Assessing COVID's Toll on Consumers

From health to finances to freedom of movement, the pandemic has touched most people around the world. The impact on spending decisions and other behaviors has been dramatic.

If you feel like you’ve been through a prize fight during the last 18 months, absorbing one body blow after another, you are not alone. The pandemic has affected countless millions of people in ways both mundane and profound, from the boredom of missing routine social interactions to the pain of serious illness or the loss of a loved one. The emotional and psychological consequences will affect many consumers even after the crisis recedes.

The Oliver Wyman Forum has measured the pandemic’s steadily rising toll on consumers through a rolling survey across 10 major countries – Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We asked people if the crisis had affected their health, their finances, or their freedom to go about their daily lives because of lockdown measures, and we found significant variation in how people are experiencing the pandemic

Back in August 2020, nearly a quarter of respondents hadn’t been affected by the pandemic while the largest group – one-third of respondents – had been touched in only one of those three dimensions. Fast forward to May 2021, though, and the percentage of unaffected people fell by more than a quarter while 60 percent of respondents had been impacted in two or three of those dimensions.


OliverWyman Forum

These COVID impacts have a cumulative effect and are predictive of what is going to come next. Worries about health, jobs, and money are stressful enough in normal times and the long period of the pandemic can magnify and cascade the pressures.

The roughly one in six respondents who have not had their health, finances, or freedom of movement impacted by COVID reported relatively few indicators of stress, such as seeking support for mental health or medical care for an immediate need for themselves or a loved one, or recalibrating long-term financial expectations or seeking advice on managing finances. They also reported lower telemedicine or online shopping adoption. But those indicators grow rapidly as people are touched in one or more areas by the pandemic. Nearly half of respondents who have had their health, finances, and freedom of movement impacted by COVID have had to adjust their lifestyle because of financial hardship.

Although the pandemic continues to rage in much of the global south, it is receding in many developed countries and economic activity is recovering strongly in places. That’s good news. Yet even in those recovering areas, the physical, emotional, and financial scars of the crisis remain. Companies that are able to understand the differential ways the pandemic has afflicted our society will adapt better to continuously evolving consumer trends.