New Survey Shows What SC Consumers Think About Coronavirus Issues

Staff Report

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

More than 70 percent of consumers in South Carolina  indicate they are OK with following the rules and doing what’s necessary to slow the coronavirus’ spread, according to a survey by integrated marketing communications agency Chernoff Newman. At the same time, that same percentage of consumers surveyed says their level of concern about the virus hasn’t changed from April to July, despite a steady increase in reported cases.

The July study expands on a first round of research that Chernoff Newman conducted in April 2020 that looked at consumers’ attitudes related to how the virus impacts their behavior. Now as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, the July study examines shifts in attitudes since April along with new concerns around stress levels related to health and safety, comfort with travel and group activities, and perspectives on racial issues. Chernoff Newman conducted the survey between June 23 and July 1, 2020, among 1,000 people in North and South Carolina.

Consumers expect business safeguards and clarity in efforts to enforce safety standards.

Consumers in South Carolina place a high value on the safeguards businesses are putting in place to protect customers and others who pass through their doors, according to the survey. More importantly, consumers want businesses to be clear about what they are doing to protect customers and employees. 

“With South Carolina local governments rapidly passing mask ordinances around the state, we have become very focused on what the government says we can and can’t do,” says Peter LaMotte, senior vice president at Chernoff Newman. “But one thing the government can’t force people to do is to go to a restaurant and walk into a business. Only those businesses can do that by making people feel safe and comfortable.”

Survey responses indicate consumers want to know what businesses are doing to protect the public. “Customers and employees want to see these safeguards clearly communicated before they make a decision to enter a restaurant, retail establishment or office space,” says LaMotte. “The results of the survey give business owners and community leaders a very clear roadmap to meet consumers’ expectations for safety.”

  • More than 70 percent of respondents in South Carolina indicated businesses taking precautions would substantially impact their willingness to do business with a particular company. 

  • In April, 47 percent of South Carolina consumers surveyed said they always practice social distancing while another 28 percent said they did most of the time. In July, the 47 percent remained constant while the group indicating “most of the time” increased to 36 percent. 

  • The July survey indicated 75 percent of respondents believe masks can prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and more than 70 percent agree or strongly agree it’s OK for businesses, local governments and the state to require people to wear masks.

Consumer concerns over contracting COVID-19 remain high but not increasing as the number of cases skyrocket.

Just over 70 percent of South Carolina consumers surveyed in April said they were concerned or somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus. The July findings indicate the sentiment has held steady.

“We conducted the first study in April to get benchmarks of consumer sentiments,” says Fenton Overdyke, Chernoff Newman’s vice president of research. “At that point, case numbers hadn’t spiked, and businesses were just starting to think about reopening plans with cautious optimism. The July survey data indicates people have locked into how they are viewing the pandemic and haven’t changed their attitudes very much. While dramatic events have happened since April, attitudes remain static in both states equally.”

This insight raises the question of whether consumers have reached a saturation point in their level of concern. “The numbers would indicate people aren’t willing to change,” says Overdyke. “The question becomes what will get their attention and increase their level of concern so we can see a change in behavior in light of the number of cases growing almost daily.”

Businesses need to look at new ways of working long-term.

Study findings indicate that many who are working from home are adapting to it. In April, 40 percent of respondents in South Carolina who were working from home said they planned to continue post-pandemic. Now, 60 percent of those working from home in South Carolina say they plan to continue working from home post-pandemic.

“These numbers indicate that businesses need to start reevaluating how they are operating,” says LaMotte. “While working from home may have felt like a novelty back in April, this shift is forcing companies to adapt their operations, such as HR practices, technology infrastructure and simply how they communicate with employees. It’s something businesses need to start thinking about now, and planning for the foreseeable future.”

Other survey highlights

The July survey looked at a variety of concerns people have about the pandemic and related issues such as returning to work, health and safety, travel and daily activities. It also took into consideration consumer attitudes related to the recent racial unrest and how that impacts individuals’ decisions to support particular businesses. Get the media kit with full results. Visit the survey website for highlights of the survey.