As the case numbers across the Gulf South and the nation begin to rise, so does a renewed unease over the course of the pandemic. In fact, as of July 4, concern regarding the coronavirus is at the highest level since late April, as 59% of U.S. adults are reporting that they are “very” concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In line with the increase in concern, comfort levels that had been on a slow and steady rise during the last few months are now seeing a drop for the first time as we embark on the second half of the year, with only 23% of U.S. adults saying they feel safe engaging in leisure activities right now.
According to a new July survey by Morning Consult, consumers are starting to rethink which activities they are ready to participate in.
35% of those surveyed are currently comfortable dining in a restaurant, down from 37% last week and from 41% in mid-June. The announcement by AMC Theaters that they will delay reopening coincides with consumer hesitations on getting back to taking in a matinee. In particular, Generation Z’s comfort level with going to the movies dropped considerably from 36% in late June to 20% in early July, while Baby Boomers are holding steady at 16%.
CONSUMER SPENDING FALLING AS CASES RISE
Retail traffic in the U.S. hit an all-time low from last year at the same time when it fell 82% in mid-April according to data from the retail consultancy ShopperTrak. Up until the past two weeks, there were signs of improvement. However, retail traffic declines have begun to accelerate once more, as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide.
For those consumers that are shopping, the health pandemic has brought about a change in the way they are making purchases. According to a recent study by Bloomberg, U.S. adults are shifting their shopping habits and shying away from visiting stores, even as they re-open. Although spending had been on the rise, consumers are hesitating on purchasing items such as appliances and clothing and are delaying large purchases.
Some of this hesitation is safety, but it is also economic. Americans became more frugal during the pandemic. During the last three months, 23% purchased more generic items, 28% increased bulk purchases and 41% chose to save money by skipping a purchase altogether. People also did more price comparing, while putting luxury purchases on hold.
While approximately 75% of U.S. adults feel it’s safe to shop inside grocery stores and small businesses, more than 50% said they do not feel safe inside a shopping mall. This could be good news for small retailers as nearly 30% of Americans say they plan to buy more from small businesses even after the pandemic ends.
Current spending data also reflects changes due to recent re-openings, with consumers cutting back on online grocery purchases and returning to places like hair salons and furniture stores, but they are still spending on takeout and food delivery. People are also in full on nesting mode. All of the at home-ness has spurred a rise in home improvement projects, with spending up 40% in this area. Furniture sales are also up 28%.
CABLE NEWS BREAKING RECORDS
Consumers are tuning in to network news outlets, big time. According to Nielsen, Q2 2020 saw Fox News, MSNBC and CNN break all-time viewer records. Fox News had its most-watched quarter in the network’s history, averaging more viewers than Q1 2020, and even more than during the 9/11 and Iraq War periods. MSNBC had its most-watched quarter in total day and in prime time, and remained cable television’s second-most-watched network, behind Fox News. CNN earned its most-watched quarter in the network’s 40-year history in both total day and prime time viewership. ABC’s World News Tonight also saw its largest quarterly audience in 17 years. However, broadcast television’s morning shows didn’t show any substantial growth in viewers last quarter.
THE GULF SOUTH INDEX
The Gulf South Index is a cooperative project between The Ehrhardt Group, a public relations, content, issues and crisis firm, and Causeway Solutions, a nationally recognized research and data analysis company, that are both based in the Gulf South. When the rest of the country may be zigging, we want to know if the Gulf South will zag and why, sharing that insight with you.
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HOW DID WE FIND THIS STUFF OUT?
We cannot comment on the methodology of the surveys and research we did not conduct, which is why we do our best to link to the source articles or studies that we share here.