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The COVID Diaries Part III: The Products of COVID

New routines have led to new user experiences and a greater willingness than ever to experiment. Here's how COVID is changing our supply chains, weakening the "digital divide" and endearing us to new products, services, and routines.  

Words by Jaymie Wahlen, Visuals by Emi Tolibas

Maybe your grandma who hates to text is playing hours of bridge over Facebook Messenger.

Or your friend who’s always on the go swears by the guided meditations on Calm. Maybe you're an avid runner who's been taking Zumba classes on Zoom.

Things have changed since COVID-19 hit—small things, big things, unpredictable things, and routine things.

The brands we use, discover, and have come to rely on have changed, too.

From early March, when we recognized the magnitude of the coronavirus, we’ve been conducting quick qual studies on how the pandemic is affecting Americans. We learned about the seismic shifts in our day-to-day life, and the coping mechanisms we’ve adopted to adapt.

This wave of research was conducted between April 17th and April 24th. We had 904 Americans tell us about the products that helped them adapt to the “new normal.” We asked them close-ended questions, open-ended prompts, and solicited a video story.

They gave us lists of the brands that made an impact, and video “thank you letters” to the products and services that mattered most. Collectively, they helped us to better understand the tools we’re using to cope, the ways we’re willing to experiment, and the services that are helping us connect

Want a deeper dive on this study? You can stream our share-out webinar on demand, and download the deck, here.

We had many brands to thank (but a choice few were frequently top-of-mind)

From the New York Metropolitan Opera, to antidepressants, to St. Tropez self tan, to “my punching bag”—participants weighed in on a diverse array of products and services they were thankful for. 904 participants submitted 1152 items. And while the average list consisted of 5.75 products or brands, a few companies found themselves on a large percentage of respondents’ lists.

Number of times products or companies were mentioned in the research

The steepest part of the curve was dominated by large tech, retail giants, and a few up-and-comers. 27% of those mentioned were in logistics (including home delivery), 24% in entertainment, 17% in social networking, and another 13% in general communications.

Percentage of respondents who mentioned these products or companies

Where there’s need, there’s a will to experiment

While deprived of old habits and routines, participants proved more open to experimentation: 

“I had never been a big ‘gamer’ before this time...”
Jenna R.

“We have never used Amazon Fresh before until COVID-19. I got to say we were on the fence (before)...”
Vincent M.

“I hadn't used (Zoom) that much previously but now it has literally changed my world.”
Darby M.

“I never really tried the opportunity to listen to audiobooks. But now I understand.”
Derrick J.

“Before COVID-19 started, I had heard of Target Drive Up but I've never actually used it.”
Alva S.

“I've never used Instacart before.”
Averye D.

“I had never used the Peloton app before the pandemic started.”
Krizia D.

Product experimentation rose across the board, but there were some distinctions across age groups.

Most popular companies or products mentioned by age group

Older participants, in particular, found themselves adopting digital tools for the first time—illustrating the pressure now being put on the “digital divide.”

Stream our share-out webinar + download the deck for this study here.

The products and services that are helping us cope

In our second round of research, participants told us about their best tactics for coping with COVID-19. In this round, we learned which products and services were critical to those coping strategies.

We saw a number of trends on the tactics people are using to adapt, and popular products emerge to meet their needs.

Tactic 1: Adopt mindful rituals

Brands: Headspace, Calm, Insight Workshop

“Headspace really allows you to take a minute to breathe, to focus on yourself, and to not worry about anything else that's going on.”
Tara G.

Tactic 2: Get moving

Brands: Nike, Peloton, Fitbit, YouTube

“The outdoor running classes have really helped me feel like I can do more than what I ever thought I could accomplish before the pandemic started. I couldn't run a mile without stopping and now I can run about five without even taking a break.” 
Krizia D.

Tactic 3: Forgive yourself

Brands: Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Nintendo Switch

“Thank you Netflix. It’s nice to be able, at the end of the day, to just kind of unwind, turn on the TV... and just kind of get your mind out of this intense place.” 
Marcos L.

Tactic 4: Keep busy

Brands: Microsoft Teams, Pinterest, Duolingo, Google Classroom

“Thank you Google Classroom for managing my son's learning activities and schoolwork. While his school's doing distance learning, it's been a very wonderful resource to get access to his reading lessons, his math lessons, etc.” 
Eric L.

Tactic 5: Seek real connection

Brands: Zoom, Houseparty, Google (Meet/Duo/Hangout), Discord

“Thank you Zoom. You made it possible for my extended family living all over the United States to actually get together for an Easter gathering that spanned three generations. Actually, it was four generations of family members.” 
Patricia J.

Tactic 6: Keep your guard up

Brands: CNN, CDC, Facebook News, Lysol

“I want to thank the governor's task force... every day they explain the latest information about what's going on with the coronavirus in North Carolina.” 
Kevin G.

