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Vox Media research shows 9 out of 10 consumers have tried new brands during the pandemic

Local is more relevant than ever to consumers

Illustration by Sarah Lawrence for Vox

The most fascinating element of this pandemic is the abruptness with which it stopped ALL of our current routines and rhythms. As we search individually for ways to reframe and reformat our lives, we surveyed more than 900 Vox Media consumers to examine how circumstances have affected shopping behavior and mobility. You can find part one of a series presenting this research here.


Lifestage marketing is based on the principle that major personal events upend consumers’ lives. Not in recent history has an event triggered a major life change for nearly every person in the country—and this change is apparent as consumers trial new brands in epic proportions. In fact: 9 out of 10 consumers have tried new brands during the pandemic.

Consumers tried an average of 3+ new brands during shelter-in-place with snacks, streaming services and alcohol leading the pack.

While the reasons for trial vary from depleted shelves to boredom, marketers could never entice new users to their brands on such a massive scale via advertising and promotion alone. Only a major shock to the social and economic system—like a pandemic—could do this.

As you see, a product not being available at the local place of purchase wasn’t the only reason for trying new brands. In the words of consumers:

The pandemic also has pushed consumers back to foods they “haven’t eaten since I was a kid” (31%)—suggesting an opportunity for legacy brands and comfort foods. It also brings us back to the feeling of familiar nostalgic safety.


Consumers say the pandemic has led them to feel more unity with their community (55%), and they also are looking for more information on how to support local businesses (72%).

And while many have talked about the coming retail apocalypse, less than half (48%) believe they can buy everything they need online. Marketers need to pay attention to the power of local businesses and how partnerships at this level can create lasting relationships with consumers.

Since the start of the pandemic, 75% say their home has become a sanctuary from the world, but 20% have discovered their kitchen is not outfitted for cooking. Marketers can expect a shift toward investment in the home—particularly if there is an expectation that the pandemic will be ongoing. They can also expect real estate or moving activity; 19% of consumers are actually looking to move to cities with fewer people, and it’s significantly more pronounced for those 30-44 years of age.

“Right now, I have no luxuries except the luxury of being in a safe house, with a safe family, with good food to eat.” - From a New York Magazine reader poll on COVID-19


Despite sometimes feeling like we are in the movie Groundhog Day during the coronavirus pandemic, sheltering-in-place and social distancing have created real opportunities both for challenger brands and nostalgic favorites, as well as local businesses and homegoods. Our audience is primed to try new snacks and beverages—especially those they can find at local establishments—along with products that alleviate boredom and create a feeling of sanctuary at home..

Methodology: Quantitative survey fielded April 28 - May 1, 2020 to the proprietary Vox Media Survey Panel. Total of 939 respondents. Survey error is +/- 5% at the 95% confidence level. | Co Authors: Nichole Becker & Preetisha Sen

Photo: James Bareham / Vox Media

Edwin Wong is Senior Vice President, Insights & Innovation at Vox Media, the leading independent modern media company known for building the best media brands and the technology that enables them. He leads research to identify key trends in consumer behavior and help advertisers capitalize on these trends to effectively connect with their core audiences. He has been studying digital consumer behavior for nearly 20 years and has held previous roles at BuzzFeed, Pinterest and Yahoo.