With many countries feeling like the worst was already over in late May when we conducted our fourth wave of research into the consumer impact of coronavirus, what’s changed since?

Are feelings of hope and optimism as polarized as the status of the virus? Have regional outbreaks or setbacks impacted consumer outlook?

Our fifth wave of coronavirus research took place in polarized times; China, Australia, India, and Spain were just some of the countries re-imposing local lockdowns following isolated outbreaks; the U.S. was seeing a surge in cases in some regions; much of Europe was attempting to open up to tourists by operating travel “corridors”, and parts of Latin America were struggling to contain the spread.

Fielded in 18 countries between June 29 and July 2, this study takes the pulse in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the U.S. 

Here, we take a look at seven key insights from the latest study, providing an updated view on many of the themes covered previously, along with examining new topics such as worries over a second wave, and reactions to initiatives like track-and-trace. 

As with all of our dedicated research on this topic, the data and reports are free for everyone to access. And you can keep up-to-date with all of our releases via our hub.

Concern is at its lowest in some countries, but consumers realize it’s a long-game. 

Across our five waves of research – spanning mid-March to early July – some countries are now recording their lowest levels of concern about their own domestic situation. 

These include France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK. Most of these places are seeing sustained success in reducing cases / deaths. 

But the pattern in Australia and China shows how quickly concern can begin to spike again – both countries have seen a 4-5 point increase in concern since May, driven in part by the reintroduction of restrictions in areas such as Beijing, Victoria and New South Wales. 

Concern remains highest in places like Brazil and India – both of which have faced struggles in limiting transmission. 

Interestingly, the U.S. has seen a 5-point drop in concern levels since May, despite record levels of new cases. 

But this is being driven largely by political affiliation; while over 70% of Democrat voters report being very or extremely concerned, this drops to just a third among Republican voters. 

Coronavirus concern in the U.S.

In every country surveyed, the length of time consumers expect their national outbreak to last for is growing. Since May, the numbers thinking it will last 6 months or longer in their country have risen by more than 10 points in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain and the U.S.

Two of the biggest wave-on-wave increases are in China (+14 points) and New Zealand (+17 points), indicating that expectations have sobered even in the countries which have had the most “success”. 

Consumers plan to do more cooking, streaming and socializing after the pandemic.

Since the first two waves of this research in March and April, the numbers saying they’re spending more time doing various in-home and media consumption activities have trended downwards.

While this is to be expected as restrictions ease and people become bored of certain activities, there are strong indications that some areas in particular could be set to enjoy a permanent post-pandemic boost.

Post pandemic behaviors

When asked which activities they intend to carry on with after the pandemic is over, it’s over 20% globally who say they’ll spend more time:

  • Cooking (23%)
  • Socializing as a family (29%)
  • Watching more news coverage (23%)
  • Watching more content on streaming services (23%) 
  • Watching more videos (24%)

Social media services and messaging apps also score close to 20% each. 

There are nevertheless very strong age variations here. For example, while 11% of Gen Z expect to spend more time in the future creating or uploading videos to services such as YouTube or TikTok, that falls to 1% among boomers.

The youngest generation is also twice as likely as the oldest to say they will spend more time on Netflix-style services. 

In fact, Gen Z typically takes the lead for most digital-oriented activities – which makes the fairly equal generational numbers seen for cooking rather noteworthy. 

Online learning is seeing a strong boost in interest, along with permanent work-from-home and public transport alternatives.

6 in 10 Gen Zs and millennials say they’re extremely or very interested in enrolling in online learning programs and courses. What’s more, just 15% of Gen Zs say they’re not interested (compared to over 60% of boomers). 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such a proposition is of most interest in markets like India, Brazil and the Philippines, all of which are home to comparatively young, aspirational online populations.

With many companies switching to remote working during the pandemic, just over 50% express a strong interest in working from home permanently. 

Age is once again a significant determiner over this, but only in two countries (Belgium and Japan) do levels of strong interest fall below 40%. 

