“Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded”

Forecasting Demand in a Post-COVID World

Like many of you, I spend a good part of my day thinking about all the ways the near future will (hopefully) be different from the past year.

Forecasting Demand

I would have traded a roll of toilet paper for a therapeutic massage during the great TP shortage. It will be a relief to pick a restaurant not based solely on whether its food travels well.

But what will the future look like? We can look to the past as a first step in answering this question. Some historians directly tie the excess and indulgence of the Roaring Twenties to a collective reaction to the loss and deprivation caused by the Great War and the 1918 flu pandemic. Will that pendulum swing happen again?

I’m no futurist, but I see a short-term demand boom coming for many industries. This list is not all-inclusive but just a few examples.

  • Weddings/Celebrations: In addition to those big life events coming up, many may host delayed parties for milestones that occurred during our “lost year.” Will they be low-key events, celebrating face-to-face connections? Or will we go all out since we now know that our future is uncertain?
  • Personal Travel/Tourism: Often an annual vacation is the one thing that can keep a person motivated to work for the other 50 weeks of the year. We’ve had time to research our dream vacation, to watch travel shows, and to be influenced by travel influencers. We’ve had dream vacations cancelled. The thought of seeing something beyond our neighborhood is appealing. What will happen with solo and large group trips after the isolation of the pandemic?
  • Business Travel: Which never stopped for some—is also likely to flourish. A savvy salesperson won’t let key accounts go without a personal visit for long. Air travel, car rentals, and hotels will soon be back on expense reports.
  • Concerts/Movies/Art: Many people say that what they have missed the most are experiences that can’t be duplicated digitally. A live stream of an improv show or a telecast of an opera does not provide the same experience as a live event. Concert halls, arenas, and theaters are already booking up in anticipation of eased restrictions.
  • Close-Contact Services: Many medical and grooming services are likely to be booked solid once we fully reopen – hair, nails, medical, massage, spas, and dental – with masks and updated safety protocols.
  • Restaurants/Bars: Curbside pickup is a convenience that is likely to be permanent. But we should also expect in-person dining to rebound, as long as restaurants can maintain a perception of safety. Decision Analyst recently asked more than 9,000 U.S. adults to rate considerations when choosing a restaurant to dine at or order from, and cleanliness/safety is now a top consideration in addition to tasty/well-prepared food.

    With the closing of thousands of restaurants across the country, startups are likely to arise to meet refreshed demand. With this, new restaurant designing and construction, branding, menus and signage, and user-friendly websites will be in demand. Look for innovative service concepts, as well.
  • Inventions/Books/Scripts: Our extended “down time” may have allowed for creativity to flow. It is said that the ideas of Isaac Newton and Shakespeare flourished during disease outbreaks in their times. The idea for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born during a dark and cold summer caused by a volcanic eruption (thanks to Drunk History for that fact!). What great works will come out of this pandemic?
  • Historians/Analysts/Authors: As we collectively try to figure out what we just went through, there will be plenty of demand to understand it from a 30,000-foot view. We not only endured a pandemic, but we also experienced stressful and unusual national, local, and global events. Politics. Extreme weather. Violence. Tiger King. It’s a lot to unpack and make sense of.

In the market research world, how will all this affect demand forecasting for products and services? Demand for many categories is likely to be different 2 years from now compared to 2 years ago. Changes seen in buying patterns during COVID-19 may not be permanent; they may merely be stopgaps or even desperation purchases. Other consumers may have seen the light—permanently switching brands or entering/exiting categories. Forecasts will need to reset to match reality once things settle. That information is critical in making strategic decisions. Looking at the past may not lead us on the right path anymore.

A boom is always a good thing, right? As we rush to normal, what are the potential downsides?

As a thought experiment, let’s look at tourism. Tourism boards see potential hesitancy as customers decide whether travel is safe for them. Those brave first adventurers post pics of exotic places with no crowds and report thrilled locals ready to revive their economy. If early discounts work, wanderlust is rekindled, which leads to crowds. Human connection is what we asked for, but pushy crowds are never fun. Over-crowded destinations create less-than-desired experiences. Then fewer people want to travel. After staffing up for the boom, a lull in visitors causes overstaffing. Bring on the discounts, and the cycle continues. (And thanks to Yogi Berra for the blog-title quote inspiration, even though he likely didn’t originate the sentiment.)

Demand forecasting can take many of these factors into account, like incorporating consumer sentiment over time. Current brand-tracking research and consumer A&U research can also be included as inputs into demand modeling. Additionally, proven models have been through the cycles and seen the economic stress. The pandemic will raise new challenges and open doors to new insights.

I’d love to hear your predictions. What potential industry booms did I miss? Puzzle recyclers and Peloton resellers, maybe?


Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer Murphy

Vice President

Jennifer has over 20 years of experience in marketing research in a wide variety of roles, from data processing to reporting and analysis. Her attention to detail and big picture thinking, combined with her quick wit and deep knowledge of research, makes her a wonderful project collaborator. Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of North Texas and a Master’s in Marketing Research from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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