How the COVID-19 vaccine will impact US consumer behavior

December 14, 2020
6 min read

The COVID-19 vaccine has finally arrived in the US, boosting the 2021 outlook for some of the hardest-hit markets – leisure, travel and dining. However, it may still be some time before there is enough confidence in vaccine immunity to revitalize out-of-home categories.

US lacks institutional trust

The COVID-19 pandemic has eroded Americans’ trust in the health care system. Compared to last year, three in 10 US adults say their trust in government health departments has decreased compared to one in five whose trust has improved. Furthermore, Americans don’t have complete confidence in vaccines. When surveyed in November 2020, three in five Americans said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the public, while two in five said they would not. While vaccine hesitancy is not new (think about your annual conversations with colleagues about the flu vaccine), the pandemic urgency toward gaining consumer confidence is more important than ever before.

A vaccine is not enough, people need visual cues to feel safe

According to Mintel research on the future of live events, adults are more likely to say mandatory face masks make them feel safe in a crowd of people compared to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. A vaccine is only effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19 once a large share of the population is inoculated, and unfortunately, the vaccine is invisible, leaving Americans with little understanding of how and when they can resume their pre-pandemic behaviors without worry. In this context, mask-wearing will continue. A mask is a tangible way that consumers can protect themselves, and a visual reminder that the people around them are taking precautions.

For some categories, there is no turning back

Some categories have been forever changed by the pandemic and the “next normal” will be different. Categories that have been devastated, such as airlines and cruise lines, will not simply bounce back post-vaccine. According to Mintel research on the impact of COVID-19 on travel, while a quarter of adults say they would be comfortable taking a cruise once a vaccine is widely available, nearly two in five say they will never feel comfortable taking a cruise in the future. Additionally, one-third of US consumers say that the soonest they would feel comfortable attending a large event after the COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased is once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available. Meanwhile, while demand for flights and cruises remains depressed, road trips, camping and local destinations are flourishing; showing how the travel category may transform in the future.

Hyper-localism comes into focus

As discussed in Mintel’s 2021 Global Consumer Trend, ‘Sustainable Spaces,’ consumers increasingly appreciate that what is good for the group is also good for the individual and the very concept of “local” has shrunk due to pandemic restrictions. COVID-19 highlighted how just one person’s actions can have an outsized impact on their immediate environment.

When we think about messaging, a focus on local will be of great benefit to the success of individual buy-in. As discussed in Mintel’s 2021 Global Consumer Trend, ‘Collective Empowerment,’ consumers more saliently see and understand the essential needs of their immediate physical community, and they are seeking brands that leverage resources to offer positive impacts readily felt on a local and regional scale. The collective mentality of the pandemic motivated a community-focused consumer mindset – even in traditionally individualistic cultures – that has put mutual support and advocacy at the forefront of various consumer behaviors.

Consumer spotlight

New Activists

Among the consumer segment, Mintel has identified as New Activists*, this demographic is the most likely to say they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine once available. This is in line with their heightened social awareness; they may feel that personally getting vaccinating will improve public health for everyone. Nearly seven in 10 of both Anti-activists** and Non-activists*** are committed to getting the vaccine, Extreme Activists**** are less likely, with two in five predicting they will not get vaccinated. Similar to supporting anti-lockdown protests, Extreme Activists’ opposition to vaccines is consistent with their anti-establishment persona and emphasis on individual liberties.

Black consumers

Only half of Black consumers expect they will get a COVID-19 vaccine and, according to upcoming Mintel research on Black consumers’ approach to health and wellness, less than one in five expect that they will get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available.

Hispanic consumers

According to upcoming Mintel research on Hispanics’ approach to health and wellness, nearly three in 10 Hispanics expect to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available, compared to more than one-third of male Hispanics aged 18-34 who say they will.

How brands should proceed

Continue safety measures. It’s undeniable that Americans are developing “pandemic fatigue” and may feel unmotivated to continue with stringent social distancing and mask-wearing. But for brands in out-of-home leisure, it is important to continue enforcing safety measures even as a vaccine rolls out. This will ensure consumers feel safe around others.

Build brand trust. With mounting distrust in government institutions, it’s critical for brands to find ways to leverage the trust they have with consumers and drive transparent conversations about their policies and processes mid- and post-pandemic.

Understand the impact of age. While 62% of the general population is planning on getting a vaccine, this share is much lower for adults under the age of 45 (53%) compared to adults aged 45+ (70%). Brands with a young core audience will find their consumers ready to return to pre-pandemic behaviors more quickly than brands with an older consumer base. Brands that serve all ages will want to ensure they are catering to the needs of their most vulnerable consumers.

Offer alternatives. Brands that have been able to serve their consumers in new ways during the pandemic, via outdoor dining, virtual events, private activities or flexible reservations should continue to cultivate these offerings. There is a subset of consumers who are happy homebodies and may be reluctant to return to the way things used to be. Brands may find that by offering more options they can serve a broader variety of needs.

*New activists are most likely to self-identify as activists and believe there are many effective ways to demonstrate, including less public ways, such as donating and buying ethically.

**Anti-activists oppose activist efforts and are less likely to support Americans’ right to protest, and they do not see demonstrative activism as an effective way to bring about change.

***Non-activists do not personally associate themselves with activism or activist movements.

****Extreme activists are also likely to be self-described activists, and/or feel that brands should be involved in activism. However, they disagree that some activist efforts can be too extreme or radical and that true social change requires more than just peaceful protests or demonstrations.

In addition to Gabrielle Lieberman’s insights, Director of Mintel’s US Tech/Media, Gaming and Multicultural Reports Fiona O’Donnell and Director of Mintel’s US Lifestyles, Leisure, Travel and Consumer Identity Reports Dana Macke also contributed to this blog.

Gabrielle Lieberman
Gabrielle Lieberman

Gabrielle leads the insights and strategy for the Consumer Trends and Social Media Research teams in the Americas. She loves digging into the data, gaining a deeper understanding of consumer behavior, and using insights to guide brands on making better business decisions.

Related articles

Download the Latest Market Intelligence