We don’t yet know how the coronavirus pandemic will change the world. But one thing that seems certain is that more of our lives are being lived online.
Many speculate that teleworking will be a permanent change and that downtown office towers will be half empty forever. And our urban city centers face another potential threat: the end of brick and mortar retail.
Online purchases have exploded and profits for online retailers have increased – including Amazon, of course.
And while in the US consumers have improved their online shopping habits since the pandemic, nowhere is that trend as pronounced as in Seattle.
According to new survey data collected in mid-December, more than 2 million people who live in the Seattle metropolitan area – 67% of the adult population – said they increased their online purchases because of their last seven days of shopping. That is more than 10 percentage points more than the national average (55%) and the number 1 among the 15 largest US metropolitan areas.
The data comes from the Household Pulse Survey, a new project by the US Census Bureau that was carried out in collaboration with five other federal agencies. Unlike other census products, which have a long delay time, the Household Impulse Survey provides near real-time data.
These statistics are designed to help educate officials and policy makers about the impact of the pandemic on communities across the country and to provide data to support post-pandemic recovery.
The Household Pulse Survey is a national survey, but it also breaks down data for the 15 largest subway areas (and Seattle is currently making the cut at number 15). The Seattle subway area is defined as Counties King, Pierce, and Snohomish.
In every metropolitan area studied, the increase in online shopping was dramatic due to the pandemic. Even on the lowest subway – Houston – 48% of residents say their online shopping has increased.
The metros at the top of the list for the increase in online spending are any areas where the population is well educated and salaries are well above the national median. After Seattle, Boston (64%), Washington, DC (64%) and San Francisco (62%) are the most important metropolises. This could also be a reflection of stricter lockdown measures in these places compared to Houston, for example.
Changes in online shopping behavior were only one of the questions included in the survey. People were also asked about different ways in which their spending and shopping behavior has changed due to the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, restaurant spending has fallen due to the pandemic. Nationwide, 59% said avoiding restaurants was a way to change their eating habits.
People in the local restaurant industry will cringe to hear that Seattle was again more than 10 percentage points above the national average at 68%. And again we topped the list of 15 subways to stay away from restaurants, a little before San Francisco.
The other major changes in spending behavior in the Seattle area are the increased use of credit cards or smartphone apps for purchases (42%), canceled or postponed personal medical or dental appointments (33%), and increased roadside pickup (29%) .
In the household impulse survey, the respondents were also asked about the reasons for their changes in spending and shopping behavior. By far the best answer nationwide was the understandable fear of being exposed to the coronavirus.
Nationwide, 54% of adults in the United States report having changed their spending and shopping behavior because they are concerned about going to public, crowded places, or having contact with people at high risk.
In the Seattle area, the percentage is significantly higher at 63%. And once again, Seattle tops the list of 15 subways with concerns about being in public places, ousting only Washington, DC. The subway area where people are least concerned is Miami at just under 50%. (The state where residents are least concerned about public spaces and crowds is Tennessee, at just 43%.)
The Household Pulse poll was conducted December 9-21. Nearly 70,000 people nationwide took this survey, including 1,705 people in the Seattle area.