Television, toilet roll & X-rated pasta: How Coronavirus is affecting spending habits

As our economy experiences disruption on a scale never before seen in peacetime, many businesses - and even entire sectors - are desperately trying to stay afloat. But which sectors are managing to ride the wave?


It's no surprise that media streaming surges in times of crisis. But what kind of increase can we expect? Based on previous figures, data analytics firm Nielsen expects media consumption to jump by up to 60% while homes are on lockdown.*


Nielsen has also been analysing consumers' changing supermarket habits.** As the Coronavirus outbreak has evolved, consumers have progressed through different stages: from proactive to reactive health management, then to pantry preparation, then preparation for potential quarantine, and finally to shopping within a restricted living situation.

Each stage has had a different impact on supermarket sales. For instance, the end of February saw consumers stock up on cupboard staples, family medication and cleaning supplies. But in March, as a national lockdown became increasingly likely, consumers also began spending more on 'luxury' items like fresh meat and ready meals.

Ann Summers

While sales of sex toys are up year on year, the reason we're mentioning Ann Summers here is the massive jump in sales of novelty pasta. In March, the retailer sold more boxes of penis-shaped pasta than it did during the whole of 2019, no doubt due to empty shelves across the country as the nation's supermarkets adjusted to consumers' changed buying behaviour.

And speaking of vegetables...

Modern Farmer has declared 'Vegetable seeds are the new toilet paper', as home gardeners rush to plant their own vegetable patches. Whether motivated by a concern for food security, the need to do something educational with the kids while they're off school, or simply as a way to keep busy during lockdown, customer demand for vegetable seeds spiked just as garden centres were forced to close, massively boosting online sales.

Home furniture & tech

One day working from home slouched into a question mark on the sofa might be a treat, but when you're working from home on a semi-permanent basis, it's probably a good idea to invest in a more ergonomically sound setup. Since the government issued guidance that people work from home where possible, consumers have rushed to buy equipment for home-working (such as chairs and laptops), as well as for home entertainment (including TVs and gaming) and home living (fridges and appliances). As an example, online sales at Dixons Carphone surged by 72% in the 3 weeks to 21 March - and this was before stores were closed due to the outbreak, when you might expect an increase in online sales.


*Nielsen, 'Staying put: Consumers forced indoors during crisis spend more time on media.'

**Nielsen, 'Initial impact of COVID-19 in UK'

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