers and other consumer facing businesses will need to be constantly taking the pulse of their customers to limit the impact on their business. To speak to someone about conducting research with your customer base or about other findings from this study, please don’t hesitate to call me at 984-275-3274 or reach out via email at heather.primm@datadecisionsgroup.com.

 

Heather Primm
Heather Primm
Heather Primm

Heather Primm, Director of Operations, came to Data Decisions Group in 1996 in a part-time capacity as an interviewer in the call center at night while working in property management during the day. Now, over twenty years later, Heather has spent time in almost every functional area of the company, working in quality control, project coordination, project management, product management, and now management of the operations team that delivers high-quality data and research solutions to our clients.

In her role at Data Decisions Group, Heather wears a number of different hats: consulting at the project level, keeping the team abreast of legislative changes that impact our industry, product development, process improvement, and relationship management. What she loves best about the work she does is helping deliver high-quality, actionable results to our clients that allow them to improve their business performance…and their bottom line.

Heather received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1992.