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Consumer Surveys Suggest ‘New Normal’ Behavior Could Soon Become Just ‘Normal.’

A report by eMarketer indicates that much of the consumer behavior that’s been driven by the mandatory lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic — including online shopping, money management and travel — will continue to endure even after coronavirus fears have finally eased.

To cite specific examples, the research firm notes recent surveys of U.S. adults conducted by Ipsos and USA Today in March and again April. In the latest wave of the data collection, 41% said they’d moved more shopping from physical outlets to online — up from just 13% who said so in March.

“More online, less in-store” is the clearest trend so far, but the specifics of how and when the spending occurs aren’t as clear. It would appear more consumers spent more in the earliest days of the crisis, when uncertainty was in the air and panic-buying (and hoarding) ensued.

Times are still uncertain, of course, but Americans are apparently more comfortable with the discomfort — or perhaps they’re spending more conservatively because of dwindling incomes or other reasons. Whatever it is, some are now pulling back on spending — while others keep spending more than normal.

“According to Morning Consult’s weekly coronavirus survey tracker, 47% of U.S. adults said they were spending less during the pandemic as of April 10 to 12 vs. 21% who spent more,” eMarketer’s report says. “A week later, only 18% of respondents reported spending more, while 49% were spending less. In the April 29 to 30 update, more than three in 10 respondents said it would be difficult or extremely difficult to get by if social distancing continued for another month — including 12% who said they would have trouble affording food.”

In March, McKinsey & Co. found almost 30% of U.S. adults said they were spending at above-normal levels during the first half of the month — with a plurality maintaining their status quo. But 44% planned to pull back, saying they’d spend less than normal during the second half of the month.

According to polling conducted by Coresight Research on March 18, nearly half of respondents said they expected their “new normal” to maintain its place for the long term.

In research conducted by The Harris Poll from April 18-20, nearly 80% of those surveyed planned to save more and spend less post-pandemic. More than two-thirds said they’d continue to avoid nonessential travel, and nearly half intended to keep at least some grocery shopping online.

Finally, about 30% they’d keep homeschooling their children — or even move out of their urban environments once the pandemic concludes.

Nicole Perrin, principal analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report “U.S. Consumer Confidence amid the Coronavirus Pandemic,” says the findings should be taken with a grain of salt — but that they do provide a sense of what people are thinking about or aspiring to as the pandemic unfolds.

“Long-term forecasts right now can often seem like wish-casting — but it’s hard not to think that an extended period of working from home would lead to more demand from knowledge workers for the ability to live outside expensive coastal cities,” she says.

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