The lessons retail can learn from our social reawakening

We reflect on changes to our shopping behaviour three months on from the start of UK lockdown restrictions easing.
01 July 2021
Joanna Parman

Strategic Insights Director, Worldpanel Division

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A lot has happened since the Social Awakenings series started in April. At that point, the doors of the nation’s retailers were just starting to reopen and shoppers in England were tentatively stepping out after a third national lockdown. Over the three months since then, as the days have got warmer, our confidence in returning to a full and varied social rhythm has grown – our supermarket shopping habits, for example, are already heading back in the direction of more usual patterns. Now, as we approach the final hurdle of lockdown restrictions easing, it’s a good time to stop and look back at how much has changed, and consider which new patterns and trends we expect to continue through the year.

Brits have embraced the outdoors

Socialising with friends and family was top of the agenda for many of us when we started on the roadmap towards ending restrictions in April – 61% of respondents to our survey in March said this was their top priority. However, in many cases, the only way to facilitate this was to meet up outdoors and Brits up and down the country have reclaimed and re-invented outdoor public and private spaces to meet up and spend time with the people they love.

This was evident in the sales of garden items as shoppers invested in creating and maintaining outdoor entertaining spaces. There was also more spent on outdoor sporting equipment such as bikes and scooters, and wrapping up in the spring to eat outdoors at bars and cafes was a common sight back in April. All in all, we’ve never spent so much time outside, and this has reset the balance for the way we eat, shop and socialise. Retailers and manufacturers need to consider how this trend will continue through the summer and into the autumn, and with novel COVID-19 variants expected throughout the next 12 months, it is to be expected that the outdoors will continue to be an important part of our lives for the foreseeable.

Home sweet home

Alongside this increase in time spent outside, there has been an increase in time spent in our homes. While you might assume that after a prolonged period of being forced to stay at home, we’d be eager to get back out once restrictions were lifted, the contrary seems to be playing out.

We’ve certainly fallen in love with our homes again, spending more time and money than ever on sprucing them up; sales of painting and decorating items were 49% higher in 2020 than in 2019*. Getting those DIY jobs ticked off the list has clearly been a high priority for many in the last year. However, the biggest disruptor to our spending patterns in the coming year will be the changes in our work lives. Our homes now need capacity and flexibility to accommodate desks and monitors, chairs and printers, alongside spaces for relaxing after the working day. More working from home means consumers will be at home at lunchtimes, seeking treats, coffee and lunches from local stores, rather than those close to the office, and will be shopping for groceries and picking up dry cleaning locally rather than in city centre hubs.

Combined, this means that the purple patch in the DIY and homeware industries should continue through into 2022, as UK homeowners and renters continue to develop their spaces, and the retailers shift store formats and locations to find those precious shoppers as they spend more time close to home.

The new baseline for online

Whilst physical retail has recovered some of the lost ground to store closures in the last 18 months, we’ve all increased the amount we spend online. At the same time, our expectations from our shopping experience have heightened. Ecommerce has fundamentally stepped forward, as shoppers have become used to viewing and buying products on their phones and tablets, any time of day, without having to step outside their homes. This dynamic has impacted some industries more than others, but all have had to adapt and rethink their strategies for capturing spend from increasingly fickle shoppers in a fragmented shopping landscape.

For retailers across all industries and categories, there has never been more incentive to deliver a great omnichannel experience to take advantage of these changed behaviours.  After all, there is little doubt that the online channel has a key role to play in what looks likely to be our new normal – people spending more time at home working flexibly, socialising and relaxing outdoors more... perhaps with their new pets.

A local, connected, future

As the summer turns into autumn and winter, expect shoppers to continue to be cautious and change their behaviours to adapt to the changing rates of COVID-19 infections as we approach the colder months. Expect older shoppers to retreat back home and turn to online shopping again with fervour in as the temperature drops.   

We’ll undoubtedly continue to recreate socialising events in our homes and gardens where we have more control over who we can see. Shoppers and consumers will continue to spend more time in their local neighbourhood, working from home and travelling less. Expect shoppers to want a more seamless shopping experience between the online and offline stores around them, expecting items to reach them faster and on time. There will also be greater innovation from brands and retailers, with this moment of disruption providing a spring board for future success.


*Worldpanel Plus, Total Physical Retail, 52 weeks ending 7 Dec 2020

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