Four years. 

It feels like an eternity ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. The pandemic time warp was real.

Today is the unofficial anniversary of the COVID era – the first Monday of lockdown. Little did we know how lasting it would be. Perhaps we would’ve mourned. We were too busy trying to figure it all out. 

Over the ensuing two weeks, things got really weird – scary even. Staples were being hoarded. Road travel was being banned. We decided to ship off to our cabin in the mountains, thinking that if Armageddon was coming – if we needed to be as far from other people as possible – what safer place to be?

Tara was always against us having guns in the house. After we got married, I moved all my hunting rifles to a safe in my friend Jaison’s garage. Before heading to our cabin, I met him at his house, loading the guns in the back of my truck. It was like a scene from an ‘80s movie. Tara acquiesced. Better safe than sorry…if silly and melodramatic in hindsight. 

Our kids adapted on the fly. Noelle did Zoom gymnastic training on a glorified blowup mattress we bought from Dick’s (no relation). Maddie got a ballet barre and tap dancing mat to practice in the basement. Tara and I were heartbroken watching it. They just rolled with it. 

I started playing guitar a month later. I borrowed one from my bandmate, Mike, on Easter Sunday, figuring I’d give it a shot before buying my own. A month later, I sprung for a Taylor acoustic and my fingers have been calloused ever since. Still, the more I learn, the less I know. Four trips around the sun is nothing in musical instrument years.

Some days, it all feels like a dream. Then, I wore a mask at my annual checkup a few weeks ago and I was transported. As a claustrophobic asthmatic who can’t even stand having facial hair, masks were low-grade torture. I wore them, religiously, because I’m a good human. But I hated every millisecond of it.  

I’m sure you could write a hundred Saturday morning emails about that experience, the memories, the good (spending more time with our kids, drinking wine at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays), and the bad (pretty much everything else, especially if you’re an extrovert). Maybe you’d rather forget.

You never will.

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence keeps sliding. Our Economic Sentiment Index fell for the second consecutive reading and the third time out of the last four. All our core metrics declined, with the lone exception being views of the housing market, which ticked up slightly from a very low base. The biggest drop was in consumers’ optimism for their personal financial situation, the one indicator that had previously remained resilient. Perhaps, finally, all that mounting credit card debt and worse-than-hoped tax returns are beginning to rear their heads.

People are getting wise to “shrinkflation” at the grocery store and it’s straining brand loyalty. Seventy-six percent of U.S. grocery shoppers say they’ve noticed CPG manufacturers shrinking product packaging and volume recently without reducing prices. The trick seems to be slipping past online and delivery shoppers, but for those who figure it out, more and more are simply buying the smaller items. But, over half of shoppers are now switching brands as a result. No surprise, a clear majority of Americans would support legislative action to prevent the practice. 

For better or worse, economic headwinds aren’t deterring Gen Z from traveling over spring break. A whopping 71% of Gen Z adults expect to travel over the next month, whether they’re heading home from college or bolting to the beach. These numbers are remarkably consistent with what we saw this time last year – though down a bit from the “revenge travel” times of 2022. They won’t just be spending money on airline tickets and gas for their cars either – 45% of expected Gen Z travelers are planning to buy new clothes, shoes, or luggage for their trips. 

Gen Z’s coveted TikTok accounts should be available for Spring Break – but for how much longer is up in the air. We learned that the House of Representatives can, in fact, agree on something this week, as the vote to force the sale of TikTok (lest it be banned) passed with overwhelming support. It remains to be seen what the Senate will do, but if they’re in tune with the voters, it should be a no-brainer. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults support the measure, compared to just 16% who oppose it. Even the party splits are pretty consistent.

Americans also agree on dropping COVID quarantine requirements and making daylight savings permanent – but not on mifepristone. In our 3 Things to Know this week, we looked at whether pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS will see a shift in their customer habits if they sell abortion pills in their stores. Overall shopping intent doesn’t appear to have changed – but only because the negative sentiment of Republicans and positive sentiment of Dems average out. We also found that most adults are cool with the CDC ending 5-day isolation guidance for people with COVID. And, while most people want to do away with biannual clock-switching, fully remote workers are a bit more divided on the subject. I have no idea why.

More awesomeness from the InsightStorethis week:

NFTs are still a thing, especially in fashion;

The big differences between Victoria’s Secret and Aerie shoppers;

Oscar Mayer is late to the plant-based meat party, just as the trend slowed. 

The most popular questions this week:

Which is your favorite among the following Disney World theme parks?

What is your favorite St. Patrick’s Day activity?

Would you want to take a six-month, around-the-world cruise, given the chance?

Are you more of a warm weather person or a cold weather person?

Have you ever done a major overhaul of your personal clothing style?

Which of the American Film Institute’s Top 5-rated movies do you think is the best overall?

Answer Key: EPCOT; Maddie’s Birthday; You couldn’t pay me enough; Cold weather people can’t be trusted; Not even a minor one; Embarrassingly, I’ve only seen one of them (The Godfather).

Hoping you’re well.


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