How coronavirus is already shaping consumer behaviour

An IMI study takes an early look at how Canadians are looking to limit public activities, including shopping, in the near future.

cooking-hands-handwashing-health-545013Most Canadians plan to alter their behaviours in some way in the coming months in response to coronavirus, according to a recent study, with the potential for millions of Canadians to change their shopping and spending habits.

Many local and international companies have stated that it is still unclear the extent to which COVID-19 will impact their operations, but marketing consultancy firm IMI has released a study looking at how COVID-19 has impacted consumer intentions to begin to address some of the unknowns. It polled 4,000 people over 13 years of age across North America last weekend to identify how they’re responding to the global health crisis – whether they’re changing their intentions over the short-term (three months), long-term (three years) or staying the course.

Not surprisingly, most people plan to limit trips outside the home over the next 90 days. According to IMI, about six in ten North American respondents will do “much less” specific out of home activities due to the current coronavirus outbreak, such as travel, going out to bars, restaurants, museums and – most importantly for most marketers – shopping malls and grocery stores. This is a trend across age, gender and region, though Gen X-ers and Boomers are slightly less risk-averse.

Over the next three months, there will be downward pressure on public places and places with crowds across North America. According to the study, 16% of Canadians are much less likely to visit a shopping mall in the next three months, while 9% will attempt to reduce the amount they go to a grocery store. When applied to the entirety of the population, that could represent 10 million and two million Canadians, respectively. The report also points out that this will likely have a positive impact on the amount of online shopping.

The restaurant business could also be impacted in the short term. The report predicts two million Canadians will attempt to reduce restaurant usage for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with lunch experiencing the most pronounced effect (14%), about twice as much that said the same for breakfast or dinner, while 13% said they were less likely to visit a bar for a sporting event. In travel, 12% of Canadians are less inclined to stay in a hotel over the next three months, while 8% of respondents in Canada will decrease their gym-going fitness regimes in response to the pandemic.

When it comes to long-term outlook, the report points out that while it is difficult to claim any sort of accurate predictions, it is representative of where underlying attitudes and emotions are today. The survey found that just over 38% of North Americans feel they will be much less likely to travel to China, Europe or on a Cruise in the next three years.

In Canada, there have been 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19, though health officials in Ontario – where most of the cases have been located – said Wednesday they are currently investigating and testing 102 others. Among the confirmed cases in Canada so far, there has not been any confirmed infection between people, with cases coming from individuals who are returning from other regions where the disease has been more wide-spread, and limiting its spread through isolating patients in hospital and at home.