E-Commerce Booms While Hospitality, Restaurants Suffer Amid Covid-19 Concerns

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Early trends in consumer coronavirus behavior indicate that the already fast-growing e-commerce sector may see an added boost over the next few months as people avoid in-door shopping to practice social distancing during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Media and marketing services firm ENGINE is conducting 1,000-person online surveys of representative samples of US consumers every few days to gauge changes in consumer sentiment and behavior as the quickly accelerating outbreak develops. The firm found that while 31% of consumers said they were increasing their online shopping in surveys conducted March 13-15 and 16-17, 42% said the same March 20-22, a 35% increase.

The substantial uptick in online shopping, while only one data point, matters all the more because the US is reporting thousands of more cases each day. That means areas that were not affected during one survey may be affected during the following survey three days later. It is reasonable to expect that trends currently affecting four out of 10 consumers will spread as additional states join the 23 that have already shut down non-essential businesses.

Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 crisis is proving especially challenging for restaurants, the tourism and hospitality industry, and brick-and-mortars. A whopping 80% of consumers said in the latest survey that they are scaling down their restaurant visits, a 25% increase from the previous survey. Sixty-two percent are avoiding travel for business, and 42% are cutting back on in-store shopping for inessential items.

The changes across ENGINE’s three surveys also indicate that if concern about coronavirus was once sharply split among people of different age groups and political persuasions, the increasingly undeniable scale of the outbreak is flattening those differences. (The virus had infected 60,000 people in the US as of the writing of this post.)

Eighty-eight percent of consumers now say they are concerned about the pandemic, a jump from 78% in the earliest survey. While only 76% of Republicans at first said they were concerned, 89% of them are now, just five percentage points short of concern among Democrats. Similarly, while Gen-Zers and millennials were significantly less concerned than Boomers and Gen-Xers less than two weeks ago, they are now almost as concerned as the older age groups, with people of every age segment coming in at 85 to 89% reporting concerns.

Unfortunately, the rise in concern and correlative dip in spending across industries that depend on in-person activity come alongside a steady increase in the number of people personally affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Thirty-four percent of consumers said they know someone who has been quarantined with, exposed to, or diagnosed with the coronavirus. That’s up from 13% just a week earlier in the March 13-15 survey.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]