As the world has come to what feels like a standstill due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many businesses are seeing below-average purchasing behaviors. From the struggling travel industry to the booming consumer packaged goods space, many organizations are feeling the effects of this virus in different ways.
The COVID-19 outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, coincided with the Lunar New Year, known to be the world’s largest human migration. Because of this, the virus spread rapidly and, just a few months later, has spread globally. As a result of this outbreak, consumers worldwide have been stockpiling household supplies (including panic-buying paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies) along with nonperishable and frozen foods.
This stockpiling of certain products is only scratching the surface of the economic impact of COVID-19. This includes stock market declines, travel bans, social isolation, and supply chain and labor concerns. However, with the isolation comes a silver lining for in-home food and virtual/video media consumption. An outcome of this increased virtual media consumption has led to a deeper understanding of the current search trends around coronavirus, and how the general public is reacting to the pandemic.
Since the initial peak in January, coronavirus-related searches have increased by 320% on Google, and these searches have surpassed other outbreaks including ebola, swine flu, and zika. In the past few weeks, coronavirus searches are up 2,200%, putting them above cold and flu searches. Based on the timing of these searches, it is evident the virus is often the last thing on people’s mind before bed and the first thing when they wake up, as a spike in searches is seen daily around 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. (locally). Many of these searches are executed by the 78% of Americans now working from home, or the 32.5 million children who are currently not attending school.
Many people are also looking into preventative measures. Since mid-February, searches for hand washing and disinfectant have increased steadily, while hand sanitizer searches have increased nearly exponentially. There has also been a month-over-month rise in searches for preparing for extending periods at home, including social distancing, work from home, and quarantine seeing an average spike of +569% among them. Some of the most common searches surrounding coronavirus include “What is coronavirus?,” “How to prepare for coronavirus?,” “What to stock up on for coronavirus,” and “What to do to prevent coronavirus?”
Searches also show that consumers are attempting to combat their boredom at home themselves. Through the middle of March, a steady increase in the search volume of “things to do at home” proved it is a common issue, and might also explain the 60% increase in the amount of content streamed. During February, there was an 80% increase in weekly game app downloads in China. Because of increasing regulations limiting human-to-human interaction, several events, including festivals, concerts, and sporting events, have been canceled. To combat this, however, many experiences previously thought of as “in-person only” have shifted towards live-streaming, including free concerts, virtual conferences, and more.
YouTube has been a great resource for those in more serious quarantine situations, as its search volume has increased in recent weeks in markets that are under similar measures. Despite it being a known entertainment platform, the top-growing searches suggest that people are using it for other purposes, including education and community.
How the CPG Search Trends Have Been Affected
Because of increasing concern surrounding access to certain necessities, including food, the CPG industry has faced several challenges. Trends show that users are searching what to prepare their homes for, especially in relation to food. Highly-affected areas, such as New York, California, and Washington, have seen spikes in searches for assistance in grocery planning. In the past month, queries including “Coronavirus shopping list”, “Prepare for pandemic supplies” and “Food supply for pandemic” have grown over 1,000%.
The first weeks of March showed search growth in several food and beverage categories, with March 1-7 seeing the highest week-over-week changes in bottled water, frozen desserts, and online grocery shopping. The following week, March 8-14, showed continued increased growth in searches for bottled water, but also frozen foods, online shopping, and prepared foods. Across the country, online grocery shopping and delivery queries are up 23% (compared to the same time last year).
What’s Next for CPG Consumers’ Brand Experience?
While all of this data is insightful, it’s easy to wonder what’s next. From a marketing perspective, it’s going to be important to help consumers plan and prepare for the unknown. Acting with sensitivity and offering empathetic solutions to help navigate the “new normal” for consumers will be imperative moving forward. Also, driving awareness of alternate solutions, like safe grocery delivery, can help consumers feel safe during social distancing periods. Lastly, help consumers prepare for increased media consumption at home with recipes and meal prep ideas that rely on shelf-stable, nutritious foods.
It is important to note that consumers’ brand experience through this time will likely have a long-term impact. Because of this, brands must be helpful and empathetic to build positive sentiments. Successful brands have commonalities in times of uncertainty, including:
- Swift, empathetic engagement with appropriate tone
- Transparency in fulfillment and decision-making
- A native digital experience that is easy to navigate
- Consumer value-ads
- Clear commitment to brand values
In times like this, the only thing that will stay constant is change. By being data-driven, organizations will be able to better understand consumer behavior during an unprecedented period. We are all learning each day and hope to navigate the COVID-19 crisis as best as possible.