Area of experimentation: the new household supply chain

From the earliest days of COVID, keeping “stocked up” was a core concern for participants. Four weeks into the crisis, people have created new supply chains—combining a diverse array of tactics for getting goods from store to home.

Ecommerce, home delivery, and curbside pick up are now critical for many American households. Carry out has become the new eating out—a way to break up monotony, avoid washing more dishes, and “treat” the family. 

Some brands leading the COVID-supply-chain response: 

Home deliveryCurbside pickupCarry-out

Specialty Services

Amazon Fresh

Whole Foods

Uber Eats

While choosing companies to meet these new customer demands, participants valued brands that have made modifications and adapted to COVID. Adapting quickly, being vigilant and attentive, and supporting those in need rang as particularly important to those surveyed.

Participants also expressed deep appreciation and care for the people who make this new supply chain possible. Shoppers expressed gratitude for essential workers’ ability to still work during the pandemic.

User behavior to consider for the new household supply chain:

  • Users may be ordering for others. Many participants noted that they used delivery services to help get food to loved ones—whether that was a college kid on their own or a parent they’re hoping will stay safe.
  • Plan to be planned for. Participants wanted scheduling windows for deliveries that were flexible, but available in the not-too-distant future.
  • Be ready to substitute. When someone is shopping for you, attentive shoppers make for a great experience. Invest in shopper-to-customer interaction.
  • Over-communicate. Participants valued regular updates on order status, and wanted quick responses on a question.
  • Consider drop-off hygiene. Shopping now isn’t just going to the store—it’s a process that now includes what happens after one gets back from the store.

What happens next: projected usage post-COVID

In general, participants expect they will continue to use the services they became accustomed to during COVID—but will no longer be solely reliant on them. Overall, 82% of users report it’s “very likely” they will use these newly adopted services when things are “back to normal.” 13% say it’s somewhat likely, 2% say it’s somewhat unlikely, and 2% say it’s very unlikely.

“I’ll continue to use this service because…”“I will no longer use this service because…”
  • It’s so convenient
  • I’m now familiar with how it works/I have a membership set up
  • It’ll be useful when I’m busy, not feeling well, or tied up at home
  • I have a sense of loyalty for how valuable it was during this time
  • I need to feel and see items up-close
  • I want more spontaneity and chances to discover
  • It’s too expensive/I want to avoid add-on fees

Stream our share-out webinar + download the deck for this study here.

Area of experimentation: virtual human connection

From the first wave of our COVID research onward, participants have prioritized intentional communication and connection with friends and loved ones. Group gatherings, as well as one-on-one calls, have been increasingly taken remote.

As participants have experimented with virtual get-togethers, Zoom has dominated the conversation. It showed up on 32% of all lists, and was the number one “most appreciated” product for 14% of respondents (Amazon was the next closest with 7%).

A list of things participants have done via Zoom:

  • Crossfit
  • Zumba
  • Dance lessons
  • Church youth groups
  • Karate
  • Kickboxing
  • Passover Seder
  • Easter brunch
  • AA meetings
  • School
  • French classes
  • Guitar lessons
  • Yoga
  • School assemblies
  • Birthday parties
  • Happy hour
  • Family dinners
  • “Seattle Puzzler" group
  • Group therapy
  • Daily exercise classes

What we can learn from Zoom’s success

Participants routinely cited usability and onboarding as reasons for Zoom’s popularity. The phrase we repeatedly heard was, “It’s so easy.” This ease of use made it the default choice for children, grandparents, and everyone in between.

Beyond that, Zoom quickly became the medium of choice for schools and teachers; its advanced functions made it easier for them to manage their virtual classrooms. Teachers used break-out rooms for one-on-one contact with students, virtual backgrounds to allow for privacy, and remote mute mics for more effective classroom management.

“Jobs-to-be-Done” for virtual human connection

Participants reported frequently switching between tools depending on their specific group size, call duration, engagement style, and level of engagement.

Beyond that, the nature of the need dictated the connection medium. Zoom and Peloton were front runners for participants looking to “keep moving.” Microsoft Tteams and Google Meet were commonly mentioned as workplace favorites. Netflix, Houseparty, Discord and Twitch were leaders for entertainment.

Praise for Houseparty in particular showcased the need to move from “video calls” to video activities. Participants sought out “activity specific” features and layers (ie. watching a show together), more advanced camera functionality (ie. sensing form in yoga or exercise), and ways to assess activity and engagement from remote participants.

What happens next: projected usage post-COVID

Participants expect that these products and services will stay a part of their interpersonal routines, without becoming their sole source of human connection. 60% of users reported that they’re “very likely” to use their communication services when things are “back to normal.” 32% said they were somewhat likely, 6% said somewhat unlikely, and 2% said very unlikely.

A few “whys” and “why nots”:

Jaymie Wahlen is the VP of Customer Success at dscout, where she works to make dscout the most customer-centric company on the block. When she’s not leading dscout’s team of Research Advisors, you can find Jaymie spinning a pottery wheel, or seeking out the world’s best street food.

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