Coronavirus

Kombucha, Bingeing, Legos And Wine: How We’ll Keep Busy In Quarantine

Coronavirus Quarantine Consumer Purchases

In 1987, Disney launched one of the more successful ad campaigns in its history. It ran right after the Super Bowl game between the New York Giants and Denver Broncos when winning the Giants’ quarterback, Phil Simms, was asked a question that we at PYMNTS wholly approve of: “What’s next?

Simms gave the answer that has since become so famous as to become a meme: “I’m going to Disney World!”

The phrase has since been uttered quite a few times, by many, many sports luminaries: Magic Johnson, Nancy Kerrigan, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the 2004 World Series Boston Red Sox. Peyton Manning said it when asked the “what’s next” question after winning the 2005 Super Bowl in a post-interview, despite the fact that Disney didn’t have an ad buy that year. He was, apparently, actually going to Disney World and wanted us all to know.

But this week, no one is saying it. Or at least no one is accurately saying it, because as of Monday (March 16), both Disney World and Disneyland will be shut down for at least the next two weeks (and likely beyond that), in the longest continual closure in over 50 years. And honestly, if one were seeking a metaphor for what the next couple of weeks of social distancing will look like, they could do worse than “the happiest and most magical places on Earth are closed for business indefinitely.”

Sports teams are not playing, international flights are not flying, March will not have madness, cruise ships are not sailing and, while consumers are ordering food from restaurants, they aren’t eating in them, preferring instead to have them delivered, with as little human contact as possible.

Even casinos are trying to cut back on the contact between their patrons. Not the gambling part – thus far, there has been no discussion about shutting down gaming floors anywhere. There have been moves to install hand sanitizer dispensers at entrances and exits to the gaming areas, and reports that thermal cameras have been installed to scan for patrons who may have elevated temperatures. But aside from gambling, casinos are increasingly unwilling to take the risk: They are closing down shows, poker tournaments and – most horrifyingly – the gourmet buffet meals for which they are known.

One might wonder, in a country that seems to be losing Mickey Mouse, March Madness and discounted all-you-can-eat chicken parm all in the same week, what’s next? At this point, it might be reasonable to determine that fun is on hold in America – and that we as a people have resigned ourselves to depression or boredom.

But, as a highly scientific study by PYMNTS reveals, this is not the case. Americans are brave people. Strong people. People who (mostly) have Prime accounts and the will to think outside of the box when they can’t go out. And so, across our various staffers and social media connections, we asked a simple question:

“Have you bought anything unusual to prepare for the COVID-19 virus – and will you tell us about it?”

And we got plenty of answers and insights – the first of which is that Americans are not going to be bored at the end of this, but we may all be fat. While we’ve seen some actual data to support this in the form of increased food sales, the anecdotal information confirms that when things get tough, people eat their feelings.

And no one’s feelings seem to taste like vegetables.

Among the better answers we received was Girl Scout cookies, as a surprising number of the 100 or so people we heard from were willing to brave human contact while picking up toilet paper at the grocery store to stop and see the intrepid Brownies, Daisies and Cadets selling amid the outbreak. As for cookie preference, Tagalongs and Samoas topped the list. Another respondent noted that in preparation for being shut in, they had purchased 30 boxes of pretzel Pop-Tarts after discovering that the store was out of sliced bread. (This respondent did not seem the least bit disappointed by this outcome.)

Another reader became very territorial in a short amount of time. “I bought Hot Pockets. I have zero intentions of giving any to my child. Those things are solely mine, and they would need to fight me for one,” a Facebook respondent noted.

The best reply, however, involved no words at all. This person just sent a picture without a caption that more or less said it all.

The respondent did send a follow-up message indicating that they had also purchased a five-pound bag of rice, so they are clearly prepared.

We would also like to give an honorable mention to the one respondent who mentioned some type of food or drink that isn’t entirely unhealthy. However, this person didn’t technically purchase the item for themselves, so they unfortunately cannot win an impulse buying competition. Still, they do get points for finding a snack and a new hobby all in one:

“My boyfriend bought me a kombucha-making set – thermometer, pH strips, tea bags, container, cloth, starter SCOBY, the whole thing – and it has made me SO happy!”

And those who won’t be snacking through this work-from-home period do seem to be making purchases to support hobbies. Popular responses included coloring books, exercise equipment, gardening supplies and arts-and-crafts goods. And, of course, many report binge-watching reality television or movies about outbreaks and plagues.

The arts and crafts supplies, incidentally, were most common among parents with children who are unexpectedly off for a few weeks – the overwhelming enthusiasm for gel pens and glitter glue cannot be overstated.

Also popular among parents were toys – and not for their kids. It seems clear that they intend to let their kids play with their Legos and video games, but as with the Hot Pocket enthusiast above, ownership clearly flows one way.

“My son and I went to GameStop to get extra game controllers and new video games for family gaming sessions during any bad weather while they’re out of school,” one respondent noted, using the euphemism “family gaming sessions” to denote “those are my new games, but I am willing to let them play.”

And then there were our favorite responses, all from PYMNTS staff, a group whose answers were unique in two ways.

The first: While most social media responses mentioned bleach, wipes, hand sanitizer or some other kind of cleaning agent, PYMNTS team members universally stuck to the assignment and only mentioned fun items as a demographic.

The second: PYMNTS staff members have some truly excellent ideas about what constitutes fun. The top four, in order:

“An expensive dress that I will never wear, but made me happy. It is fuchsia.”

“Prada. And a Minnie music box that plays James Taylor’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend.’”

“A condominium for my four cats, who are clearly better cared for than my children.”

And finally: “Neck cream, so if I die, at least my neck will look like a gazelle’s.”

Clearly, our priorities are in line.

Though it might be a slow few weeks to come, they likely won’t be devoid of entertainment or commerce. As it turns out, when locked inside, consumers create their own fun.

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PYMNTS LIVE VIRTUAL PANEL: WHY SWIFT GPI IS JUST THE BEGINNING 

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at 9:00 AM (ET) join PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster and panelists Vincent Kilcoyne and Roland Brandli of SmartStream for an in-depth discussion on the need to use transformative digital strategies to remain relevant in today’s challenging financial landscape. The discussion will cover strategies that will allow clients to improve operational control, reduce costs, build new revenue streams, mitigate risk and comply accurately with regulation.

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