COVID-19 Outbreak

Syno Trend: The COVID-19 Outbreak and Consumer Sentiment

February 24, 2020

Syno Trend: The COVID-19 Outbreak and Consumer Sentiment

February 24, 2020

The news over the last several weeks has been dominated by the Covid-19 outbreak. Originating in Wuhan, China, this new corona virus has rapidly spread across Asia, and as this is being written, the world. Syno has also been touched by this virus. In late February, a conference where we were due to appear in Singapore was canceled, and from the 19th of February, our Japan office has been under work-from-home orders. Across Asia, reports of panic buying and falling tourist numbers dominate the news, and on March 1st, the first covid-19-related bankruptcy was reported in Japan. With this background, our team at Syno wanted to know how closely people around the world are following the Covid-19 epidemic, and also how this epidemic is affecting their travel and purchasing habits.
Table of Contents
  1. Study Parameters/design
  2. COVID-19 Awareness
  3. Changes to Travel Plans
  4. Changes to Shopping Habits
  5. Conclusion
Study Parameters/Design
As a global, consumer data company, Syno frequently conducts studies as part of our SynoAnswers International Omnibus questionnaire. Taking questions from multiple clients and pooling them together, we survey a panel of 1,000, demographically-matched, respondents every two weeks. During our latest survey, which ran from February 21st to the 24th, we asked panelists about the Covid-19 outbreak in Japan, France, Sweden, and Finland.

Our first question to panelists was aimed at discovering how closely they are following news about the covid-19 outbreak. In it, we asked:

Have you been following the media coverage of the current Covid-19 (new corona virus) outbreak?

Unsurprisingly, considering how the Covid-19 virus has been more heavily impacting the country, Japan showed a much greater level of awareness and interest in the virus than other countries, with nearly half of the respondents saying they follow the news about it intently every day.

Of the four countries surveyed, Sweden showed the smallest level of interest in the topic, with the largest number of respondents replying that they have only read some news about it. Segregated by gender, we see very little difference in the level of awareness, whereas by age, generally awareness increased with age (please contact us for data).

Our next question dealt with travel plans. Across Asia, the tourist industry is feeling the brunt of the economic damage because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Airlines are canceling thousands of flights, and many staff are being put on unpaid leave. The virus-related bankruptcy in Japan was a hotel chain. With all of the negative coverage regarding this virus, it was somewhat surprising that most people, at least at the time of our survey, have not changed their plans. Our survey asked respondents:

Has the current Covid-19 (new corona virus) outbreak affected your travel plans for the next 6 months?

As with the awareness question, Japan topped the ranking for changes to their travel plans, with 30% of respondents saying that they had, or were considering, changing travel plans. Within Europe, 17% of French respondents, and about 14% of Swedish and Finnish respondents, answered similarly. Interestingly, whereas Europeans were mostly concerned about travelling internationally, Japanese by a large measure had made or had considered changes to their domestic travel plans, by margins triple or quadruple other countries. When asked why they had chosen their answers, the responses were enlightening. Typical answer in Sweden include, “I am not afraid,” “The risk is minimal,” and “It is just like the flu.” French and Finnish responses often mentioned a lack of travel plans or little relation to China—many mention that they plan to travel in Europe, but that Europe is still safe. In contrast, many Japanese who had travel plans are considering canceling them or have already done so. Some common reasons include, “The virus is spreading across the whole country,” “I don’t want to go to a place with lots of people,” or “I want to manage my risks.” Clearly, there was a more palpable level of fear in Japan when the survey was taken than in Europe.

Our final question sought to understand how news about the Covid-19 outbreak was affecting shopping behaviors. At the time of questioning, panic buying—especially of masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper was making the news in Singapore. We wanted to know, was this a trend happening in other places? Therefore, we asked:

Has the current Covid-19 (new corona virus) outbreak affected your purchasing behavior?

Unsurprisingly, consumer habits for Japanese were markedly different than for our surveyed European countries.

As seen from the chart above, nearly 40% of Japanese had in some way changed their purchasing behavior, as compared to less than 15% for Sweden, Finland, and France. When broken down by how people changed, both hand sanitizers and surgical masks were popular choices—with surgical masks purchases significantly increasing in Japan.

Broken down by gender, it is clear that women have made more changes in their purchasing behavior than men—especially in Japan and Finland. Interestingly, Swedish women have increased their hand sanitizer purchases, whereas Swedish men have increased their food purchases. Clearly there is a debate as to whether good hygiene or enough to eat is more important.

When asked why they responded the way they did, most Europeans said that they didn’t see a need to buy anything, or that the virus wasn’t in Europe yet. In contrast, many Japanese mentioned purchasing masks or hand sanitizers to prevent being infected. For those that selected that they didn’t make changes to their behavior, a common reason was that masks and hand sanitizers were already sold out, indicating that the behavior changes would be much greater for Japan if there were readily available supplies.

Conclusion

Clearly, the data presented above shows how concern about the Covid-19 virus is different between Japan and Europe. At the time of this survey, Japanese were following news related to the virus, and had made more changes to their travel plans and shopping behaviors than their European counterparts. Certainly, this is partially due to Japan’s proximity to China, including the presence of millions of Chinese tourists every year. Experience with SARS and MERS also probably has some influence. Now that the number of infected individuals is rapidly increasing in Europe—especially in Italy as this is written—it will be interesting to see how the numbers change, and whether European respondents catch up to Japanese ones, or whether other national characteristics play a role.

If you would like to learn more about this survey, including some very interesting data on how age or socio-economic class played a role in the responses, please contact us.