Understanding the New Normal consumer insights tracker program
We build in data from the quant survey, social insights, external trusted sources and brand examples to bring the impact of COVID-19 to life
My life is back to normal
My life is far from normal
N = 3,400 adults 18+ per month (200 per country)
New results monthly
We asked people across the world to what extent they feel their lives have returned to normal.
Click through the graph to see each country’s results.
Check this space each month to watch the progression of our tracker.
Curious about a sample of each month’s results? Look no further.
- The latest results clearly show the impact of the global rise in coronavirus cases. Many countries – mostly in the West – are now confronted with a booming second wave. It’s no surprise that this has led to more restrictions varying from regional tiered approaches to full lockdowns. Consumer expectations and hopes are fragile and we see optimism in a return to normal dropping in these markets. Countries like the Netherlands and Brazil are at similar levels as the first wave in April 2020. Germany, the UK, France and the US are closer to the levels from late spring.
- Most countries in the East – like China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia – have by far the most optimistic view and are hopeful of a return to pre-COVID normal in the short term.
- The only exception here is Japan. Japan has entered a third wave of infections in December, accompanied by unprecedented pressure on the health care system. This is reflected in growing pessimism and a shocking 57% of people expecting a return to normal to take more than a year.
- As a consequence, the total average of the 17 markets remained stationary – Uplifts of the more optimistic countries in the East are outweighed by growing pessimism in the West.
- As of December 1, 2020 there have been almost 64 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, now impacting more than 210 countries. Intensified testing programs have led to 17 million positive cases during the month of November alone.
- Governments are forced to walk a balancing act between health and the economy. Healthcare systems face extreme pressure, but countries are on the lookout for opportunities to ease lockdown measures which is vital to stimulating economies. One of the biggest threats is complacency of a society that has grown tired and weary while waiting for a vaccine that is still not ready for large-scale application.
- These developments are reflected in the way consumers see themselves return back to normal. 13 countries out of the 17 measured have seen this metric drop, leading to an overall average of 63 (-3).
- Consumers are increasingly relying on the online world, leading to a surge in e-commerce and pressure on parcel delivery services. To gain back control consumers are relying more and more on BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In-store).
- The ask for brands is big but simple – As always brands should help consumers make the best use of their money, bring fun and laughter into people’s lives and provide them inspiration for living in the moment. This provides multiple opportunities for brands to connect with people using a variety of tactics to make the 2020 holidays memorable.
- Where some markets are opening up their economies, other markets are confronted with a second wave of COVID-19 cases. Consumers in countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia show a further increasing positive outlook towards the road back to normal. But on the other side of the spectrum, consumers in the Netherlands, Italy, UK, France and Spain are drifting further away from normalcy.
- Consumer confidence in on-premise activities continues to be fragile, and many people still have low confidence in going to a pub or bar. Even young people (ages 18-34) don’t feel confident in going out and, under these circumstances, aren’t looking forward to it. But this provides an opportunity for brands to create new consumption occasions that replace the social occasions from pre COVID-19.
- People don’t feel comfortable going out and don’t trust that others will take new coronavirus measures seriously. Brands need to continue to demonstrate in tangible ways how they help to promote hygiene, safety and social distancing. This will be especially true as we approach the holidays under these difficult circumstances.
- We notice a light positive trend in the September data of our New Normal Tracking program. Summer and outdoor living have weakened the impact of the coronavirus in countries like the US, UK, Japan and some European countries, establishing a slightly more optimistic view on the road back to normal. Remarkably, in China – which has had the highest score since our first wave in March – people feel that they are moving even closer to normal. Countries like France have experienced the downside of tourism which comes with more mobility of people, and see their score drop compared to August.
- COVID-19 has created an ongoing tension for consumers: The desire for a better me vs. a fragile me. We see consumers embracing health and wellness solutions that allow them to look after themselves and their loved ones. They value convenience to ease their stress, so anything brands can do to support them in this journey will be hugely appreciated. At the same time, consumers are in a very fragile state and there is an ongoing friction that exists as they navigate restricted living. Tiredness is rising and there is huge uncertainty, as reflected in consumers’ worries and concerns.
- Brands need to continue to look for smart and innovative ways to support consumers to clearly demonstrate that they ‘get it’. 51% of consumers are inspired by all the new ways food and drink brands are adapting to the situation. Help them celebrate some of the smaller victories.
- People sense that progress towards normality has stalled. We continue to see that the move towards the new normal is volatile, non-linear and prolonged. France is one of the countries with a positive trend towards normality, especially from the time when restrictions were lifting. The US showed some improvement in June, but consumers seem to have lost that positivity in July and August. China remains the country where people feel most close to normal.
