COVID-19 Pandemic: Live Consumer Panel #5 – Five Takeaways
Vice President, In-Person Qualitative Research
On April 23, 2020, we hosted our fifth Consumer Roundtable discussion to take a pulse on consumers’ evolving attitudes and behaviors during the coronavirus pandemic. This week we dug deeper into how parents and families are coping with this new kind of daily life. Here are 5 takeaways of what we learned:
1. Families remain resilient and show signs that they are starting to settle more into their days at-home together. As we heard in the second panel, parents continue to reinforce new relaxed rules and shelter-in-place routines but are still struggling to balance their own mental health and their children’s needs.
At this point, about a month into the national stay-at-home order, families are keenly feeling the strain. The novelty of being together in the confined space of their homes, while also trying to learn and work and stay occupied, continues to look more and more like the new long-term reality and parents can see the writing on the wall—this could last a while. Parents are working hard to keep themselves and their kids on an even keel, day-to-day and hour-to-hour. Their current attitude is still optimistic, but increasingly tinged with the knowledge this isn’t going to be over anytime soon, and their family is going to need to continue to adapt and hang tight for the foreseeable, unknowable future.
While parents acknowledge it’s important to share what’s going on with their kids as honestly as possible, they also feel a need to protect their kids from too much harsh reality. Parents want their kids to still be able to be kids and not have to worry about getting sick or having enough money. This is especially challenging this time of year as families usually begin to look forward to the Summer, and the fun and social activities that kids are hoping will still be possible.
“Starting to get draining and emotional.”
“A roller coaster. We wake up feeling refreshed but by lunch we’re stressed. Balance is a huge struggle in our house”
“Short fuse is a good way to describe it. It’s not that we’re angry, but we’re sitting on top of each other in a smaller space and having kids doing school and I’m doing work. We’re having to share things”
“My kids know it’s dangerous. When we pick up school lunches, they wipe the bags down. They relate it to the Spanish influenza they’ve heard about. They’re making plans for summer, fall already. I’m not going to tell them don’t make plans. I’m letting them make plans yet saying let’s focus on the moment and not get too carried away. Their face lights up when they talk of summer and I have to let them have it.”
“We put the focus on there’s germs outside making us sick so we have to stay inside so the germs go away. It’s hard for a 6 year old. My sister drives by to wave. He understands the germs are scary and we have to stay away so people don’t get sick.”
“The general uncertainty with the economy is worrisome. We’ve been fortunate so far but you hear about it and it’s unknown at this point.”
2. Some of the most challenging changes families are dealing with are the complete restructuring of their day, with everyone’s schedule playing out in the same living space, executing tasks like shopping that used to be considered mundane but are now daunting and time consuming and coping with the growing absence of social and physical interaction with the outside world.
The time that family members would have normally spent getting ready to go to school and practices, commuting to and from work, driving between activities has been reduced to more time together in the house. Not only are parents feeling the added economic pressure to perform their jobs remotely to the level they do at the office, they are also now responsible for keeping their kids occupied and engaged for the entire day. This includes managing eLearning, often across multiple grade levels, and ensuring their children’s free time is occupied in ways that are fun and engaging (but not loud or disruptive). In addition to routines and schedules, parents are relying heavily on technology and screen time to get the family through each day. To this end, some have channeled money they would normally spend on toys toward laptops and gaming devices, and they’ve also started exploring things like puzzles—a challenging activity that everyone in the family can participate in, can be worked on in intervals, shows progress over time, and offers a sense of achievement together when complete.
While some new routines are helping parents and families manage their days together better, some of the tasks that families used to consider routine and mundane, like grocery shopping, now require much more energy, time and effort to complete.
Additionally, it’s no secret that social interaction and physical activity are linked to better mental and physical health. Families continue to struggle to create proxies for the interaction and escape they would normally get from going to soccer games, karate, swim practice or just going outside and seeing friends. And now that it is spring, sports fan families are sorely missing the excitement and fun of celebrating their favorite soccer and baseball teams together.
“Getting outside is a challenge and the weather has not been good for us.”
