New Zealanders' spending habits, stockpiling the essentials, shows many are gearing up to hunker down and keep their wallets closed in the months ahead.
While it could be interpreted that shoppers are stocking up on home essentials such as toilet paper or rice to avoid hitting the shops as frequently as they usually would, retail insiders say these changes in consumer behaviour amid the Covid-19 outbreak could instead signal an intention to pull back on spending - or the temptation to.
Since news of the outbreak hit home in New Zealand at the end of last month, spending in this country, outside the grocery category, and at restaurants, has taken a dive.
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Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said in recent weeks overall retail sales had taken a hit and consumers were showing signs of wanting to hold on to their dollars.
Consumer spending in this country was down an average of 15 per cent in shops and down about 10 per cent online, he said.
"We've seen a big drop-off in consumer confidence and a drop-off in discretionary spending," Harford told the Herald.
"While spending on grocery items is holding up, and we've seen strong demand there for certain items, we're hearing that there has been significant reductions in consumer spending and in discretionary areas, particularly in things like fashion and in tourist-orientated souvenirs and gift shops."
The hit to online sales, Harford said, indicated the issues amid the outbreak were not about consumers not wanting to be physically out and about in the shops, and rather, the preference of not wanting to spend.
Similar spending behaviours occurred in the lead-up to the GFC in 2007, he said.
"We saw a really big drop-off in consumer spending as the recession bit down and there was lots of economic uncertainty at that time, and we're seeing the same sorts of uncertainty, I think, now.
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"We're hoping it won't be leading to a GFC-style recession, but those levels of consumer nervousness are pretty similar."
Businesses in New Zealand have taken a big hit. Accommodation and tourism bookings are being cancelled, and hospitality businesses' revenue is down an average 25 per cent.
Exports of logs had been closed down, and businesses were laying off workers because of the drop in spending, Harford said.
A recent survey conducted by global insights company Kanstar found New Zealanders were more concerned about how the Covid-19 outbreak would affect their finances, rather than their health.
One in three New Zealanders believe the outbreak would result in a recession.
About 24 per cent of people surveyed said they were concerned about the risk of losing their job because of impacts from the outbreak, while 22 per cent said they were fearful of catching the virus.
The survey found New Zealanders were no longer spending on travel like they once were; 39 per cent of people said they had decided to travel less internationally, and 17 per cent had decided to travel less domestically.
About 20 per cent said they were now less likely to go to the cinema and 18 per cent less likely to eat out.
"Most retailers are facing a very similar situation and that is, anything that is discretionary, people are a bit reluctant to spend on it at the moment," Harford said.
Retail NZ's overall spending forecast for March is expected to be "well down" on earlier expectations.
"There are some serious issues out there and the numbers we've got from our members suggest that 60 per cent of retailers have experienced a negative outcome associated with Covid-19, and 70 per cent are expecting to hit cashflow difficulties over the next few months."
'Panic spending' not exclusive to NZ
Confirmation of the first case of Covid-19 in New Zealand two weeks ago sent supermarkets into overdrive as sales of certain items went through the roof.
Toilet paper, rice, bread, flour, sanitisers, Dettol wipes and bottles of water were hoovered off the shelves. Bulk goods supermarket Gilmours even had to close one of its stores for a couple of days to restock.
The Kanstar study found 20 per cent of New Zealanders surveyed said they were buying more personal hygiene items, 13 per cent were buying more home cleaning products and 12 per cent were buying more health and nutritional items such as vitamins.
Harford said there was no need for any kind of "panic buying" in New Zealand.
"Supermarkets and retail, generally, operates on adjusted time inventory model so they have enough product in store to cope with what they are expecting to sell. If you suddenly have a massive in-rush of customers wanting to buy the same product, that's when you are going to get shortages, but that's shortages in stores, the product is typically still available in distribution centres."
"Panic buying" was not exclusive to New Zealand as the outbreak spread. In Australia, a fight broke out over toilet paper in one supermarket, and similar stories of stores running out of stock have been the case in Europe and United States.
Jason Shoebridge, chief executive of Kanstar New Zealand, said the research showed New Zealand had both short-term and long-term concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
"Many are changing what they are doing and the things they are buying and some admit to panic buying. But what people worry about most is what Covid-19 will mean for their financial security as it potentially impacts the economy in the longer term. This poses an added problem that the behaviour of consumers will continue to be affected well after the immediate health concerns around the virus."