The “coronavirus economy” is here: Groceries, guns, and teleworking software are flying off the shelves, while dining, leisure, and travel have tanked. Americans’ spending patterns are being upended as demand takes a hard turn toward the industries and brands best suited for social distancing. (The Wall Street Journal)
Neil Howe: Brace yourself. Coronavirus has taken hold of the economy, and we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the changes in consumer spending are visible in everyday life: Empty airports, closed theaters, and shuttered restaurants are reflected in sharp declines in spending on flights, hotels, eating out, and leisure activities. In areas under lockdown, these industries have basically screeched to a halt. By March 19, dining visits tracked by the reservation app OpenTable had plunged by 98%. The restaurants that haven’t suffered as much are those that were already designed for delivery and pickup, like pizzerias.
Where are consumers going instead? They’re flocking to the grocery store to stock up on staple foods and toilet paper, or going online to order them. Sales at grocery stores and online grocers are up an impressive 41% and 86%, respectively, compared to the same time last year. The stores that have benefited the most are big brick-and-mortar outlets like Target, Walmart, and Costco, which are the best positioned to survive in terms of resources. Though Amazon has also seen a surge of orders, their switch to prioritizing essential items only is encouraging customers to order elsewhere. The equity prices of these companies are on par with or only slightly lower than what they were in February. Also surging are sales of two different forms of reassurance for these uncertain times: guns and cannabis.
Meanwhile, the shift to working from home and distance learning has been a boon for teleworking software. Workers who will now be teleconferencing for the foreseeable future seem to be embracing the “WFH mullet”: At Walmart, sales of work shirts have soared--but not pants. So have sales of surveillance software to bosses worried their employees aren’t actually working.
Our tastes in entertainment are also shifting in a big way. Goodbye to movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, and museums. Hello to online videos (particularly on YouTube), coloring books, and drive-in theaters. Fewer commutes mean fewer opportunities to listen to podcasts--and when it comes to topics, the true crime category has seen a 30% drop in listeners since early March. People are increasingly turning to escapist entertainment and the news (both online and on TV) to feel comforted and informed. Demand for children’s content and feel-good, nostalgic content is higher than that for dramas or new series being released--which is great news for Disney+.
And when we’ve run out of videos to watch online, there’s always good old-fashioned family fun. Last week, the top 10 bestselling items on Amazon were all cleaning supplies or personal hygiene items with one exception: #7, “puzzles for adults.” At Ravensburger North America, whose parent company is the world’s biggest jigsaw-puzzle maker, sales of puzzles over the past two weeks have skyrocketed 370% YoY.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.