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How the Coronavirus is Changing the State of the U.S. Consumer

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“Anyone can come up with a campaign, but brands today really need to ask themselves how they’re going to make decisions that will impact the fabric and DNA of the business.” — Matt Britton, CEO, Suzy

All sessions from #SMWONE, our four-week virtual conference program, are now available on-demand.


Real-time market insights platform Suzy conducted two studies between April 24th through the 29th on the state of the U.S. consumer during COVID-19. The first was conducted from the 24th to the 26th with a sample of 750 participants while the second was conducted from the 26th through the 29th with a sample of 1,000 participants. During #SMWONE, CEO Matt Britton broke down the key insights stemming from the research.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • The behaviors exhibited behind closed doors today, will become the new real-world habits of tomorrow
  • Brands that pivot to become helping” or “ingredient” brands are the ones most likely to succeed after the pandemic is behind us
  • DIY is a form of catharsis for consumers during these difficult times

The formation of long-term habits

According to a 2009 study by Phillipa Lally, it takes 66 days for a person to develop a habit. At this point of the pandemic, we’re well into this window of time where consumers are adopting everyday activities that will likely last long beyond the pandemic and disrupt how we speak to and connect with consumers.

This isn’t to say every single decision being made during quarantine has this impact, but there are several key areas where behaviors exhibited today will become the new-world habits of tomorrow. These encompass at-home cooking and self-care, remote learning and working from home, and this notion of having more time on our hands that are fundamentally impacting today’s businesses.

DIY as a form of catharsis

A major theme of the COVID-19 pandemic is consumers being left to their own devices and being forced to adopt new habits where they’re taking more activities into their own hands that they once outsourced to others. Leading in this space is cooking followed by chores, laundry, baking, self-care, home repair, pet care, and sewing. Seventy-five percent of consumers believe they are now more skilled in the kitchen and over 50 percent believe they will continue to cook more after the crisis. In the beauty sector, 54 percent report they’re conducting at-home self-care or beauty treatments to replace spas.

Britton believes the food and beverage industry is the industry that will be impacted most on a long-term basis in addition to travel and hospitality as a close second. In the next five to 10 years, however, we can expect them to return to a state of normalcy but the caveat is that the companies in these spaces will have to make substantial business decisions that involve reshaping their go-to-market strategies. More specifically, this will involve selling your brand as an “ingredient” or “helping” brand, acknowledging that now your product or service can solve the pain points of DIY. L’Oreal partnering with Eva Longorio for an ad shot from her house where she used a product to dye her own hair and Mattel Playroom’s campaign “Play is Never Cancelled” are prime examples.

Time is money

More than half, (54%) of Americans are worried about finances as a result of COVID-19, which comes as no surprise. With mounting layoffs occurring and unemployment rates that could reach up to 20 percent, consumers are finding ways to reframe their routines within the confines of evolving budgetary parameters to prioritize how and where they spend. And we’re even looking ahead to the forthcoming holiday season. Thirty-nine percent state they plan to spend less on gifts for the holidays in December 2020 than they did in 2019.

If Americans are spending less money, what are they doing? They’re re-evaluating how they’re spending more time. They have less money but they have more time and this will be spent cooking at home (60%), engaging in at-home fitness activity (39%), and educating themselves via outlets like YouTube.

“In a new world of ingredient brands, DIY, where consumers have more time – YouTube has to be a place where brands place because consumers are living there. Brands need to invest in the right amount of content to educate their consumers and give them the tips and tools they need to really engage and embrace in this new DIY lifestyle.”

Redefining what it means to be social

Whether you’re considering a middle school student navigating how to interact with teachers and peers over Zoom or a salesperson trying to sell a new service or tool and create an emotional connection with potential customers without face-to-face interaction, one thing is clear: the entire world has had to redefine what it means to be social and interact.

From Zoom happy hours to birthday parties and weddings, the recurring question becomes what part of this reality is good enough? Put differently, COVID-19 has awakened us to the idea that certain businesses can operate at optimal levels virtually. From this critical examination, we can arrive at innovative conclusions that challenge our previously held assumptions and that improve our livelihoods in ways we couldn’t previously have imagined.

Online learning, for instance, has grown in popularity where resources like Skillshare and Coursera are enabling people to take this time to learn more and prepare themselves in ways that will set them up for success post-COVID. Online fitness is another key area, where influencers and personal trainers are using their at-home studios to offer online training sessions that many find are more effective as training in-person.

Due to emerging platforms like TikTok, Squad and Houseparty, and existing apps including Instagram, the virtual experience economy is booming. Artists like DJ DNice amongst numerous influencers and celebrities are tapping into these outlets to drive a deeper point of connection and more loyal fandoms that will stick around following the pandemic in the absence of mass gatherings. In this vein, gaming is also experiencing widespread success with Fortnite, Twitch, and even Microsoft’s Minecraft offer that common point of connection that is harder to come by in the absence of enginga with someone in real life.

Old habits: from not to hot

Thanks to COVID-19, more traditional habits that once dominated culture are now seeing a revival and are being used in tandem with emerging technologies., Per Britton, to stay connected users are primarily relying on physical phone calls (57%) followed by Facebook (55%), Whatsapp (36%), Instagram (34%), Facetime (26%), Skype (21%), and Zoom (19%).

A major concern over the past few months is whether colleges and universities will return. “The notion of the four year college may still exist, but what consumers seek to learn coming out of the pandemic may fundamentally change,” Britton explained. When assessing the 20 skills most in demand today, they are very trade and skill-based including items such as cloud computing, SEO, UX design, and video production, all of which aren’t traditionally taught in a liberal arts environment.

The major takeaway: the technology companies are where the jobs are, where GDP is expanding and this is not likely to change. For this reason, it’s unlikely students not want to incur debt for a system that doesn’t prepare them to succeed in this capacity. This is supported by research findings that state since COVID people are more likely to pay for online education in the future (69%).

Education aside, engaging with neighbors is making a comeback, in addition to crosswords, puzzles, and old-school games like Nintendo Switch, Sony Playstations and XBoxes. Mobile has been king for years in media conversations but since the outbreak of COVID-19, 64 percent said computer laptops and tablets have been integral to their day-to-day lives.

“Anyone can come up with a campaign, but brands today really need to ask themselves how they’re going to make decisions that will impact the fabric and DNA of the business,” Britton shared in one of his final thoughts during Q&A.

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