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Analyzing COVID-19 effects on Alcohol through Google Search Data

Trends in Google Search Series: Alcohol

Welcome back to COVID-19 Trends in Google Search data. I am your host, Robert Longyear, and, today we will be examining some trends related to all things alcohol. COVID-19 has produced significant effects on lifestyle. With that, comes some interesting impacts on alcohol-related behaviors.

The first article in this series introduces us to the power of Google Search data as a means to understand what is going on in the hearts and minds of people.

In the introduction article, we started looking at COVID-19-specific search trends, but now, we will dig deeper into other topics that have been impacted by the disease.

To quote me from the first article in this series:

The emergence of COVID-19 has impacted the culture, society, and the minds of the world. This event will undoubtedly alter countries as plagues and infectious diseases have left a lasting impact on civilizations throughout history.

As we move toward the new world ahead, we will see major changes to our societies as we adapt and gain exposure to new concepts, experiences, and lifestyles — the trick, is to understand these trends before and as they happen.

To gain a new perspective on the trends that are emerging from this colossal event, I have turned to one of my favorite data resources, Google Trends (GT). GT is a lesser-known site produced by Google. It allows you to grab a glimpse into the mindset, worries, interests, and activities of entire populations.

Google takes the searches made by people and it counts them to better understand the search interests of the people doing the searching.

The charts you will see below are relative search volume comparisons. This means that the charts show the relative popularity of the search term over time. It is important to understand that the numbers you see are not counts, but comparisons over time — meaning interest and popularity of topics or search terms. Thus, trends become identifiable.

Alcohol Trends during COVID-19

To start this series, let’s take a look at the search data related to the search term alcohol (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Google Search Data “Alcohol”, Robert Longyear analysis

A few things to note here as we look at the trend in alcohol search.

First, we can see the cyclical nature of the curve. Those wavy bumps are the result of “the weekend.” Interest in alcohol goes up on weekends.

Second, we can see that the beginning of March represents a significant increase in interest in alcohol as lock-downs and uncertainty begin.

We also see a next-higher peak as people continue to struggle with social isolation and being homebound. While this is an assumption, the lockdowns are likely to increase alcohol use as a coping mechanism — regardless of reason, we can certainly see that there has been an increased general interest that corresponds with COVID-19.

SEARCH TERM: “Cocktails”

Figure 2: Google Search Data “Cocktails”, Robert Longyear analysis

Naturally, with an increasing interest in alcohol, there comes an interest in cocktails (Figure 2). Here we can, once again, see the cyclical nature of the curve that indicates the “weekend effect.”

In addition, we can see a general increase in search volume around early March. Those deep peaks start to edge higher as people search for new quarantini’s to make as they bide their time indoors and without bartenders.

Figure 3: Google Search Data “Liquor”, Robert Longyear analysis

Interestingly, we can see a similar-looking curve with the search term for the generic term, liquor (Figure 3).

Around mid-march, coinciding with COVID-19 lockdowns, we see a big jump in searches for liquor on Google.

SEARCH TERM: “Beer at Home”

Figure 4: Google Search Data “Beer at Home”, Robert Longyear analysis

Well, it's not safe to go to a bar or a store to pick up beer AND we are bored at home, so why not make some beer? Both the terms beer at home and homebrew show similar patterns (Figure 4).

Both indicate an increased interest in these terms that coincide with COVID-19, but there is more to it than that.

From January through early February we see peaks that correspond with Saturday and Sunday (the beer-making days) and troughs that correspond with primarily Thursday and Friday (the happy hour/bar days). But, when COVID-19 hits in March, we see a much different day-mix with big peaks and troughs occurring across the entire week — people are home all the time, so why not make some beer?

SEARCH TERM: “Online Beer”

Figure 5: Google Search Data “Online Beer”, Robert Longyear analysis

For online beer, there is increased interest seen that corresponds with COVID-19 (Figure 5). There is no discernable changes in the day of the week that might indicate a reason for the high variance in the curve.

We can guess that this may be related to grocery purchasing for delivery that often occurs throughout the week. Either way, beer delivery and services that allow a person to obtain beer at home during COVID-19 have gained popularity in such a way that coincides with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Figure 6: Google Search Data “Vodka Online”, Robert Longyear analysis

We can see largely the same trend and effect here with vodka online. Both have grown in interest substantially from the pre-COVID timeframe.

This trend is likely driven by both an increased desire to consume alcohol and an increased need to receive home delivery.

SEARCH TERM: “Winc”

Figure 7: Google Search Data “Winc”, Robert Longyear analysis

With COVID-19 there will emerge new market leaders as companies that are well-positioned for this environment will prosper. One of those companies is WINC, a wine company that ships wine to your door.

Here, similar to online beer we can see a large spike in interest related to shippable-alcohol services. In fact, they both peak on the exact same day.

Both beer drinkers and wine drinkers were compelled to seek out home-delivered alcohol services in much the same trend. This indicates that there is a somewhat universal effect occurring as it relates to COVID-19.

If you are looking for investments, online alcohol services may be a good one as more people adopt these services and will likely never go back.

SEARCH TERM: “Alcoholics Anonymous”

Figure 8: Google Search Data “Alcoholics Anonymous”, Robert Longyear analysis

Naturally, with all this drinking and these difficult times, we might be curious about the people who experience alcohol addiction.

We can see here that the term alcoholics anonymous has seen a decline in searches as in-person meetings have been canceled.

There was a peak around mid-march where we can speculate that people search to see if meetings will continue or maybe if they can continue to go to meetings online.

For investors, or those looking at the future, this may represent the rise of virtual AA meetings or online support groups.

Either way, this trend is certainly concerning for those that already do or may want to seek AA groups for support.

What does all of this mean with respect to alcohol behavior?

These graphs do not indicate any causation. There are many variables at play here so we cannot know anything for sure, but we can draw a few major conclusions.

  1. Online, e-commerce-based, and delivery- service alcohol sales will grow during this time due to a drive for these goods driven by social isolation-related mental states as well as a need for delivery due to the risk of infection.
  2. People are stuck at home so their activities and behaviors have changed as they relate to alcohol.
  3. COVID-19 has drastically impacted a seemingly unrelated facet of our daily lives.
  4. People may drink beer and wine more frequently throughout the week, but hard liquor and cocktails appear to remain a weekend activity.
  5. People are turning to Google, as usual, to seek out new services and information related to their desires.

What's next?

Stay tuned for the next article where I will be exploring healthcare-related charts. Concepts like telemedicine, hospitals, and other health searches will be featured.

To receive new article updates in this series, give me a follow to let me know you like what you’re reading.

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Robert L. Longyear III

Robert L. Longyear III

Co-Founder @ Avenue Health | VP Digital Health and Innovation @ Wanderly | Author of “Innovating for Wellness” | Healthcare Management and Policy @ GeorgetownU