May 11, 2020
Even as some states start to reopen under new rules and regulations, it is unclear how communities and consumers will respond. Life as we know it has changed. From work to school, to social activities and leisure time, the pandemic has either put a halt to these activities or moved them to a virtual format. There are unanswered questions as to when the end will be in view and what it will look like. While epidemiologists can track the spread of the virus and the projected impact of preventative measures, we can use search and social data in order to track trends in the behavioral and consumer patterns of the public.
An analysis of the past three months shows the sharp decline in online searches for activities like going to the movies, museums, and concerts. The weekend of March 14th, days after the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic, appears to be the turning point for the usually high weekend peaks of these searches.
Following the same timeline, searches for streaming service Netflix and video call service Zoom increase starting in mid-March. Notably, the two are inversely correlated, with Zoom leading Monday through Friday while Netflix appears to be the new social distancing version of a weekend trip to the movies. According to Global Web Index, 51.3% of Americans say that they’re watching more shows or films on streaming platforms because of quarantine.
In the ten days that followed (between March 14th - March 24th) online mentions of both #StayHome and #StayHomeStayHealthy saw a 12x increase as stay-at-home orders increased across the nation. Both hashtags combined hit around 3 million daily mentions in one day at their peak.
Calls to #FlattenTheCurve saw its peak with 631,000 daily mentions on March 15th but has died down since then.
While relatively low in comparison, calls to #EndTheLockdown, #EndTheLockdownNow and #EndTheShutdown gained momentum during the second week of April. The hashtags saw their peak with almost 73k daily mentions on April 13th and remain relevant moving into May.
As April saw a decrease in #FlattenTheCurve use, there was a search trend increase for the phrase “did we flatten the curve yet” as Americans appear to be getting more restless. Additionally, searches for “second wave coronavirus” increased during April reflecting some concern over reduced social distancing measures.
While “curbside pickup” searches have increased across the country (although doesn’t come near the search volume for “delivery”), “restaurants open for dine in” shows a small increase during the past week. This comes particularly from South Dakota, Tennessee, and Georgia, suggesting searchers in these states are beginning to look to go out.
Search data like this is increasingly important as recent GWI research, conducted between April 22nd and 27th, shows that consumers won’t return to stores and venues immediately after they reopen. In the US, 39% of consumers say they’ll wait for some time or for a long time to return to visiting stores. 58% said the same for returning to both large outdoor and indoor venues. Additionally, 30% of US adults say that when the outbreak is over they will visit stores less frequently than they did prior.
For the time being, nationwide search trends show phrases such as “drive by graduation party ideas” and “online games to play with your friends during isolation” are surging. It’s evident that social distancing and stay at home practices will continue at least into the near future. Continued monitoring of these search terms, online mentions, and opinion research will provide insight into how the public is responding to the news and guidelines regarding the pandemic and when, and if, life will return back to normal.
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