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Columbia Business Monthly

Consumers Grapple With Effects Of Pandemic

Apr 24, 2020 11:10AM ● By David Dykes

Staff Report

Whether working, going to school, exercising basic functions such as eating and socializing, making summer vacation plans, or all of the above, the coronavirus pandemic has upended people's lives in countless ways.

The impact on the economy in the Carolinas is unlike anything we have ever seen. When hurricanes or floods have ravaged parts of the Southeast in the past, neighboring areas of the state and the country raced in to help. The coronavirus outbreak is affecting everyone, everywhere. Solutions are not clear and every path forward is fraught with potential repercussions.

A new poll conducted by integrated marketing communications agency Chernoff Newman provides a snapshot into the effects the coronavirus has had on the lives and psyches of South and North Carolinians to date.

"The results reveal how North and South Carolinians have modified their behaviors in the short term, but also how some of these behaviors might continue in the mid- to longer-term and the implications these changes may have on key industries and the broader economy," said Fenton Overdyke, director of research for Chernoff Newman.

Key findings from the agency's study, conducted April 13-20:

The environment around the coronavirus pandemic is clearly one of great concern; it is not, however, one of panic.  

When asked about the level of household stress, nearly one in five consumers view themselves in "meltdown" mode (SC 19 percent, NC 22 percent). However, consumers have real concerns about coming into contact with the coronavirus (SC 73 percent, NC 72 percent) and/or catching it and becoming ill (SC and NC, 67 percent). The vast majority feel like it will take at least until the fall, with many predicting longer until things return to normal. 

While consumers are concerned about their health (SC 77 percent, NC 75 percent), they are also concerned about their finances (SC 60 percent, NC 63 percent). The conflict between wanting to stay healthy and financially stable is creating further tension for consumers who do not want to get sick but are ready for the economy to open.

Consumers are confident about keeping their jobs, but the coronavirus has disrupted work in most households.

Over half of households report changes at work, ranging from working from home to having someone in the household become furloughed or lose a job altogether. The good news is that confidence is high when it comes to the proportion of working consumers (SC 91 percent, NC 83 percent) who feel their job will be there when the pandemic ends.

Some changes in behavior caused by the coronavirus will have lasting effects.

Consumers miss their old routines and want things to return to pre-pandemic norms. However, they are remaining optimistic about the future and embracing parts of a "new normal" that will be here for quite some time, regardless of whether the timeline is set by government or their own wants and needs.

Consumers want to go out to eat (SC 92 percent, NC 91 percent), but they also say they may continue to practice social distancing (SC 70 percent, NC 71 percent), cook more at home (SC 67 percent, NC 69 percent) and order take-out rather than dine in (SC 41 percent, NC 45 percent) once the pandemic subsides. They miss going to movies (SC 67 percent, NC 66 percent), but they also say they might be more likely to stream movies at home (SC 56 percent, NC 61 percent) rather than go to the theater after the pandemic ends. 

Consumers are more likely to feel coronavirus is not being taken seriously enough than they are to feel it is being exaggerated

Local TV news and the major news networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) are the most trusted sources for news about the coronavirus. While many consumers (SC 45 percent, NC 48 percent) feel the news they hear is "fairly accurate," many feel it is not being taken seriously enough (SC 45 percent, NC 32 percent) while an even smaller number of consumers believe it's being exaggerated (SC 18 percent, NC 17 percent).

Generally speaking, consumers have confidence in federal and state health entities. That being said, North and South Carolinians vary in their confidence levels for federal versus state agencies, such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (SC 84 percent, NC 87 percent), the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease (SC and NC, 75 percent), the World Health Organization (SC 61 percent, NC 63 percent), and their state's health department (SC 70 percent, NC 77 percent).

Consumers are not sure what the impact will be on travel.

The pandemic is having a tremendous impact on tourism and travel. Two-thirds of consumers (SC 65 percent, NC 67 percent) say they have already cancelled or postponed travel plans. Further, over two-thirds (SC 66 percent, NC 69 percent) are not confident they will be able to take a summer vacation.

Consumers with school-aged children want their children back in school but are balancing this want with concerns about coming into contact with the coronavirus and becoming ill.

While many children – and parents – have struggled to continue with education at home, most families with school-aged children say they are satisfied with their children's schools when it comes to overall communication (SC 79 percent, NC 80 percent), quality of online instruction being provided (SC 76 percent, NC 69 percent), the amount of homework being given (SC 74 percent, NC 73 percent) and with the feeling their children will be prepared for next year (SC 70 percent, NC 61 percent).

Availability of groceries – both now (SC 51 percent, NC 49 percent) and in the coming weeks (SC 58 percent, NC 59 percent) – has many consumers concerned.

Concerns vary on a number of demographic and socio-economic variables, with women, households with children and low-income households being most concerned about the availability of groceries.

Consumers miss going out to eat. At the same time, they also say they may continue to practice social distancing (SC 70 percent, NC 71 percent), cook more at home (SC 67 percent, NC 69 percent) and take out rather than dine in (SC 41 percent, NC 45 percent) once the pandemic subsides. As restaurants look to reopen, they need to be mindful of these trends and communicate the precautions they are taking to minimize the risk of exposure.

Methodology: Chernoff Newman conducted a statewide phone study of South Carolina and North Carolina consumers with a total sample size of 500 in each state and a corresponding sampling error of +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level. To learn more about Chernoff Newman Insights and view research findings, go to Insights.ChernoffNewman.com.

Chernoff Newman is a marketing communications firm, specializing in food and beverage, health care, energy, financial services, insurance, real estate, education and workforce development. The agency provides advertising, marketing and public relations strategies and services across multiple platforms. Offices are in Columbia, Charleston, Charlotte, and Orlando, Fla.

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