Fear and frugal: coronavirus wreaks havoc on America’s shopping psyche


When the United States reopens, the Americans are not very interested in going out and spending.

A survey of 2,200 American adults shows how Covid-19 has radically changed behavior in the world’s largest economy, potentially in the long term. The data is flashing warning signs of the recovery, showing diminishing interest in public events and material things, such as appliances and clothing, and new austerity, expressed by pantry storage and purchases of large delayed tickets.

This foreshadows an era of fear and frugality that could lead to a complete economic rebound, on which Washington and Wall Street are banking out of reach. The data also raise doubts about the extent to which increasing consumer confidence will translate into spending, on which the economy depends heavily. And this survey, interviewed last weekend, ignores last week when a spike in cases blocked reopenings in multiple states, which could worsen the behavioral impact of the pandemic.

“People generally express that they will do certain things less, or at home, by themselves,” said Victoria Sakal, general manager of brand intelligence at Morning Consult, partner of Bloomberg News as part of the survey carried out the last weekend in June. “There is also an element of health in how people feel safe, comfortable and protected. ”

Americans – often stereotyped around the world as confident to the point of being arrogant – have developed a fear of closed commercial spaces. While about three-quarters of American adults feel comfortable shopping in grocery stores or small businesses, more than half do not feel safe in a mall, according to the data. This only adds to the woes of shopping centers.

And this new preference for small retailers seems to remain in place: even after the pandemic is over, almost 30% of Americans say they plan to buy more from small businesses than before the virus.

“Small businesses have built people’s trust,” unlike shopping malls, said Sakal.

It’s not just the malls that have more wary Americans. When asked about their social projects after the economy had fully recovered, more than half said they were in no hurry to go to the movies, a sporting event, a concert or a show.

Bars, in particular, have lost their appeal, with half of American adults not even impatient to have a beer at the end of the blockages. This apprehension comes amid a recent wave of cases linked to drinkers spreading the virus. A hundred people have recently been infected in just four bars in Minnesota, and another 100 are linked to a water point in Baton Rouge, La.

Americans seem less afraid of restaurants, but even then, about two-thirds say they would feel better about eating indoors in a restaurant that required employee masks, new kitchen cleaning protocols and spaced tables.

These cautious attitudes mark a radical change for a country that is both admired and ridiculed for its sometimes extravagant consumer culture. America invented the mall and the cinema, and has eight of the ten largest sports stadiums in the world. But coronavirus blockages have given rise to a new attitude: if you reopen it, they might not come.

Part of the hesitation is economic. Americans have become more frugal during the pandemic, the survey found. In the past three months, 23% of respondents have purchased more generic items, 28% have increased their wholesale purchases and 41% have chosen to save more often by forgoing a purchase. People also increased the price comparison, while suspending expensive and expensive purchases at a higher rate.

This economy could be here to stay, permanently changing the makeup of the average American consumer, much like the impact of the Great Depression on spending patterns 90 years ago. More than three-quarters of consumers say they expect their savings rate and financial conservatism to increase after the economies reopen completely.

The investigation comes just days after the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced a “disturbing wave” of new cases, sparked by hot spots in Texas, Arizona, Florida and California. At the same time, New York and neighboring New Jersey, the epicenters of origin of the disease, reflected on the speed of their reopening and delayed the return of meals to the dining room. Meanwhile, cases among young Americans have increased.

However, when the blockages end, the youngest Americans will come out first. The survey shows that 29% of Generation Z consumers are eager to return to restaurants, with about one in four enthusiastic about concerts and movies, more than any other cohort.

If they can afford to go out, it is. The study shows that when it comes to saving, adults of generation Z, aged 18 to 24, are the most likely to be “definitely” more frugal after the pandemic.

It makes sense, according to Sakal. “Younger generations are more likely to have changed their purchases because of lust,” she said. “They have been more directly affected by the job changes and do not have as many savings.”


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