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Q&A: Consumer sentiment trends as businesses open back up (Includes interview)

To understand the issues and concerns impact most on businesses, Digital Journal spoke with Jill Canetta, Experian’s Chief Data Officer of Marketing Services. Canetta looks at recent consumer sentiment data around COVID-19 and the importance of businesses understanding consumer concerns as the economy reopens.

Digital Journal: Why is it important for businesses to understand the shifts in consumer sentiment since the coronavirus pandemic began?

Jill Canetta: The pandemic created a fluid situation for people around the world, and it is likely to continue in the months ahead—particularly with cities reopening, and now, shutting down again. Understanding what consumers are thinking, feeling and doing, and how those behaviors are shifting over time, is critical for businesses to remain agile and address the most pressing needs of their customers.

The more connected businesses become with consumer sentiment, the better positioned they will be to create an effective communication strategy—to ensure brand messages are not only personalized, but resonate with consumers in a way, and at a time, when they are most likely to respond. The pandemic is also impacting individuals in different ways and at different times depending on where they live and their occupation. Different parts of the country and age demographics will have different perspectives, so a one-size-fits-all communication strategy doesn’t work. Businesses need to gain insight into consumer sentiment at a more granular level to help adjust strategy accordingly.

DJ: Your data found that less than a third of Americans (30 percent) are satisfied with their current situation, what does that mean for businesses?

Canetta: The finding is not that surprising since Americans are facing so many unknowns right now. We are truly in uncharted territory and we don’t really see a firm end-date in sight yet. Having said that, there are many opportunities for businesses, they are just different than what they were three months ago. Consumers are pulling back on spending due to lost jobs, health concerns and uncertainty with their financial futures, but they also have needs based on our “new normal”—including how they receive products and services. Finding new ways to connect with consumers will continue to be critical—curbside pick-up; home workouts; grocery delivery, and online health care and education.

And with more businesses in industries that are struggling right now, they should use this time as an opportunity to reconnect with customers—to establish a connection that goes beyond business and customer. The more businesses can reinforce that they hear their customers and will help them through the pandemic, the stronger the relationship will be moving forward.

DJ: What were the most unexpected findings from the data?

Canetta:A few things surprised us. First, there’s still a relatively high number of respondents who are concerned about their ability to access food and essentials. We saw this trend when the pandemic started—consumers cleared food from grocery store shelves. However, many stores have replenished inventory, so we’d expect that statistic to decrease and drop further as stores reopen. We suspect a significant portion of those respondents can be attributed to the financial hardship some Americans have experienced and its impact on their ability to access essential resources.

Second, when you look at the data by generation, Baby Boomers are the most confident as it relates to their health wellbeing—which seems counterintuitive due to those most impacted by COVID-19. But if you think about it, Baby Boomers are more financially secure, more likely to have access to health care and some of them are not on the front lines.

But perhaps the most unexpected finding is that only 16 percent of respondents believe the situation is likely to get worse. With recent reports showing that rates of infection and deaths are growing in a majority of states, I expected that number to be much higher.

DJ: Are you continuing to see shifts in the data with the recent surge in cases around the country?

Canetta:Yes, consumer sentiment, overall, has been on an upward trajectory since early April and then around mid-June, we saw it dip slightly. It’s been a consistent trend around the country and among most of the industries the survey monitors, including automotive, financial services and healthcare. In some pockets in the Northeast, we continue to see upward movement due to where they are in the COVID lifecycle. But, with most states imposing or thinking of imposing business restrictions again, we will most likely see more shifts in the coming weeks.

DJ: What are the most important takeaways for businesses?

Canetta:Perhaps the most important takeaway is that the continuing shifts in consumer sentiment are going to be critical for businesses to understand in order to best reach consumers as COVID-19 plays out across our nation. Which consumers are ready to spend? Which areas are better positioned to move forward? Businesses need to meet it head on as some of these shifts in behaviors are here to stay—or at least for a while. The level of insight the consumer sentiment dashboards provide can help businesses remain agile and develop messages and offers that are relevant to an audience week by week. This insight will also help businesses create the right tone with their customers and prospects, showing they understand consumers’ needs and challenges—which will help them establish a human connection with their audience that will last well beyond the pandemic.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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