By Lauren Taylor and Greg McRoskey
Whatever COVID-19, in its seemingly infinite variety, has in store for them, many US consumers seem inclined to declare it over. Our most recent survey, conducted in March 2022 as the Omicron variant wave ebbed, shows that the vast majority of US consumers have resumed everyday activities such as in-store shopping and restaurant dining. For the first time in two years, fewer than half of survey respondents reported that they were trying to avoid public places as much as possible, and just 17% said that they thought the worst of the coronavirus still lies ahead—tying the low mark previously established in May 2021.
Here are some highlights from our most recent COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey.
In addition to registering a record-tying low of respondents expressing extreme pessimism about the future course of the pandemic, our March survey found that 61% of participants agreed with the statement “My daily lifestyle today is different than it was before the coronavirus”—still a high number, but one that is trending downward. All of our previous surveys had yielded agreement in a band ranging from 81% in March 2020 to 68% in May and November 2021.
Just 47% of survey respondents say that they are keeping their exposure to public spaces to the bare minimum. Percentages of store shoppers and restaurant goers range from 94% to 88%, although long-distance travelers and large-event attendees command somewhat smaller numbers (from 78% for “staying at a hotel” to 46% for “taking a cruise”).
Inflation continues to displace COVID-19 as a primary domestic concern among US consumers. In particular, survey participants have noticed price increases in such categories as food and beverage (90% of respondents), gas/fuel (82%), and restaurant and hospitality (62%).
When asked about where they had noticed price increases and how large they thought those increases were, many respondents overestimated them. Of 14 consumer categories tracked, most participants estimated only 5 fairly accurately. In all other categories, at least half of respondents thought prices had risen at a substantially higher rate than had actually occurred.
Two-thirds of our survey respondents reported feeling financially secure despite the economic uncertainty of the moment. The main effect of that uncertainty—and of widespread consumer pessimism about the trajectory of inflation—seems to be an inclination among many consumers, regardless of their level of financial security, to plan to spend less over the next six months than they spend today.
On a more granular level, consumers say that they plan to buy less or trade down in such categories of discretionary spending as restaurants, clothing, food and beverages, and transport, but to maintain their current consumption patterns with regard to such necessities as housing, gas/fuel, and health.
The picture of US consumers that emerges from our March survey is of a population ready to move on from an era in which concerns about the pandemic severely constrained their everyday choices about where to go, what to do, and how to buy. Although they see inflation as a significant issue for the national economy, many consumers also express optimism about their personal financial security. Having ridden out multiple waves of an unpredictable pandemic, consumers must be prepared to show similar resilience in navigating possible future economic turbulence.
Our Snapshot series began in March 2020 and includes more than twenty articles and slideshows delivered periodically over the ensuing 18 months. The series tracks sentiment and spending changes due to COVID-19.
The series is based on data drawn from an online survey of consumers that has been conducted regularly since early March 2020 across multiple countries worldwide. Each Snapshot highlights a selection of insights from a comprehensive ongoing study that BCG provides to clients. The survey is produced by the authors, who are members of BCG’s Center for Customer Insight (CCI), in partnership with coding and sampling provider Dynata, the world’s largest first-party data and insights platform. The goal of the research is to provide our clients and businesses around the world with periodic barometer readings of COVID-19-related consumer sentiment and actual and anticipated consumer behavior and spending to inform critical crisis triage activities, as well as rebound planning and decision making. A team composed of BCG consultants and experts from CCI completes the survey analytics.