How COVID-19 Has Affected Consumers’ Day-to-Day Lives

May 28, 2020

What does a day in the life of a consumer look like during COVID-19? Back when stay-at-home orders were first being issued, consumers found themselves having to adopt new behaviors and routines. As the health crisis rolls on, some of those behaviors and routines may stick around for the foreseeable future, while others could ease up or change. There may even be new longer-term behaviors and routines that form as the world moves forward.

GutCheck’s ongoing consumer surveys, which began on March 19, have revealed a wealth of insight into the consumer mindset—including perceptions around consumers’ physical, mental, and financial health during the crisis, as well as a deeper understanding of day-to-day changes that consumers have made.  

As both consumers and brands struggle to regain their footing, it’s important to fully understand how our daily lives have been impacted. In the retail industry alone, some analysts are predicting that 5-10 percent of pre-crisis demand could be lost forever and it could take up to nine months for sales to reach a new normal. Echoing this timeframe, the majority of survey respondents said they expect the crisis to continue in some capacity for the next six to nine months.

Leaning into deep consumer insight right now can help your brand find ways to reach your consumers and adapt messaging, products, and services to better fit with rapidly evolving behaviors and lifestyles. 

Here’s a closer look at the day-to-day changes of consumers brought about by the health crisis, measured during the period from March 19 to May 22.

What’s new is normal—for now

Everyday activities have changed drastically for consumers. When the crisis hit, 85 percent of respondents stopped going to restaurants and bars as often, 78 percent visited family members less often, and 59 percent commuted to work less often. Consumers also tried out new behaviors for the first time, such as wearing a mask in public (57 percent) and wearing gloves to touch surfaces (41 percent).

When consumers weren’t working, they had to find new ways to pass the time. This included adopting activities they hadn’t previously spent much time doing, such as checking news updates (71 percent), cleaning the house (53 percent), and doing laundry (28 percent). Other people engaged in activities and pastimes that were entirely unfamiliar to them, such as livestreaming social events, working out at home, and homeschooling their children.

With fewer places to go and the need to limit contact with others, consumers looked to online activity to help fill the hours. In the first week of the surveys, 32 percent of respondents were making online purchases. Interestingly, 26 percent of respondents said they’d made an online purchase for the first time during the crisis. There was also an increase in streaming videos, with 43 percent of respondents doing so in week one and 57 percent by the fifth wave of our research.

Consumer shopping and purchase behaviors have changed as well. Stories of food staples and consumer goods shortages made waves in the early days of the crisis, and shoppers were asked to adapt to new in-store rules and restrictions. 47 percent of consumers stocked up on groceries or supplies for the first time during the crisis, 20 percent used an online grocery or food delivery service, and 16 percent made purchases from local businesses.

A return to normalcy—however this may be defined—is still a looming question, and consumers have adjusted their expectations as our surveys have continued. Initially, 71 percent said they expected life to return to normal at some point yet this year, with 37 percent thinking it would happen during the summer and 23 percent looking ahead to the fall. 11 percent of respondents thought normalcy would have arrived this spring, while 10 percent said “normal” may never return. Now, just 42 percent of consumers think a return to normal will still happen in 2020, while over a third think it won’t happen until 2021.

Which behaviors will stay and which will go?

With shutdowns being lifted across the country, consumers are thinking about what they’ll do when they emerge from home. Over half (54 percent) are eager to visit family or friends, 40 percent are looking forward to a haircut, and 37 percent would like to go out to a restaurant again.

But even with the easing of restrictions, some respondents still see a reason to avoid certain activities. Overall, consumers want to avoid large gatherings for at least the next six months, such as concerts, air travel, sporting events, and parties.

Now that consumers have had to form new habits, some are likely here to stay and may be conducted as often or more as they were doing during the shutdowns. 88 percent of consumers plan to keep making purchases from local businesses, 87 percent will continue to purchase online, and 64 percent see a reason to keep working out at home as well as stay stocked up on groceries and supplies. 56 percent of consumers will also keep wearing a face mask in public.

How to position your brand and products in a new world

The first part of our consumer mindset exploration offered some ideas for how to reach and talk to your customers these days—specifically related to the messaging and tone that will most resonate with them while the crisis is still top of mind.

But how do you actually position your brand and products to best serve consumers during this time? Based on the findings, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Even though some states have begun to re-open, many consumers are still staying at home and limiting contact with others. As such, you should rely less on former use cases and give consumers new ideas for how to use your products. Think in terms of how they are socializing, eating, communicating, working, and relaxing these days, and how your product fits into their new structures and routines.
  • Increased online activity means that some consumers may enter new product categories or try new brands. Take the opportunity to conduct big data analysis and combine it with survey data to uncover and engage with new adopters. Learn more about their social media behavior, interests, attitudes, and purchase intent, then target them with marketing campaigns that appeal to their unique buyer profiles.
  • Since it looks like online shopping has the potential to become a permanent behavior for those who never did so before, make sure your brand and products are visible and accessible within online shopping and marketing channels.

It’s important to understand that what was normal and familiar to consumers before the crisis is likely to continue to morph and change in the months or even years to come. Adopting an agile approach to the crisis and keeping up with shifting consumer perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations will help you stay relevant with your customers and remain competitive within your market, even during uncertain times.

Our surveys addressing evolutions in consumer mindsets will continue and reveal even more actionable audience insights in the weeks to come. Click here to subscribe and receive those in your inbox as soon as they’re available.

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