Consumers not optimistic about pandemic giving way to normal anytime soon, study suggests

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The great mask debate continues, with nearly half of consumers preferring to shop at stores that require masks

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 still expanding its footprint, the number of concerned Americans is growing, and consumers are reverting back to their old shopping habits from the early days of the pandemic.

A new study by Numerator — a data and tech company serving the market research space — found that 61% of the shopping crowd think the Delta variant will cause a return to lockdowns where they live, and nearly half of consumers believe a return to normal isn't likely to happen until 2022 or later. 

There are still believers that things will be OK, but that number is dwindling. According to the study, 20% of the consumers questioned are "highly optimistic" about a return to normal, which is down from about 33% two months ago.

What are people’s current concerns about COVID-19?

How concerned are people? When COVID-19 cases zoomed upward in August, so did people’s uneasiness. Nearly half (46%) of consumers say they are highly concerned about COVID-19, up 10 percentage points from July 2021. Slightly more than a quarter (26%) rate their concern a 10/10 – a level not seen since March 2021, when that metric hit 25%.

Delta: better or worse than the original? The Delta variant is definitely creating anxiety. The study found that half (50%) of all consumers are more concerned about the Delta variant than the original strain. In addition, 3 out of every 5 consumers (61%) think the Delta variant has the capability to push where they live back into lockdown status.

How worried are people about becoming infected? If you think that getting vaccinated eases the stress level, think again. Numerator’s study shows that 48% of vaccinated consumers are worried about being infected, 66% of vaccinated consumers say they’re worried about the Delta variant, and 62% stress over their adult family and friends becoming infected.

Please, no more mandates or closures. Among consumers who opt not to get the vaccine, the greatest concerns are focused on mandates, closures, and lockdowns. According to the study, 44% are worried about reimposed or extended mask mandates, 43% are concerned about new or extended lockdowns or restrictions, and 32% are concerned about the impact on students returning to schools.

Getting back to normal might take longer than expected. If these numbers sound like a repeat of late 2020, they essentially are. Nearly half of consumers (48%) believe a return to normal won't happen until 2022 or later, up from 23% in July and 18% in June.

The great mask debate roars on

The study showed that consumers are less comfortable with indoor activities, particularly shopping maskless. Underneath that conclusion, the numbers look like this: 

  • Consumers indicating they are comfortable shopping inside a store without a mask dropped 15 percentage points from July to August.

  • Comfort levels decreased significantly in August for attending a concert or show (-13%), gathering maskless with friends and family (-11%), attending in-person classes (-11%), and eating inside a restaurant (-9%).

  • More than half of consumers (53%) say they prefer to wear masks in public at this point in time (63% of vaccinated consumers vs. 25% of unvaccinated consumers).

  • Slightly under half (46%) of consumers say they prefer to shop at retailers that require masks (56% of vaccinated vs. 22% of unvaccinated).

  • Over 2 in 5 (43%) think proof of vaccination should be required for public indoor spaces (60% of vaccinated vs. 12% of unvaccinated).

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