Survey: Delta concerns put a damper on Labor Day celebrations

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture
The Delta variant of COVID-19 is impacting consumer plans for Labor Day. (Percentages in the chart are rounded to nearest whole number.)

The continuing spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is changing how, and even if, consumers will observe the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

Marking the unofficial end of summer, the Labor Day holiday (Monday, Sept. 6) typically features large outdoor gatherings. However, a new consumer sentiment survey to understand how people plan to celebrate, shop, and spend for Labor Day 2021 from market research firm Numerator indicates that with the rise of the Delta variant, consumers have lowered their early summer expectations to return to celebrating Labor Day, particularly in the southern U.S.

The survey of over 1,000 Numerator panelists, performed in June and August waves to understand the Delta variant, shows the following key findings among consumers who plan to cel­­ebrate Labor Day:

When it comes to shopping for Labor Day celebrations, both categories and retail channels are seeing the impacts of shifting consumer behavior:

  • Click-and-collect is benefitting from consumers' plans to stay home. More consumers are now planning to avoid going in-store for their Labor Day supplies, with 13% of consumers saying they will order via click-and-collect, up from 8% in June.
  • Grilling materials (e.g. utensils, charcoal, etc.) saw the most significant declines among tracked categories. In previous years, nearly half of consumers (47%) say they purchased grilling materials for Labor Day. In June, 37% of consumers planned to purchase grilling materials, and that fell to 31% in August.
  • With fewer consumers planning to celebrate with a group, traditional "party" categories are also showing declines from June to August, including desserts (minus six percentage points), decorations (minus three percentage points) and side dishes, festive apparel, and sporting goods/outdoor games (each down two points).
  • The categories seeing upticks from June to August were fruits & vegetables (plus six percentage points), snacks (plus four percentage points) and alcohol (plus one percentage point).
  • Consumer concern about COVID-19 impacting Labor Day doubled in two months: In June, 8% of consumers expected COVID-19 to have a significant impact on Labor Day celebration plans. That number jumped to 16% in August. Those expecting no impact from COVID fell from 44% in June to 38% in August.
  • Consumer enthusiasm for Labor Day has waned. In June, 42% of consumers claimed they were somewhat or significantly more excited for Labor Day than in prior (pre-COVID-19) years. That dropped to 27% in August.

[Read more: Survey: Shoppers still headed to stores — but taking precautions]

Consumers have also adjusted their Labor Day celebration plans away from activities involving others:

  • Plans to celebrate Labor Day with family and friends dropped from 64% in June to 51% in August. That decline was more pronounced among vaccinated consumers (minus 17 percentage points) than among those who do not plan to get the vaccine (minus six percentage points).
  • Consumers in the South saw the biggest drop in plans to gather with family and friends, down from two-thirds to less than half of consumers (66% in June compared to 48% in August). Consumers in the Northeast saw the smallest decline, down only seven points (59% in June vs. 52% in August).
  • Grilling and barbecuing will see big declines. In June 2021, 64% of consumers said they planned to grill/barbecue for Labor Day, only a slight decrease from pre-pandemic years (67% of respondents). By August 2021, grilling plans saw a significant decline to 45% of consumers.
  • Celebration methods such as traveling, going out for food/drinks, and attending public events/festivals saw modest decreases from June to August (minus three percentage points, minus two percentage points and minus three percentage points, respectively), but were already well below their pre-pandemic levels as of June 2021.
  • Ordering takeout food / drinks was the only celebration method that grew from June (8% of consumers) to August (9%).