Our new reality may be anything but “normal,” which is likely why consumers continue to crave normalcy more than ever. That said, there’s no denying that concerns over COVID-19 — and the resulting stay-at-home orders it’s brought with it — are impacting the way we live and work in pretty substantial ways. The internet consumption trends we’re seeing here at Valassis validate that assumption, and offer insights to help brands navigate this strange new world.

Consumers are Using the Internet More

The pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders have helped spike internet usage since the beginning of March. Social distancing measures across the U.S. clearly caused spikes in traffic, as indicated by advertising opportunities. This is a sustained and significant increase, especially when compared against the level of advertising requests in the 10 weeks prior.
We analyzed weekly internet consumption trends by examining consumption by hour of the week. Then we compared pre-COVID to the periods during the start of sequestration— the increases are evident.

Consumers Seeking Information More than Entertainment

Certainly, more time at home might indicate more time in front of a TV screen – and that’s absolutely happening. In fact, the week of March 16, 2020, Valassis’ Consumer Behavior and Media Consumption Survey found that 43% respondents were spending more time streaming TV than they normally do, a figure that jumped to 57% by the beginning of April.

However, most of the increased internet usage signals we’ve observed are specifically in-browser activity and not in-app, which tends to be for information consumption, and not entertainment. From our analysis of consumer interest signals, we know that they were searching for news and information about the virus as well as what they can do to continue living and enjoying their lives.
This presents an opportunity for brands to be the ones providing the ideas, insights, and information their consumers are seeking – a tactic that has both short- and long-term value. According to our latest consumer survey, 90% of respondents appreciated brands that have gone out of their way to deliver relevant and timely information during the pandemic.

Consumers are Browsing Late at Night (And on More Devices)

The lifestyles that many have adapted — working from home, less frequent retail trips, and social distancing — have also influenced how and when consumers are accessing content online.

For one, we’re staying up later. Based on when we’re seeing advertising opportunities occur, Americans are online later each night and starting their days earlier each morning as well. Along with this shift, the distinction between weekday versus weekend online behaviors has now blurred, with a much more consistent internet usage pattern.

We’ve seen a dramatic increase in mobile usage (which includes tablet devices) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays — normal working hours — and it drops to normal, pre-pandemic levels on the weekends. This pattern suggests that consumers are not only using multiple devices in the evenings and on weekends, but they are also now using those devices more often during times they would have normally been away from home and at work.

These behavioral shifts may have a long-term impact and likely have implications for creative messaging. It further emphasizes the importance of cross-device advertising to balance message fatigue and frequency.
The black line represents the average hour of the week trends from January through early March. The blue bars show the percent change in consumption during stay-at-home. Hence we see higher bars later at night (staying up later) and increases using the workday. Instances in which the blue bar falls below zero is during the early hours (sleeping in effect).

Consumers are Still Seeking Information and Connection

The social and economic impact of COVID-19 is ever-evolving, marked by unusual and unpredictable changes. What has been clear and consistent in the data so far is that consumers continue to amp up their search for information and answers. The brands that step up to the plate by providing relevant and timely information will likely be rewarded with consumer’s trust and loyalty in the long run.