Pandemic: Analyzing Behavioral Change–Week 1

Project Overview

Metametrix has teamed up with qualitative market researchers, Insight Safari, to build a real time view of the rapidly changing consumer landscape.

Each week we engage a panel of 500 Americans of various backgrounds for discussions on how the coronavirus pandemic is shaping human behavior, experiences, feelings and beliefs. To get a full understanding of participants’ experiences we’re examining the results as qualitative researchers and text analysts. Over time we’ll track which changes have lasting cultural impact and change consumer behavior, and which are temporary adjustments to an unprecedented crisis.

Emerging Themes

Growing Anxiety

As our first field week progressed, the number of cases rose, and our respondents became more trusting and open. For all these reasons, our respondents expressed mounting anxiety, worry, stress, grief and fear as they feel the fragility of life. At best, consumers feel off-balance, while at worst they may be facing legitimate crises of mental and emotional health. Our findings show that people are seeking balance wherever they can.


Overall text analysis by the Metametrix engine shows that worry and fear are key concepts participants shared this week. Their worry about their own health and their family’s health is top of mind.


Metametrix text analysis affirms that the top value our consumers expressed this week was a need for – or lack of – BALANCE. They also worry about health, are feeling fragile, and worried about family.


A deeper qualitative dive shows that three main areas are driving stress and mental health challenges:

Financial Impacts

  • Many in our group of respondents have already experienced negative financial impacts from the lockdown and associated economic downturn. Some have lost their jobs, while others are wondering how to keep a small business afloat or have experienced steep pay cuts. Fear for their family’s financial future looms large for many.

Germ-Aware and Hygiene-Focused

  • The fear of carrying and spreading germs has many people in a constant sense of apprehension, and behavior has changed accordingly. Handwashing, sanitizing, cleaning, wearing gloves and masks are all now part of their daily routine and always on their mind. Some wash clothes more frequently or change clothes and shoes in the garage to avoid contamination and transmission. Others have a new routine for wiping down groceries or bringing packages into the house. The impact the pandemic will have on health in general and concerns about their family’s health are core themes

Friction at Home

  • As the week went on, our participants shared mounting frustration with the family members who live in their household. Annoyance and anger are brewing as people share close quarters and spend more time together maybe than ever before. Everyone is trying but there are new dynamics to adjust to.
“I wonder if every cough or sneeze is the first symptom, though it is allergies, and I cough and sneeze almost every day. I work in a grocery store. Before the first cases, my workload tripled. After the first cases, it became a matter of when is someone going to get sick at my store. We have to do so many things to keep us and our guests safe. I also work at a restaurant. It has been closed for over 2 weeks and I have been missing a big part of my income. I have been missing my co-workers there who have become family. I miss my friends and family. I don’t go visit anyone other than my two best friends that work with me. We all know that if one of us gets exposed at work, then we all do. I sometimes cry for no reason.”

– KimberlyH, 47, GenX, Urban Dweller

Divided Experiences: Super Busy, Super Slow

Consumers find themselves in two camps when it comes to how they spend their time. While some consumers find themselves on furlough or with reduced hours/workloads, others find themselves busier than ever before. Clearly essential workers such as healthcare and retail workers are working around the clock. At the same time, many in a diverse set of industries find themselves with increased work duties – scrambling to solve issues or picking up extra work due to reduced staffing.

Escaping Reality

Perhaps not surprisingly, media consumption has skyrocketed in the past few weeks. Perhaps most interestingly, consumers comment that they are leaning toward escapist pursuits that give them a break from the news and their current bizarre reality. Online streaming, movies, video games and even games played over video calls keep people distracted and help reduce stress. Old school pursuits such as reading and board games also round out the activity list.


Besides seeking balance, Metametrix analysis shows respondents value fun and thrill as they seek entertainment options.





Taking Time To Reach Out

Consumers find they must be deliberate and intentional when it comes to connecting with family, friends and neighbors. In some ways, they are more preoccupied with relationships than ever and making new efforts to stay connected. They find themselves texting more, calling more, spending more time on social media and of course, jumping on video calls, with the Zoom brand dominating this landscape. They’re also finding ways to stay connected with their communities through outdoor signs, games, singalongs, and a host of other creative neighborhood events that they join from a safe distance.

“I’ve been sleeping quite a bit and watching lots of YouTube clips to adapt to all of the free-time I now have. To keep myself on track, I’ve been setting aside time to work remotely, FaceTiming friends that returned back home, and eating dinner with students still on campus. The only ‘rule’ or guideline for myself is to shower every evening, even if I’m not going out in public. I feel like it would be so easy to relax on this, especially during a time like right now, but I still want to keep myself healthy.”

– AndrewF, 21, GenZ, Suburban Dweller

Creating Order and Routine

With the rug pulled out from under them, many are creating a new sense of order by setting up new routines or recreating long-held rituals. For some this means getting up each day and dressing for work. For others, this means a new schedule of going on walks or spending time outside each day. Still others have turned to daily creative pursuits or a new workout plan. Housecleaning and organizing are a key focus. They strive to find comfort in the chaos, exerting control where they can in a world that feels out of control.

“I am getting dressed up for virtual work, even though it feels a little silly. It makes me feel normal! I also am going on a LONG walk daily with my kids, for my sanity.”

– GillianQ, 35, Millennials, Suburban

Next Week’s Questions

Beginning April 4

  • What is it like… behaviorally, rationally, emotionally… when they need to leave the house for work or an essential errand? What is it like to come back home?
  • How has the coronavirus impacted the shopping experience both functionally and emotionally? What is the customer experience like now?