In 2018 we published the first data from our Global Consumer Survey, a survey that we are conducting in 56 countries and territories in 2021. When the corona crisis hit last year, we had just started fieldwork in more than 25 countries. What impact would the crisis have on response and consumption behavior in different countries? In this article I want to showcase some exemplary results but also point you to some cliffs that need to be avoided when analyzing the Covid-19 effect in tracker studies.
Tracking the cornerstones of the crisis
Soon after the Covid outbreak it became apparent, that the disease would have a major impact on everyday life and on consumption behavior. We decided to continue the fieldwork of our tracker survey as planned, but we would add an indicator to the data of each country that tracks the most important cornerstones of the pandemic. In Germany for instance, roughly half of the interviews of the Q1 dataset were conducted before the crisis began, half of them after. Here are the numbers from Germany as an example:
A change in perspectives: public attention shifts from climate change to health and social security
The most noticeable difference between interviews conducted before and after the outbreak is what respondents view as the greatest challenges facing their country. Topics that had received much public attention throughout 2019 in Germany, namely climate change, immigration and housing, all lost considerably in importance. Health and social security, and the overall economic situation on the other hand became much more important, the former becoming the most pressing issue in the eyes of the German public.
Consumption behavior: digital entertainment services are winning
When asking respondents for their consumption behavior, we usually ask for consumption in the past 12 months. Thus we did not expect to see an immediate effect on the reported consumption behavior. Nevertheless there are some visible effects. A good example is the usage of digital entertainment media. While the overall numbers of users did not increase, the number of paying users did. In Germany, we saw a 10% increase in payed digital video usage and a 6% increase in payed digital music usage when comparing pre and post Covid responses.
Admittedly, there was a trend towards increasing payed usage even before Covid, but the leaps in our data seem to be in line with press releases from Netflix and other sources. In April 2020 the NY Times wrote “Netflix has become one of the nation’s all-around distractions, acting as both a supercharged nanny and a nightly balm during the coronavirus crisis.”, stating that Netflix added nearly 16 million new subscribers in the first three months of the year (source: ‘Everyone You Know Just Signed Up for Netflix’, https://www.nytimes.com/, April 21, 2020).
Tracker studies need short-cycle quota control
Germany was a lucky case for us: the sample composition before and after the Covid outbreak was comparable. In other countries, we were less fortunate, and some quota groups were already more filled than others. Consequently, simple descriptive statistics cannot be used to draw conclusions about the effects of the pandemic on consumption in these countries.
One of our key findings from working with a tracker study during the pandemic was: in times of rapidly changing conditions, tracker studies like ours need even more granular and short-cycle quota control; setting quotas quarterly or monthly is no longer sufficient if tracker studies are not to lose their predictive power.