Consumer Spending Shifts to More At-Home Activities Post-Pandemic

A new survey indicates that Americans plan to spend less on dining out and attending events than they did in the past.
Cooking at home

BOSTON — Americans are shifting their post-pandemic spending plans, according to a new survey.

L.E.K. Consulting's The Great Reopening and Priority Reset: Consumer Insights, surveyed approximately 1,000 adults about spending on activities closer to home and spending less on outings than they did prior to the spread of COVID-19.

Participants said they plan to travel more domestically by vehicle, cook more at home and spend more on streaming entertainment, electronics, smart home devices, vitamins, personal care and pet supplies. They also report plans to spend less on dining out at restaurants, using Uber, Lyft and taxis, and going to movies, sporting events and live concerts.

"The good news is that spending in many consumer categories is on the rise," said Lauren DeVestern, managing director at L.E.K. "But the way consumers spend will change. They report that they will remain cautious about crowded spaces and be eager to continue some of the new ways of living they picked up during the pandemic."

Vaccination rates may be a factor in their future plans. Approximately 148 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and another 28 million had their first dose as of June 18. The survey found that around 10 percent of Americans say they never plan to get the vaccine and 11 percent indicate they are still unsure. L.E.K.'s findings imply that more than 80 percent of those who intend to be vaccinated have already taken action.

When it comes to their stimulus checks, 63 percent say they will use their checks defensively, with 43 percent increasing savings and 20 percent paying down debt. Another 20 percent will use stimulus funds for essential monthly expenses, three-quarters of which will be groceries. Just 8 percent plan to use the money for discretionary purposes.

On the travel front, Americans plan to increase the time and/or money they spend on leisure travel by 6 percent post-COVID as compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is more pronounced among younger people, as 14 percent of millennials and Generation Z expect to take more trips, and they expect to spend 7 percent more on travel than they did before the pandemic.

Twenty-nine percent expect to be more interested in driving to their destinations rather than flying or using other mods of transportation; 26 percent say they will seek out travel activities that allow for greater social distancing; and 21 percent report having gained interest in new and different vacation activities they would not have sought out prior to the pandemic.

The pandemic also accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping, but many consumers are now turning back to in-store shopping as COVID-19 infections decline. Eighty-eight percent of Americans report they bought their groceries in-store before the pandemic, and 80 percent report they will get them in-store afterward. This is up from the 73 percent who say they got groceries in-store during the pandemic.

Additionally, 20 percent report they plan to buy groceries online (either shipped home or picked up at the store) post-pandemic. This is down from the 27 percent who say they got groceries online during the pandemic but up from the 13 percent who say they got them online before the pandemic.

The home cooking trend will linger for some after the pandemic. Twenty-eight percent of Americans expect to cook at home more often post-pandemic than they did before, primarily due to health, saving money and enjoyment. At the same time, 17 percent expect to cook at home less often than they did before the pandemic.

"There are many uncertainties about the post-pandemic world, and consumer sentiment reflects that," said Manny Picciola, managing director at L.E.K. Consulting. "But consumers have also discovered a wide range of new preferences — especially centered at home, where they enjoy cooking and entertainment. Both factors are combining to ensure that there is a 'new normal,' and that the post-pandemic recovery, while robust, is unlikely to resemble what went before."

L.E.K. Consulting is a global management consulting firm based in Boston.

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