Covid: Long or So Long?
Amidst all the talk of Indian variants and Deltas there’s one question we’re all asking: dare we hope that this horrible episode in our lives is passing?
We can do punditry with the next man, but more germane to what we do for a living is the question of whether the impact that covid has had on the markets and categories we work in is passing, and what is left in its wake.
Sales data are, of course, very sensitive (that or you have to pay Nielsen lots of money for them), so we can’t show you them here. Google Trends, however, is our friend, being available and cheap, which is just what we like in our friends. Google Trends, for the uninitiated, tracks what the world is searching for. You tell it any search term you happen to be interested in, choose your region and time-period and press go. Marvellous stuff.
Here are some Google Trends data we’ve analysed to show you the very different legacy that the pandemic has left across different categories.
My, but isn’t the interest in the take-away category flat? Or at least it was until Covid, and then there was, unsurprisingly, the most almighty step up as either everyone’s fridges emptied, or they consoled themselves through those long, dark days of Lockdown 1 with a fatty hit of MSG.
So far, so predictable.
What really interests us (ok, me) is the trajectory since then. It didn’t fall back straight away. For pretty much the next 6 months, interest remained high, double in fact the level it had been for the 4 years prior to the pandemic. Sure, interest waxed and waned as day followed endless day, but the surge in interest gave every indication of being permanent.
Until October 2020, when it dropped off a cliff. There was then another surge as the autumn lockdown came, palpably didn’t go and merged into the Christmas lockdown, when we toasted absent friends with a chicken biriani.
Interest since April 2020 certainly shows some signs of decline, kicked along by the change in seasons. Where will it settle? Back where it was prior to March 2020, or at some, higher level? Anyone’s guess, really, but your local Chinese will be hoping the latter or, in other words, for some permanent shift in behaviour as a result of the pandemic. Looking at the chart below, where we’ve smoothed out some of the weekly volatility from the data, it’s up for grabs at the moment.
Long Covid? Medium Covid, maybe.
…which is a bit longer than the impact of Covid on new cars.
Judging by Google trends, car manufacturers were not having the best time of it in the years prior to 2020. You can see a downward trend persisting from the middle of 2016, through to 2019. You can also see how they might have been expecting better fortunes from the surge of interest at the start of 2020.
Then Covid struck and its immediate impact was to sharply depress, for about 3 months, the interest consumers showed in new cars (in orange, below). However, and this is the interesting point, it really didn’t last long. By the start of June (green, below), interest was back with a vengeance, resulting in an unseasonably strong surge over the summer months.
What it looks like, from this cursory glance, is that the interest that didn’t happen during the first lockdown was merely delayed until lockdown was lifted, companies adapted and supply chains became clear, and once more the Great British Car-driving Public could resume its love-affair with the iron horse. Interest at the start of 2021 looks to be at around the level it was before the awfulness struck in March 2020.
So, in this market it really does look like Covid stuck its head in, wiped its feet and then stormed out. Of course, we are oversimplifying and, I’m sure there are many structural changes that are still working themselves out in what is a complex category, but purely from a consumer interest point of view, an interesting picture emerges.
As with take-aways, I’m sure the question which will most interest suppliers is where things eventually settle. Whether decline prior to 2020 has been arrested, or whether the gradual trend downwards in interest continues in the years ahead (see chart, below).
“So long, Covid,” I’d say, wouldn’t you?
In contrast to the previous two categories, here’s one that doesn’t look like it’s going back to its pre-Covid incarnation any time soon: Online shopping.
The first thing to notice is that, yes, people do search online for “online shopping”, which to me is a bit like going on Google and asking, “Where is the internet?” Not only so, but many more people started searching for “online shopping” as Covid engulfed us. Many, many more. Check out the scale in the chart below. It’s an index, so we can’t see actual search volumes (Google isn’t THAT generous), but we can see that relative volumes rose so much, in fact by about ten-fold, that the period prior to Covid has become compressed to the bottom of the chart.
So, there was a surge (chart below, orange). Then there was a further surge at the end of 2020 into the start of 2021 (green). Less of a surge, in fact, more of a gentle acceleration. Apparently, by this time, consumers had established to their satisfaction what “online shopping” is, and whether they were interested in getting any.
What I find most interesting in the chart below is the final, light-blue period. To my eye, it looks like things have settled at their post-Covid level. But this is higher than the pre-Covid level. Time will tell, but there’s every indication that the effects of Covid are persisting here and we can expect some things not to revert to ‘normal’ in the new world.
Long Covid, indeed.
We could have conducted this exercise at a brand level and, I’m sure, drawn out many nuances in how consumers have reacted different to different brands in categories. And, as we’ve said throughout, search data is only that, search data, and not sales data. We spend a lot of our time these days finding creative ways to measure the impacts of Covid – long, medium and short – on brands’ sales, and isolating them from the other drivers (media, distribution, pricing, promotions, seasonality, weather and so on) which remain as important as ever, with our econometric models.
And that’s where we suggest you start if this has whetted your appetite to understand how Covid has impacted your business, whether the worst is past, and what the future might therefore look like. Get in touch to find out more.