Survey: How is COVID-19 impacting consumers’ behaviors and emotions?

By IBM Watson Advertising

IBM Watson Advertising recently launched a survey of The Weather Channel app users to help understand how people are responding to the pandemic.

In this interview, Adrienne Beck, head of marketing insights and analytics for IBM Watson Advertising, discusses the most interesting results of the survey, including the role that weather plays in helping people better understand their allergies and plan upcoming celebrations.

The Weather Channel (TWC): Prior to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, what were some typical behaviors of The Weather Channel users?

Adrienne Beck (AB): Keeping informed of the latest weather forecasts with resources such as The Weather Channel can be essential to planning. In-depth weather reports help consumers make more informed decisions about their daily and weekly routines as well as maximize how they spend their time. This includes obvious categories such as weather’s impact on commute times as well as evening and weekend activities.

People tend to bookend their days with weather, checking the forecast in the morning and the evening. Long-term planning tends to be more common on Sunday and Monday as people try to mitigate weather’s impact on plans for the week, such as family activities and errands to run.

On the weekends, users tend to be more focused on short-term planning, making decisions around if and when they can get outside.

How emotions are affecting consumer behavior

TWC: How have you seen usage behaviors shift over the past month?

AB: The daily routine of checking weather still exists. If anything, weather information appears more valuable as consumers are seeking to get outside. On average, respondents tell us they’re checking The Weather Channel app or website more often now than a month ago. Eighty-four percent of people are checking weather at least daily and 68% report that the weather is an important part of their new routine.

While TWC has always been a source for allergy sufferers, several respondents told us they’re using weather to help them understand whether symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing are indicative of seasonal allergies or COVID-19. Forty-four percent of survey respondents said the best way The Weather Channel can support them right now is to provide allergy information that helps them understand their symptoms. This response was second only to determining the best time to get outside.

Our users’ focus has also shifted slightly more to the short term, even earlier in the week. When asked about the time frame for which they are checking the weather, the top two responses were “over the next few hours” and “right now.”

This shift in consumer behavior is demonstrated in traffic patterns as well. While the daily details sections of our forecasts are still a more frequently visited destination in our app and web platforms, visits to our hourly sections are increasing. In other words, people are adopting a more short-term, immediate mindset. Long-term planning might not be as much of a priority right now.

Additionally, consumers are still bookending their days with weather data, but it’s happening later in the morning and earlier in the evening, as people shift to working from home and new routines. Morning traffic is picking up about an hour later than prior to COVID-19, most likely because fewer people are planning commutes, school drop-offs and other morning decisions.

TWC: Have you observed any consumer behaviors that have remained the same?

AB: Temperature and precipitation are still the most critical data points for decision-making, which isn’t surprising. Both factors have been shown to impact our moods, emotions and energy levels, not to mention when we can enjoy being outside. 

Marketers with a spring focus should be encouraged that typical activities for this season appear relatively unchanged. When asked about their priorities during this “stay-at-home” time, 65% of respondents checked home maintenance and spring cleaning. Fifty-nine percent said self-care and wellness. Forty-four percent mentioned cooking, grilling and dining outdoors. Forty-three percent checked lawn and garden care. Given what we learned about our users’ new routines, it’s clear that weather continues to play a major role in these decisions.

People are also still using weather—particularly on Thursday and Friday—to plan ahead for the weekend.

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The difference in demographics

TWC: Are we seeing different responses between various groups?

AB: As a parent, I’m not surprised that we’re seeing a possible trend that suggests parents might be more interested in getting outside than other groups. Sixty-seven percent of parents say they’re prioritizing getting outside and 72% say that weather is important to their new routine—higher percentages than the responses from the general population. So, for parents in particular, the opportunity to be outside—and the information that can make that experience more enjoyable—is something they want.

It’s also worth noting that 43% of parents told us that—heading into spring—they're feeling surprised and/or in disbelief while 41% told us they feel worried and/or vulnerable. In each case, this was a few percentage points above the average, suggesting parents might be feeling the stress a bit more.

For marketers who focus on parents, knowing that weather helps them find joy can play an important role in shaping brand messaging that will provide value to their lives.

TWC: What surprised you most when reviewing this research?

AB: For one thing, people are using weather to determine the best times for social distancing. Several respondents mentioned using the weather forecast to help them do their grocery shopping or run errands at times when conditions might deter other people from going to stores. We haven’t seen weather used this way before.

Also, people want to continue celebrating holidays despite the impediments of sheltering-in-place and social distancing. Weather is a huge part of that. People are using forecasts to decide when they can do activities like Easter egg hunts and outdoor family photos. It’s been uplifting to see how users are leveraging weather data to create some kind of normalcy in regard to events and holidays.

Consumers are still searching for the positive

TWC: What advice would you give marketers seeking to understand how weather may impact consumer behavior in the short and long term?

AB: Upcoming events and holidays like graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Memorial Day are typically key campaign timeframes for marketers. The good news is people are still trying to celebrate holidays and are looking for weather to inform how they might do that. People are also trying to get outside for mealtimes and potentially in bigger groups—such as with family or even neighbors—because being outdoors can facilitate social distancing in a group setting.

We know weather is a critical input into some of the most major decision-making moments for consumers. Understanding the role weather plays in your audiences’ decisions, emotional responses and underlying motivations can help you deliver authentic and tone-sensitive messages that benefit your business.

Keep checking this blog for more insights into weather’s impact on current consumer trends and behaviors, including an upcoming survey on decisions, purchases and activities during COVID-19, and contact us for more insights.