“They tried to offer martial arts on Facebook Live but he hasn’t done it. It’s like watching a video.”
“Thank god for technology. Everyone has a handheld toy or X-box. They facetime with friends.”
“The blessing of tech is they can be on all the time. It’s a huge distraction. One’s watching YouTube, the other is Facetiming.”
“We are very sports oriented so we’re missing all the baseball, soccer, that outlet of going and doing what we love. Not being able to do so. I set up the soccer goals but how fun is it to play just the 5 of us?”
“Overall, we stick to routine… it’s trying to keep balance”
“Adapting to the process of doing things has been the biggest adjustment. The process of going to the store, it hurts my head. My kids stay home but you have to wear a mask and gloves, I have to wipe the groceries. Coming home I don’t want my kids near me. The task is so daunting now. That’s been the biggest adjustment in my house.”
3. Not all changes these families are experiencing right now are a struggle. Across the board, they are also seeing some silver linings in this pandemic—the extraordinary ability to see each other through new lenses—gaining insight into one another as never before, a moment to reflect and re-evaluate their priorities in life in total, and some brands truly stepping up to help families. They are seeing, first-hand, how great their partner or parent is at their job; witnessing for the first time those previously unseen moments when the light bulb goes on and they watch their child grasp a new academic concept or skill. For a parent with a college student who usually lives on campus, there’s now a unique opportunity for the kind of quality time that they’d normally never ever have. More quality family time.
In the midst of the difficulty and everything they feel they’re missing out on right now, families are also taking a step back to contemplate the basics. Some see this as an opportunity to recalibrate their approach to their life overall. This may mean spending less on discretionary things like entertainment and eating out so they can be in a better financial position later on. For others it goes deeper: taking stock of what’s truly important; rethinking how they want to live their lives and raise their children moving forward.
Parents felt that several big companies have put their profits aside to do what’s right. They appreciate brands that understand what real families are going through and what they need right now, rather than just trying to sell more products. While promoting community and togetherness in general is great, the most memorable brands doing so are those whose messages were tied to specific contributions or actions: insurance companies kicking back money to families because they are driving less and companies like Domino’s offering contactless pizza so families can go ahead and enjoy a pizza and still feel safe.
“When you lose the ability to do things and things slow down, I’m taking stock of what really matters. It’s not getting the new car or more aspirational things. There will be a time and place for that later. It’s focusing on family, people you care about, the bare essentials. It’s a shock back to the basics.”
“I’m getting my daughter back; she’s almost 20 and she’s been living on campus. To have her living with me, the time she’s with me is more quality time I wouldn’t have had. I’m trying to take advantage of that as a silver lining. It’s not ideal but it’s special family time.”
“My son is normally in school so I don’t get to see that. Now that we’re home schooling, I’m seeing these light bulbs go off. Seeing him learn to read is not something I’d get to witness if we weren’t home doing this virtual learning stuff.”
“Almost all ads I’m seeing, it’s not about products, it’s about helping out. I appreciate it. It makes me feel stronger towards those products and brands.”
“Budweiser… how they’ve shifted to making hand sanitizer and donations to Red Cross.”
4. Throughout history, the food we share has always been a representation of a family’s love—the root of our culture. Now, in these unprecedented and scary times, food and meals are playing a bigger role than ever as a key focal point in the day.
In this pandemic, food and mealtimes are more important than ever. Although families are still going to a drive-thru or ordering-in from time to time, they are doing a lot more cooking at home than before. Meals have become an even more important respite in the day. They’ve also now become a source of discourse and discord for families. For some, the anticipation and excitement about what to have, etc. is a fun and uniting topic and kids are participating much more in the preparation. For others, trying to satisfy the increased and erratic appetites of their little ones has become a source of amazement and frustration.
Snacking has also increased for these families. Parents are looking for new snack ideas to combat boredom but also continue to reach for the single-serve sizes they normally buy for lunch boxes—in hopes that it will give their kids a sense of normalcy, familiarity and comfort, and perhaps to make it easy for them to serve themselves vs. interrupting mom or dad’s workday.
