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Consumers Adapting to a 'New Normal,' Studies Show

Elevated traffic, availability issues remain but initial panic subsides
Photograph: Shutterstock

It is no secret that the rise of the coronavirus led to panic buying by many consumers, but there are signals that consumers have shopped enough, new studies show.

While product availability concerns and store traffic remain elevated over normal levels, concern is beginning to ease as shoppers get used to a “new normal.”

After four weeks of data collecting, the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) said consumer concern over having enough is beginning to ease, likely due to store shelves slowly becoming stocked again.

CBA began tracking consumer attitudes on March 4, and in its fourth week, the polling has seen significant swings in how consumers are responding to the crisis. Eighty-four percent of Americans have seen shortages of high-demand products during the coronavirus, up from only 37% at the beginning of the month, according the latest findings.

CBA data

Graph courtesy of CBA

“This pandemic has impacted every American, changing our daily lives in unprecedented ways,” CBA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said. “While Americans’ concerns about the coronavirus and their ability to access essential products is high, we’re beginning to see slight declines in both, indicating a shift in sentiment and experiences around our ‘new normal.’ ”

In the first week of polling, only a little over one-third (37%) of Americans were “very concerned” about coronavirus; the latest results have risen to more than half (54%) of consumers reporting being “very concerned.”

The change in concern mirrors a change in grocery shopping behavior, CBA said. In the weeks since the coronavirus has spread across the country, the percentage of consumers who report stocking up on staples has jumped from 22% to 67%. And an increasing number of Americans are pursuing options that do not require in-store shopping. On March 4, only 18% reported buying online or using delivery services such as Instacart or Amazon Fresh; now, that number has risen to 39%.

Although most have at least a week’s supply of groceries at home, access to essential products is still an area of concern. More than 70% report they are concerned about having access to food and beverage products, with more than 6 in 10 expressing concern over access to household products (67%), cleaning supplies (63%) and over-the-counter medicines (62%), according to the study.  

A separate study released this week by Placer Labs, a location technology firm, said store traffic at seven retailers it studied was down in the third week of March from previous weeks, yet well above levels at the same stores a year ago. Placer said traffic reached record levels on March 13 as panic buying amid the coronavirus set in.

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