Consumers’ Stress Increases As Pandemic Continues

Consumer anxiety this fall has returned to a level similar to where it stood in June. Mindshare, the agency network that is part of WPP, has released the eighth wave of its “New Normal” COVID-19 tracker—a 1,000 person-per-market survey across 10 global markets that tracks changes in consumer behavior to identify behaviors that may become the “new normal” post-COVID-19. Wave 8 data has shown that consumers have returned to a state of worry, anxiety and stress resembling the same levels as June. There is also a clear indication that financial impact from the pandemic is causing more concern than the virus itself.

Lockdowns have put pressure on brands to act locally, build loyalty and gain trust. More than half of consumers globally agree that the lockdown has made them more likely to buy from brands they know and trust. Younger age groups are more loyal to brands, with almost three in five saying so. There is also a desire for brands to act locally and support local communities, as 51 percent prefer global companies that are actively supporting the local community. Ongoing travel restrictions worldwide have also meant that consumers across the globe are growing more interested in exploring their own country—64 percent are claiming to be interested and 63 percent are not willing to go to any new locations during the pandemic.

The survey found that 70 percent of consumers globally agree that people are not taking the virus seriously, a sentiment particularly true of countries that have been hard-hit by the pandemic such as Mexico (89 percent) and India (83 percent). It is also the older age group that are most likely to agree with this, as 77 percent of those aged 65+ claim this to be true. Consumers also feel the need to retain their own protective measures to safeguard their own health, and 70 percent globally claim to have done so. Again, Mexico and India are the countries where consumers are claiming to be doing this more than the global average, at 87 percent and 89 percent respectively, but also 79 percent of those in China are also keeping their own measures to protect their health. The financial impact felt by the pandemic are more of a concern than the virus itself for 50 percent of the global population, and it is those with higher incomes who are the most concerned with their financial status. There is also a concern for those ages 25-34, with 59 percent agreeing to this.

As the second wave of the pandemic takes its toll across many countries and local lockdowns continue to occur, consumers are growing more stressed—at 32 percent, up by three points since August. Worry is the dominant feeling towards the pandemic, with 49 percent of consumers saying they feel worried, with worry levels mimicking those felt in June. The uncertainty of the whole situation has also made consumers anxious, with a seven-point increase from the previous month to 30 percent. The sentiments are reflected in consumer expectations of life returning to normal, as 47 percent do not expect this to ever happen, and of those who are more optimistic, a third think it will take over a year for normality to return. Across markets, the scenario is similar, with 63 percent of consumers in Singapore not expecting their lives to ever return to normal, and with more than 50 percent of people in European markets, such as the UK and France, agreeing to this. Despite being hit hard, Spain is the most optimistic, with only 39 percent of consumers not expecting normality to return.

Media consumption has stabilized but the lockdown winners are subscription services. Digital and live TV saw an increase in consumption during the pandemic. Some activities, while down from their March levels, still have high consumption: internet (up 51 percent), streaming TV/movies (up 43 percent) and online shopping (up 43 percent). On average, 49 percent of consumers say they are streaming TV and movies more than before the start of the pandemic. The increase in consumption could be impacted by the uptick in new subscriptions, as 35 percent of consumers globally claimed to have bought a subscription service to on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, and a further 13 percent thinking of doing so in the future. In Mexico and India, the number of consumers claiming to have bought a subscription service is almost double that of the global population at 64 percent and 61 percent, respectively. Future growth of these platforms could come from China, as 24 percent of consumers are thinking of purchasing a subscription in the future. The purchase globally is almost equally split between men and women (51 percent vs. 49 percent) and it is ages 25-44 who are the buying these services the most (51 percent).

Despite previous experience, shoppers still believe in the need to stockpile before an impending lockdown. Planned purchases in the next month will be mainly for household basics such as food (77 percent), cleaning supplies (60 percent) and personal care products (58 percent). These claims to purchase were the highest since tracking began back in June. The highest increase, however, was for toilet paper/tissues, up 10 points to 57 percent as the U.K. started implementing quantity control to certain items across various supermarkets to avoid the lack of products on shelves seen at the start of lockdown. Also, 62 percent of consumers globally agreed they are making sure their home is well stocked with food and supplies, an increase of six points on the previous month when 56 percent of consumers agreed. Consumers in the U.S. and China are even more likely to agree to stocking up on food and supplies, at 74 percent—up from 45 percent in the U.S. and up from 62 percent in China.

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