“We always did dinner at the table. What has changed is I let my kids do it. Before I used to do it myself because we had to stick to a schedule. I’ve been letting them into the kitchen, and they’ve been enjoying helping me cook.”
“All the kids want to eat something different; no one wants to eat what’s there.”
“It seems like my kids’ stomachs have lost their school stomachs and they want to eat constantly.”
“Right now we’ve only carried out once or twice. My daughter has been cooking a lot so we’ve done the grocery store stock up. It’s made me realize I am more capable than I thought. But I miss my restaurants.”
“We exclusively went the groceries and cooking at home route. We do easier, quicker things during the day. Dinner is the big event. We plan what to do, should we look up a recipe? It’s added a bit of leisure to the day as well.”
“My son being 6 eats like a college student. I’ve never seen a 6 year old consume so much food. 30 minutes after each meal he wants a snack. I have been getting the normal snacks that I keep in the pantry. We’ve tried to explore new things too so it’s not so monotonous.”
“We are getting juice boxes and the same snacks. They’re eating them here. It’s a sense of normalcy.”
5. Families are most looking forward to just being out and around people again. That said, they’re also anxious that even when the “all clear” is sounded, they’ll still have to be vigilant to keep their family safe—many worry it may be difficult to transition to whatever the “new normal” allows.
At the heart of it, families are looking forward to simply being able to leave the house and interact with people again; hugging loved ones, sitting next to classmates, meeting with co-workers and reengaging with their favorite passions and pastimes. Parents have concerns that some of their family’s favorite outlets—sports arenas, movie theaters, malls, even gyms, may not be around when all of this is over. Further, parents, themselves, are eager to have time of their own out in the world again—a moment or two when their main role is not that of parent or head of household.
Families have cancelled any vacations they’d planned before all of this began —for some, things like cruises will likely not feel safe enough to book again for a very long time. There’s a sense of fear and trepidation among parents that even when people are cleared to fly again, it will take a lot for them to feel that it is safe enough to bring their family on board. In addition, many felt that future vacation plans would likely center more on visiting loved ones than “getting away from it all,” as it had been in the past.
“I am looking forward to going back to work. My kids are looking forward to going back to school. Having my own life outside of home. I like going to the movie theater, eating popcorn. Or walking with the kids at the mall. We want to go do it all.”
“We were big cruisers and had a cruise booked… We’re not doing that now. We were going to fly out to NY. Hell, now we’re not doing that trip now. I don’t think it’ll be available. The opening dates for cruise lines gets pushed back. But who in their right mind will go on a cruise? Not that I won’t do it eventually, but not now.”
“My daughter emerged from the bedroom and said, ‘Go back to work and be with people.’ You have work families too.”
“Even when we get the all clear, the fear of bringing my family on an airplane is so scary. As much as we want it to go back to the old norm, it’s going to be hard to transition back to that.”
C+R’s take: Families remain resilient and hopeful. Parents continue to work to foster a healthy, harmonious and productive home environment—not an easy task even in the best of times.
- Support parents’ and kids’ mental and physical well-being. They are looking for tools, guidance and products – anything that will help them balance out an ever-changing array of mental and physical demands. What can companies do to help families find and mark more silver linings? How can you help families discover more things they can enjoy doing together—what’s beyond cooking and puzzles? What’s something they can celebrate together? As the season changes, how can they enjoy the outside together? How can your brand tie positive messages to actions that families can tangibly feel?
- Lean into the focus on food and emotional benefits provided. How can your brand help make meals or mealtime easier or more exciting day-to-day? How can the whole family get involved? How can your brand provide the emotional comfort consumers seek from the familiar? What’s a way to make kids more self-sufficient with their snacking? How can you break up the boredom?
- Recognize “normal” isn’t happening anytime soon. How can brands help parents get a little escape in this new reality—take them away from the constant pressure and responsibility, if only for a moment? What can you do to help families feel like they are equipped to adjust to the new normal? When things start to open up again, how can you provide a sense of safety and security?