- There is a clear shift in mindset as we enter a type of “Restricted Living 2.0” phase. We notice a growing acceptance of a long road ahead, with only 23% of people expecting a return to normal in 3 months or less (which was 49% back in April). Cautious optimism is turning into weariness, with a drop in hope and at the same time a growing number of people who feel tired. Cautious consumers look to brands less for fun, distraction and inspiration (e.g. this Heinz jigsaw puzzle) and more to seek out ways to navigate challenges and make life safer and easier.
- With normality seemingly a long way off, consumers and businesses are already preparing for a New Normal holiday season. New Normal celebration moments offer brands the opportunity to creatively re-imagine the experience (e.g. as Hershey has done for Halloween) and to help people navigate Restricted Living 2.0.
- More than 6 months since the outbreak of COVID-19, it remains clear that the road to recovery will be long. Across the world people believe that our progress towards normality has stalled, with 8 countries feeling further away from normal than they did in June.
- The situation around the world continues to be fragmented. Vietnam (where the government has been universally applauded for managing the crisis so effectively) suffered its first set-back in confidence during July. This coincided with reports of an unexpected new cluster of cases in the country. Meanwhile we are starting to see some progress in the UK (which has consistently been one of the more negative countries) as the hospitality industry re-opened from early July.
- This phase of the pandemic is defined by the Cautious Consumer, contending with fears over household finances and ongoing concerns for family health. And tensions are rising in relation to the perception that not everyone is doing their part, with 81% concerned by the behavior of others. Brands have to find ways to provide value, but can also play an important role in creatively reinforcing communal hygiene and safety messages. Now is not the time for overly celebratory communication, and brands have to strike the right emotional chord at the right moment.
- If there’s one thing we have learned since the pandemic began, it’s that it is definitely not a linear march forward. While in some markets social confinement has been lifted, we see that in other markets lockdown restrictions are still in place. Countries like Vietnam, Thailand, China, Australia and Switzerland have moved into a ‘restricted living’ situation. But other markets are still facing ‘quarantined living’ with ‘recovery living’ seeming to be far away.
- Consumers gradually sense that there is a road ahead. This is reflected in the score for the statement My life has returned to normal. The overall average for June is 65, which is an increase of 6 points since May and even 12 points since April. European countries like Italy, France and Spain show improvements of up to 18 points, building on their regained freedom and restarting economies. Saudi Arabia and Japan also demonstrate high levels of progress.
- There is a clear and growing sense that we have a very long way to go before there is a new normal. Only 35% of people are expecting things to return to normal in 3 months or less, -3 percentage points down from last month. As markets ease restrictions, discretionary activities such as domestic travel and going to the cinema become top desires. But it will take time to rebuild consumer confidence in many aspects of pre-COVID life.
- Across the world, people feel we are slowly progressing back to normality. This progress is helping people feel less negative, and joy is on the rise. The only exception here is Brazil, which is confronted with a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections and casualties.
- At the same time, there is a growing acceptance that the return to normal will take longer than previously hoped. Only 38% (-11% from last month) expect things to return to normal in 3 months or less. Countries like US, Spain, Italy and Japan are far less optimistic than average.
- We noticed that the proportion of consumers who claim their income has decreased is on the rise globally, and they are understandably feeling more uncertain. People with reduced incomes are more likely to trade off quality for cost effectiveness. Companies are seeking ways to stay connected and keep newly frugal consumers from trading down, eg. by rolling out new, more affordable pack sizes (like Nestlé).
- China and Vietnam already feel that they are on the way back to normal. In April Vietnam had reported only 270 COVID-19 cases, with zero deaths. The findings of MetrixLab’s digital qualitative session in China also showed how people have transitioned from feelings of sadness and fear to joy, trust and love.
- Around half of people globally are optimistic and think things will return to normal within 3 months. Countries like China, Vietnam and Indonesia had optimistic scores, whereas in Japan, UK, Italy and Australia far fewer people expect to return to normal within 3 months.
- Globally there is a “we more than me” mentality. Families’ physical health and household finances are top worries, with a significant gap compared to one’s own physical health or the state of a country’s economy. Remarkably Spain, Italy and France have very strong responses on family physical health: This is very much in line with the impact of the pandemic as demonstrated by high numbers on cases and deaths.
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Strategic insight and advice
What actions can brands take to help consumers navigate “the new normal” brought on by COVID-19? The situation isn’t the same in every market and it’s constantly evolving around the world. Our 12-month Understanding the New Normal consumer insight program has a finger on the pulse of consumers in 17 markets worldwide.
Running from April 2020 – March 2021, this program leverages survey data, social insights and external sources to provide a holistic perspective and key actions for brands. Our aim is to create a collaborative learning community of researchers, experts and clients.
Every month our global team of experts leverages this data to help brands deepen their knowledge and stay connected with their consumers today.
Your input is also valuable because it can steer the program to get to the core of what brands need to know today – and help plan for tomorrow.
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