Coronavirus is permanently changing how people cook, shop, and spend

The coronavirus pandemic has already reshaped parts of the economy, as people remain inside and practice social distancing. Yelp internal search and user data shows that consumer interest patterns have shifted sharply toward things like food delivery and home gyms, for example.

A new extensive survey of 440 people by investment bank and financial services firm Piper Sandler found a number of significant changes in consumer behavior, some of it predictable, but here quantified in more detail.

Overall spending

In terms of overall spending, just over half (53%) of Piper’s respondents said they are spending less than a month ago, but spending 50% more in online shopping. A big part of the conversations economists, investors, business owners, and pretty much everyone else are having has to do with what will go back to normal and what will be forever changed by the pandemic. 

Of those receiving coronavirus stimulus checks, around 50% said they will largely use the money for paying immediate, essential expenses and 32% said they’d shore up their savings. During the crisis, many people have had to dip into emergency funds to deal with unemployment and uncertainty.

Consumer electronics

Consumer electronics have been a major outlay for families during the COVID crisis, as video game and television consumption has spiked. Netflix leads the way with an average three hours of content viewed per household per day. 

Piper’s survey respondents set to receive stimulus checks who didn’t have a pressing immediate household need and didn’t need to save the money said they would likely spend the discretionary funds on consumer electronics, clothing health/beauty, and home improvement, among other things.

Vendor Belle Naing watches people walk past her jam and produce stand at the Pike Place Market, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)


Gyms have been impacted significantly by the coronavirus crisis, with many freezing memberships since people can’t work out. (Some have frozen monthly fees after consumer pressure.) But despite the full shutdown, most people say they’ll be back. More than 80% of respondents to Piper’s survey indicated they’d stay, with only 6% saying they will likely cancel their membership (perhaps due to the growing popularity of at-home workout programs).

Changes in how we eat

Piper’s survey found that consumers anticipated returning to normal spending habits in 5.5 months on average, but that some things may change. Two-thirds said they were more likely to cook at home than they were before the coronavirus crisis, which Piper analysts said suggests “a sustainable lift may be likely.” 

This may result partly at least from likely increased restaurant crowding, which 62% of respondents said they considered a factor. 

Of course, it’s hard to know seriously to take these claims. Jason Furman, an economist who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama and who is now a professor at Harvard, tweeted about how cruise ship bookings are on the rise in 2021:  “[everyone] who thinks the pandemic will change everything forever should contemplate this.”

Over half of respondents have someone in the household working from home, and 52% of them said they would consider doing it more often going forward as online meetings get more common. 

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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