Who doesn’t love the crisp air and natural beauty of fall. If that seasonal excitement is matched by uncertainty this year, you’re not alone. Consumer sentiment is all over the place! Or more graciously, keep your seatbelt on because consumer sentiment remains in flux.
Safety Concerns Remain Top of Mind
Resonate came out with a September consumer behavior report, comparing COVID-19 driven choices in Q3 to those from June 2020. The general consensus is that folks are feeling even more conservative regarding their shopping habits.
- After a strong midsummer push to reopen business, enthusiasm is waning: 75% of consumers are resistant to reopening for in-person activities.
- 60% won’t shop in-store unless the staff is masked up and gloved up.
- Online grocery shopping is seeing an autumn surge, with 40% of shoppers reporting increased online orders (16 points higher than June).
- 69% of consumers are worried about the economy as a whole.
- Through the pandemic, 30% of households have increased their savings.
The survey was conducted in mid-August when national COVID numbers experienced a moderate stabilization (according to the CDC). Our take is that national discussion of school reopenings likely raised awareness of greater potential exposure, especially as college hotspots accelerated similar worries for K-12. Further, consumers may have been less enthusiastic about dining outside as summer wound down, causing high in-person resistance to spike.
In the glass half-empty or half-full category, “93% of consumers believe the economy won’t return to normal until winter 2020 or later.” Of course, we all want a robust, resilient economy ASAP. But if consumer confidence surges this winter, many of those same consumers will be ready for new experiences and new products.
Is Local News a Phoenix Rising From the Media Ashes?
In one possible good thing to come from COVID-19, the virus has driven demand for people to seek regional news from their own community. For the first time in over a decade, a few local news providers are seeing an uptick in subscriptions and engagement.
“It is not the “big, juicy murder cases” that have drawn paid readers; it is the more standard local-news fare, such as public court records, planning applications, “consumer news” (for example, new shops and restaurant openings), and photo galleries showing families enjoying their communities.”
— Paul Fischer of Iliffe Media (U.K.), as quoted in a NiemanLab article
Additionally, some local media are leveraging their power to help shape the experience of those new to town. Local media outlets are ready with insiders’ guides and ongoing coverage to empower new community members to feel connected. As writer Julieann McKellogg writes in a separate NiemanLab piece, “Newsrooms can grow revenue and engagement by capturing the attention of these audiences as soon as they arrive.”
In all likelihood, your local newspaper isn’t crushing it right now. It’s not a celebration, as much as an interesting trend to keep your eyes on.
What does it mean? PR and advertising with local media may be worth a renewed look. Not only does it demonstrate a commitment to your community, it’s a way to connect with new residents eager to discover new experiences and shopping options. Need another reason? With less tourism travel, businesses should be doubling down on local and regional outreach.
Huh. CEOs Forecast Some Optimism.
As reported by Axios, the Business Roundtable trade group surveys 150 CEOs of large companies to determine the CEO Economic Confidence Index. After nine quarters of decline, the Index leapt 30 points in Q3 to hit pre-pandemic levels. For context, the Q3 favorable outlook is still well below the historical average and overall CEO economic confidence remains the lowest it’s been in a decade.
BUT…40% of the CEOs predict a full return to business normalcy next year, with 36% expecting normalcy in 2022. While the Fed predicts an overall economic contraction of 3.7% this year, these CEOs believe it will be 2.4%.
One reason CEOs may have more confidence than consumers at this point is referenced in the article. “Further major support from the federal government is necessary to prevent economic recovery from being derailed,” Business Roundtable CEO Joshua Bolten said. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon specifically called out the need for simulus to ease economic challenges faced by workers and small businesses.
A recent SNEWS article (“The Retail Intimidation Factor”) provides some excellent insight into what some people of color and those outside the traditional, outdoor industry demographic might experience in a retail or rental environment. It also provides a few starting points for steps to create a more welcoming space and to begin your staff training in earnest. If this is the season to invest in your community, be sure to invest in all of your community.
In this mixed bag of predictions and news, one thing is certain: Amp up your planning, marketing and owned communications, especially for local and regional audiences. Without trying to be “everything to everyone,” consider reorienting your strategy to welcoming customers outside of your typical target audience. We all need to play responsible defense toward this virus with social distancing and safety plans in place, but consumers also seem to be ready for some positivity. Consider incorporating some solution-oriented offense around winter outdoor recreation as a solution to the socially isolated blues of quarantine fatigue.