Deloitte released data from the latest wave of its Global State of the Consumer Tracker, a series of monthly surveys around the globe, that shows there is some hope on the horizon one year after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. In the survey, consumers reported the lowest anxiety levels since April 2020 and safety perceptions have improved considerably, however, they feel a lot of their pandemic buying habits are going to remain.
Consumers Turning the Corner
Some of the report findings show that anxiety levels have declined by 10 percent in the United States. After months of decline, shopper safety perceptions are improving with more than half of consumers (53%) globally feeling safe going to the store. In the U.S., that number jumped from 51 percent in late December of 2020 to 64 percent. Even though their anxiety levels are declining, customers are balancing near-term optimism with longer-term expectations. Consuming at home and avoiding crowds are likely to remain for some shoppers after the health crisis has passed
Concern over finances also continues to plague consumers as we move throughout 2021. According to the Deloitte study, in the U.S., nearly as many surveyed shoppers are worried about contracting COVID-19 as they are about their finances (51% and 48% respectively). In fact, one-third of global respondents (29%) are worried about making upcoming payments, and that number is even higher (36%) for ages 18-34.
Discretionary Spending Makes Gains
While financial stress weighs on consumers, global intent to spend on discretionary items, which had stagnated since last summer, is improving in the U.S. and Europe, with mixed sentiments in Asia. With the vaccine rollout and latest stimulus, further signs of easing can be expected. According to Deloitte:
- Three in four U.S. consumers surveyed plan to spend the same or more on apparel and restaurants in the coming weeks.
- Signs of optimism are emerging for areas like travel, with vaccinated shoppers indicating higher intent to travel and stay in hotels over the next three months. In the U.S., vaccinated customers surveyed are 35 percent more likely to plan a flight than those who are not vaccinated.
- Although leisure travel booking intent continues to improve across all categories, one in three consumers surveyed say they are waiting to take a vacation until after the pandemic.
“The stress of the pandemic is shifting from personal safety to financial security as we turn the corner and vaccinations become more readily available,” Anthony Waelter, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP, said. “Yet, despite a rise in financial stress related anxiety, consumer intent to maintain or increase discretionary spending is also on the rise, demonstrating more confidence in the recovery. With the passing of the stimulus bill recently, businesses may very well expect to see consumer spending trends accelerate.”
Post-Pandemic Consumers Expected to Continue to Keep Their Distance
While, across the world, shoppers are feeling less anxious, some behaviors are not likely to return to pre-pandemic patterns anytime soon. Instead, many consumers plan to avoid congregating with strangers and continue to consume at home. One of the strongest indicators of permanent changes resulting from the pandemic is on consumer shopping behaviors. Roughly 50 percent of those surveyed indicate they will be doing more shopping online compared to 2019. In April 2020, U.S. customers ranked safety as the number one reason to use “buy online pickup in store” (BOPIS). However, in the latest survey, safety dropped to fourth and was replaced by “cheaper and faster than delivery,” suggesting that a permanent trend is taking hold.
“As we begin recovery from this dual-fronted crisis, certain consumer behaviors have permanently changed. Consumers will not necessarily snap back to old habits. As consumers learn more and experience more, we will gradually get back to traveling, or mingling among large groups, but it likely will not be at the pre-pandemic levels. Other shifts are more systemic such as working, cooking, and streaming from home and convenience through online commerce. They are likely here to stay,” Stephen Rogers, executive director, Deloitte Insights Consumer Industry Center, Deloitte LLP, said.