Data, insights and consulting company Kantar introduced the first wave of its COVID-19 Barometer, which examines the impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior.
The study, released on Wednesday, surveyed more than 25,000 consumers across 30 markets between March 14 and March 23 and included findings on consumer attitudes, media habits, impact on purchase behavior and what consumers expect from brands.
At the point of analysis, there were over 200,000 known cases of COVID-19, resulting in about 8,500 deaths.
Markets could be broken down into three categories based on how far along the outbreak of coronavirus was in the area. Given how quickly the coronavirus pandemic has spread in many markets, these categories may be more informative than the results for individual markets. Markets in the early-stage category had seen relatively few cases, a low number of deaths and few social distancing measures put in place. These markets included the U.S., U.K., Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and South Africa (although clearly some have now advanced beyond this stage). Mid-stage markets, which included Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Israel, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey, were markets in which community transmission was taking place, deaths were increasing and some social distancing measures were taking place. Late-stage markets, which at the time included China and Italy, had seen a significant number of cases and deaths, with full lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of the virus.
While consumers were largely concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, personal concern remained relatively low at the time of the study. Overall concern was highest in China, but the country actually scored the lowest for personal concern. In the U.S., both total concern and personal concern were low, with total concern at the lowest among all markets measured.
The coronavirus is causing consumers to make a number of lifestyle changes in response to the pandemic. Most obviously, respondents said that they are washing their hands more frequently or for a longer period of time. Among G7 countries, 77% of consumers reported such changes in behavior, with the largest uptick in Canada (88%) and Italy (87%) and the smallest in Japan (56%). In the U.S., 80% reported such an increase in hand-washing.
Many also reported avoiding nonessential social contact, with 68% total reporting such social distancing behaviors among G7 countries. Unsurprisingly, the number was highest for Italy (86%), where the pandemic was/is at a later stage of spreading. Canada followed at 82% and the lowest percentage reported was for Japan, at just 43%. In the U.S., 69% reported taking these social distancing measures.
Among G7 countries, just over half of consumers reported self-isolating at home in response to the coronavirus pandemic. France actually led G7 countries at 85%, followed by Italy (75%). In Japan only 21% reported such behavior, while in the U.S. 64% reported taking this step.
Less than a third (29%) of G7 respondents reported working from home or working from home more often in response to the pandemic. The total was highest in Italy, where 41% reported such remote work measures, whereas about a third of workers in Canada, France and the U.S. were taking this step and only 12% reported doing so in Japan.
Among G7 countries, seven in 10 say their household income has already been affected or will be affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Once again the total is highest in Italy, where more than eight in 10 (82%) have already seen or anticipate seeing such an impact. It is lowest in France and Japan, where around two-thirds (65%) responded similarly. In Canada and the U.S. around three-quarters responded that they have seen or expect to see an impact on their income.
With theaters shutting down as the virus progresses, cinemas have seen large losses as markets progress from early to late stages of its spread. TV, online platforms, social networks and messaging apps have all seen increases in consumer use as the coronavirus pandemic has progressed in different markets. Among the messaging services, WhatsApp saw the greatest gains, particularly in Italy and Spain, but usage increased across all platforms.
Kantar also examined the type of content people were sharing on social media, identifying six core themes. The most common of these was people using memes and selfies to communicate more serious messages than the typically lighthearted fare associated with them. The next most common theme identified was a longing for nature as people struggle with being mostly stuck inside for social distancing (and those in the northern hemisphere watch the emergence of spring from their windows). Two equally common themes appeared to be people sharing cozy content around getting nestled in with pets and loved ones and adapting both their social and work lives to a digital format. Other themes include creativity and crafts and “new essentials” for social isolation.
So what role can brands play in this?
According to Kantar, consumers want brands to be genuine and for companies to make staff welfare a top priority and favor flexible working. Many also wanted companies to make donations to support purchases of masks and sanitizer for hospitals and have plans in place to secure supplies of services or products to consumers. Around a third of consumers said companies should make donations to support scientific research and help consumers by offering coupons or discounts. Less than 10% of consumers surveyed said brands should stop advertising.
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic has had a dramatic impact on purchase behaviors. Consumers are largely still relying on physical stores for food, beverage and pharmaceutical needs, although around one in 10 consumers reported online purchases in food and beverage, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and personal care, electronics and clothing over the course of the last month. One in five consumers reported shopping less in-store, with around one in 10 saying they had shopped more online and around one in three saying they expect to shop more online.
A survey of consumers in China found that some categories were hit harder than others by the coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, out-of-home entertainment, dining and travel were among the hardest hit, along with hairdressing and manicure services, fitness classes, luxury items, beauty products, appliances, home fitness equipment and alcohol. All of those categories saw decreased spending or cancellations.
Conversely, household cleaning products, pandemic preparedness products, online entertainment, food and beverage, medicine and nutritional and health products all saw a boost. Personal care products saw little impact.