It’s a nagging feeling that we just can’t move on—that’s how US consumers seem to be experiencing the pandemic today. On the one hand, concerns over COVID-19 have receded, as only 27% of respondents to our most recent consumer sentiment survey believe that the worst of the pandemic still lies ahead, compared with a high of 77% in March 2020. But on the other hand, more than 50% of respondents continue to express both worry and frustration about the situation. Their worries focus not only on the potential for a spike in COVID-19 cases or the emergence of a new variant, but also on the impact of the continuing disruption on the economy and on their own finances: 80% of consumers said that they were concerned about the rising prices of goods and services. Many survey participants have seen significant price increases and expect this inflation to continue next year. As a result, more people—especially those with incomes below $100,000—are reducing the quantity of products they buy, switching to lower-priced brands, and seeking out discounts and promotions. And as economic pressures have intensified, consumers have become more likely to identify economic and financial concerns as reasons for cutting back on activities and spending.
Adjusting to Disruptions
As we approach the holiday season, US consumers are altering their buying behavior in response to supply chain disruptions. In our survey, 73% of respondents said that they had encountered stock-outs, 46% delayed deliveries, and 41% increased wait times at restaurants or retailers. Faced with these challenges, consumers are delaying purchases, buying online, switching brands or stores, buying less, or buying earlier in anticipation of a delay. And for the coming holidays, consumers say that they expect to spend less, buy earlier, and shift more of their spending online. This trend toward earlier holiday buying may temporarily prolong the appearance of forward buying, but we are seeing the pattern of forward buying in most categories begin to slow.
US consumers’ confidence in the effectiveness of available COVID-19 vaccines remains high, and more than 80% of those who had already received one said that they plan to get a booster. Consumers are split, however, on the question of support for vaccine mandates for parents and children.
We have observed a number of significant changes in consumer behavior over the past year that may reflect a broader reevaluation of individuals’ priorities. For example, many survey respondents—particularly hourly employees—have decided to switch jobs or leave the workforce entirely. Consumers also say that they are prioritizing health and exercise, and we have seen a shift toward more in-home exercise.
Making Travel Plans
Finally, survey respondents’ concern over travel continues to fade, as 72% of them said that they expected to travel for a vacation in the next six months, and a larger percentage of respondents anticipated traveling for the Thanksgiving and December holidays in 2021 than in the prior pandemic year. With so many signs of continued light, we can only hope for further progress as we turn the calendar to 2022.
(Courtesy BCG/By Lauren Taylor, Lara Koslow, Greg McRoskey, and TR Geng)