We are closing in on the two-week mark since President Trump announced a state of national emergency due to the Coronavirus pandemic here in the U.S. and we are already seeing widespread impact on the American economy. While it’s still early in this crisis, there are already signs that this may reshape the consumer landscape forever.
Researchers at Morgan Stanley say the U.S. economy is expected to shrink by an annualized rate of 30% in the second quarter and unemployment could jump to nearly 13%. Both would be records in modern history. This, alongside a statement by former Homeland Security Advisor, Thomas Bossart, that the U.S. is poised to take the lead in Coronavirus cases approximately a week from now.
While this is grim news, an increasing volume of data shows consumers are gravitating to online shopping, no matter what their level of concern, income or education, as self-quarantines and emerging consumer worry about public places drives shopping online.
Consumers are Shifting Focus
Consumers, especially in the last two weeks, have shifted their focus away from things they want, to things they need. That is directly reflected in the fact that Amazon Prime memberships are up 12% during these early days of the crisis. A recent McKinsey study gauging consumer sentiment shows people anticipate spending more than usual in coming weeks on groceries, household supplies, home entertainment and non-food-related child products. According to experts, our supply chain is strengthening as Covid-19 eases its grip on China. However, distribution here in America remains a challenge as the crisis causes delivery overload due to increased online ordering. This week, mega-retailer, Dillard’s, is offering deep discounts, but the fine print alerts buyers they will not receive purchases until March 30th.
It is the psyche of the US consumer that might take the biggest hit though. Part of this falls on our government to reassure us they are in control and are doing everything possible to minimize the effect on all Americans. The $2 trillion dollar aid deal lawmakers struck Wednesday will go a long way in easing concern. Still, close to 36% of Americans are somewhat or very pessimistic about the government’s ability to solve or minimize the crisis, according to the Prosper Insights survey of over 7,500 Americans.
E-commerce Projected to Grow
In 2020, e-commerce is expected to represent 12% of total retail sales, according to Forbes, but a change in consumer behavior due to the pandemic is likely to increase that projection. Not only that, but as a whole new “audience” is driven to online shopping out of need, they are learning a new pattern of behavior. This will result in many continuing to shop online for products in a wide array of categories, including fashion, footwear and consumer electronics. This type of trend has already been seen in online shopping habits during the winter holiday periods – as new shoppers come online they tend to stay there, which is good news for online retailers.
This major social change for consumers means there will be an added reliance on what they trust, the voice of the customer. Consumers are relying on product reviews as their main source of research and information when making key purchasing decisions. Our data shows that 10 percent of people who shop online write reviews, while 90% of consumers rely on them before making a purchase.