There’s also considerable enthusiasm for using alternatives to public transport; just 20% say they aren’t interested in this, although this figure doubles to more than 40% among baby boomers.

Domestic trips and staycations are the most popular vacation choices.

When asked about their vacation plans in the next 12 months, consumers are most likely to take domestic vacations (48%) or local staycations (32%). These numbers dwarf the equivalents for foreign short-haul (13%) or foreign long-haul (9%) trips. 

Domestic vacations are the most popular of all in parts of Europe (including Romania, Spain and Poland), as well as in China and New Zealand. The latter suggests that consumers in “successful” countries are looking inwards to ensure their plans are safeguarded.

Short-haul trips to another country have particular appeal in Singapore (as might be expected for geographical reasons) as well as parts of Europe – including Belgium, Germany, and the UK.

This suggests that current efforts to establish travel “corridors” will be particularly appealing for Europeans in the northern part of the continent looking for escapes to sunnier climes in the southern part. 

Compared to wave 4 in mid-May, the appeal of domestic vacations has remained stable in most countries, showing that intentions aren’t changing even as many countries ease their lockdowns and attempt to restart a degree of international travel. 

The personal financial outlook remains broadly positive.

When asked about the impact they expect coronavirus to have on their personal / household finances, outlooks are still broadly optimistic. 

In just 3 out of 18 do more than half of consumers expect it to have a big or dramatic impact on their personal finances.

In 5 of the 18 (China, France, Germany, UK and the U.S.) it’s a quarter or less who are expecting a hit of this magnitude. 

Figures in most countries have improved a little since May, with the U.S. in particular seeing a 10-point reduction in those expecting a big or dramatic impact.

Financial expectations of coronavirus

In terms of the impact predicted for the national economy, figures in all countries remain high but are typically trending down a little.

That said, there are still 7 countries among the 18 where 90%+ think their economy will take a big hit. Germany and China stand out as exceptions for being the most positive about their national economies. 

These optimistic forecasts about personal finances need to be viewed against the backdrop of about 6 in 10 reporting that the outbreak has had some impact on their job – suggesting there may be a disconnect for some between expectations and likely reality. 

By far the most common are pay cuts (27%) and reductions in working hours (24%). Both of these see their highest figures among Gen Z, millennials and the higher income group – the same three cohorts most likely to be delaying big purchases. 

By age, Gen Z and millennials stand out for being disproportionately impacted by most of the factors impacting jobs. However, among the two, millennials are more likely to have had bonuses or pay rises deferred, whereas Gen Z are more likely to have lost their job. 

3 in 4 are in support of track-and-trace systems.

There’s broad support for the usage of tracing apps to identify and contact people who have potentially been exposed to coronavirus. 

Almost 3 in 4 globally support this initiative, peaking at over 90% in China, India and the Philippines.

Coronavirus track and trace initiatives

Support is lowest in several European countries, where privacy concerns are typically some of the most pronounced. Figures dip below 50% in Belgium, France, Japan, and Poland. Indeed, “strong” opposition is most visible in France and Poland, at around a quarter.

This activity also polarizes people by age; whereas 45% of Gen Z express strong support, but that figure drops to 30% among baby boomers.  

Concern about a second wave is pronounced.

Across the 18 countries surveyed, two-thirds of consumers are extremely, very, or quite concerned about a second wave of the pandemic.

Such a sentiment can be expected to influence behaviors and attitudes throughout 2020 – leading to a safety-first mindset.

Concern about a second coronavirus wave

Concern is especially pronounced in countries like Brazil and India, two of the places where transmission is still most problematic. 

However, only in a handful of countries does the figure fall below 60%, including in markets like China (45%), Germany (55%), New Zealand (58%). 

This shows clearly that a country’s “success” in tackling the initial outbreak will influence attitudes towards future risks very heavily. 

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Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GWI. He's the main man who leads our global team of analysts, delivering world-renowned research. He's an in-demand data junkie who you might see popping up on your telly screens every so often to show you what's actually happening in the lives of consumers.

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