A Gradual Transition Back To Normal: Covid-19 Is More Marathon, Less Sprint

June 10, 2020

A Gradual Transition Back To Normal: Covid-19 Is More Marathon, Less Sprint

Sarah Kasarsky

All Americans have their own pointed view of “normalcy.” Take New Yorkers: Our view of normal life means hour-long waits at restaurants, having to squeeze into overcrowded subway cars and weaving our way through bars to maybe get a drink. Our sense of normal is defined by the presence of others – a crowded street, a jam-packed stadium or a sold-out concert hall.

In the time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, this sense of normalcy has been entirely disrupted. Not just for New Yorkers, but Americans across the nation. Usually buzzing restaurants are closed, stadiums are dark and office doors are shut. As Americans spend time in isolation, will they be comfortable once again shaking hands with a new acquaintance, sitting down next to a stranger at a movie theater, or even greeting a loved one with a hug?

All Americans are anxiously awaiting the green light to return to their typical day-to-day routines. However, results from OBERLAND’s recent study, “There Is No Normal, Only New,” powered by real-time insights platform Suzy and in conjunction with publishing partner Guardian U.S., suggest they might not be so eager to resume activities in the company of others when stay-at-home orders are lifted. These findings beg the realization that a return to “normal” might not be so normal, after all.

Only 9% of survey respondents say they would feel comfortable resuming typical “going out” activities, such as eating out, seeing friends, going to a bar or movie just one day after lockdown restrictions are lifted. A larger sample (18%) would feel comfortable resuming these activities after one week and 28% within the first month, though 39% of respondents say they will need 3 months to over a year before returning to these activities.

Survey respondents had a heightened sense of caution regarding the attendance of large events, such as business conferences, concerts or sporting events. Close to two-thirds of those surveyed would not feel comfortable going to a large function for three months or longer after the economy re-open, and over a tenth say they won’t feel comfortable resuming these activities for a year.

This sentiment also affects travel, though respondents are more willing to venture from their homes then attend a populated event. Fifty percent of respondents said they would travel within the first three months of “normal life” for work, vacation or to visit family. These shifts in behavior will not only affect Americans’ day-to-day lives, but have an enormous impact on consumer-dependent brands and businesses. Brands that typically sponsor summer concert series, sporting events or business conferences will need to find new avenues to reach their target consumers.

Restaurant owners will need to adjust business models to account for lost time and lost customers – and consider the long-term impact on their consumer base. Will former customers maintain loyalty after months of separation? This existential question applies to all consumer- centric businesses, from retail to hospitality or elective medicine. The future of brands and businesses will be determined by the activities Americans deem “worth the risk.”

Covid-19 has changed how Americans think about their daily activities and pastimes, causing a nationwide re-evaluation of comfort zones. When will we see a stadium filled with fans? A crowded subway car at rush hour? A sold-out movie or concert? American society will be playing the long game upon the country’s reopening, causing a shift in what “normal” will look like in the post-Covid months and a delay of truly normal life for individuals and brands. For how long, no one knows.

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