People are less concerned about the pandemic than ever

In less than five minutes of reading time we’ll give you all the data and context you need to get you up to speed on Ipsos’ latest wave of the Consumer Tracker.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab
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Here’s what we know today from the Ipsos Consumer Tracker:

People are less worried about the pandemic than ever

Why we asked: The Ipsos Pandemic Adaptability Continuum (IPAC), Ipsos’ measure of how Americans are dealing with the pandemic, had been steady for a while, so we decided at the start of this year to run it less frequently. 

What we found: The IPAC has really shifted in the last couple of months and hit a new milestone just as we mark three years since the pandemic began. As a refresher, the IPAC was created in May 2020 as “a staging model of consumer changes to map how people are dealing with COVID-19, and to predict where we’re headed from lockdown to recovery.”

We have continued running it because, well, it’s good to keep a bead on it, but also because it’s shown itself to be a useful barometer of how people are feeling in general, registering economic impressions as well as public health ones.

This wave saw a new milestone, as we hit a split of 25% in the “coping” phase and 75% in the “improving.” That’s a five-point jump from last month and a 12-point improvement since the start of the year.

Line graph depicting that there has been a large surge of people in the last few weeks who believe that the pandemic is improving.

AI is all the rage, but the new tools haven’t been widely used (yet)

Why we asked: I’m freshly returned from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where every panel had a slide about generative artificial intelligence tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which launched a big new update this week known as GPT-4. And yes, I do mean it was mentioned in every. Single. Panel. For good reason. These tools will impact most of our lives in direct and indirect ways (and really already are. But who’s used them?

What we found: Few say they have used AI for image generation (8%) or internet search (12%) or AI chats (15%) in the last month. However, looking at it a different way, those numbers are actually pretty sizeable for technologies that are so new. [Note, this was fielded separately on the probability-based Ipsos KnowledgePanel.]

It’s tempting to say that all the buzz will drive more use. But more likely, what will drive use is not the buzz, but the fact that these tools are actually useful and will fulfil a lot of needs and purposes for a wide cross section of people. That, and they are widely available without the need for extra technology or lots of new skills.

Related, 33% say they have used a customer service chatbot in the last month. And as Ipsos data shows, those who have encountered chatbots don’t love them.

Everyone is talking, but few have experienced AI tools

Workers want investment in training

Why we asked: In What the Future: Work, we asked workers what tools they wanted their employers to invest in. With all the talk of AI tools, we wondered if that specific number would have shifted at all.

What we found: Education is where workers most want investment to go, along with virtual meeting platforms (32% for both). Security (25%), communication tools, and productivity apps (24% each) are in the next tier. Workplace automation tools (including AI) sit at 21%, which is actually down a couple of points from when we asked last fall.

Workers most want employers to invest in training

Premiumization, more about youth than income

Why we asked: We read with interest the New York Times piece recently with the catchy headline, “Is the Entire Economy Gentrifying?” talking about how premium options exist for an increasingly wide range of products and services. It’s a broad topic, and one Ipsos has advised clients on in a lot of different ways. But we wanted to ask, generally, what people would be willing to pay more for.

What we found: Overall support is low for everything (in no order) from upgraded materials (21%), to luxury packaging (9%), sustainability options (16%), to premium customer service or support (15%). People are more used to having to pay for better seats at concerts or sports, – which tends to bring a tangibly better experience – so that ranked a little higher at 29%. They are way less interested in dynamic pricing being floated for movie theaters (11%). What was maybe a little counter-intuitive is that there was almost no difference in responses based on income levels. But younger consumers 18-34 were more likely to be willing to pay for most upscaling than 35- 54-year-olds who were more likely than the 55+ Americans. The notable exception was luxury packaging, which might run into their sustainability goals.

Few willing to pay for upgraded experiences and producrs

Workplace preferences are becoming more entrenched

Why we asked: Like we said above, it’s now been three years of pandemic work. It seemed time for a check on people’s preference for home vs. office work.

What we found: Last June, we asked a pair of questions about workplace preferences: “What do you think is the ideal mix of home vs. office,” and “has your opinion on that changed recently.” In that wave, nearly half of workers said they were either mostly (18%) or all (30%) at the office, vs. 29% at home and 15% evenly split. In the follow-up question, asked of those who were working hybrid, 34% wanted to work at home more often, compared to 23% who wanted to go back to the office more. 40% hadn’t changed their opinions.

In this wave, support for the office has fallen to four in ten. And of those hybrid folks who have changed their opinion, 30% want to work from home more and only 9% say they want to work from the office more. Most (56%) haven’t changed their opinions recently.

How do we feel about observance days?

Why we asked: There are many observance days on the calendar. They are by no means created equal. International Women’s Day is not the same as, say, Fruitcake Toss Day.

What we found: For the most part, people say observation days are an opportunity to raise awareness (71%), a way to show respect for people and cultures (77%) and that doing so shouldn’t be limited to just one day (71%). We are less inclined to say that active participation is needed (57%) or any sort of government investment in education and awareness campaigns (53%). Republicans are less interested overall than Democrats.

Most support observing awareness days more than actively participating or investing in them

Signals

Here’s what we’re reading this week that has us thinking about the future.

  • Gen Z still wants to drive (via CityLab)
  • Got (soy, oat, whatever) milk? Don’t need a cow. (via NPR)
  • JPMorgan Chase restricts use of ChatGPT (via Axios)
  • The internet is about to get a lot safer (via MIT)

For complete toplines for all waves, please see the full data and methodology.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab

Consumer & Shopper