E-Commerce To Consumers: “Hey Big Spender…Spend A Little Dime With Me”
It’s now the end of January, a month in which most of us tighten the purse strings. So why do I still have shopping on the brain?
In line with my local Covid rules, I was able to pop down to my nearest high street to pick up some Christmas gifts and festive food in the run up to the big day.
My husband decided we just didn’t have enough pigs in blankets (sigh), and with one present to collect, I broke my self-imposed exile for a single morning of high-street retailing. This trip lingers in the memory as tight new restrictions in the UK mean this was my last shopping expedition.
That morning, I’d fully expected an onslaught of frustrated festive shoppers, impatiently lining up around the corner for a masked, hand-sanitised, and (somewhat) socially-distanced rummage in their favourite stores. But give or take a short queue here and there — especially for Christmas food pick-up — it was all quieter than Santa’s workshop in the lazy days following Christmas.
Should I really have been so surprised though? Probably not, to be fair. Now I think about it, Christmas was always going to look a little different this year, and for various reasons too. Mainly though, it’s because today’s consumers are an evolved kind of creature who have adapted well to their strange, new circumstances. Forever changed (in countless ways) by the pandemic, which recently had its first birthday, the coronavirus consumer is smarter and cannier than ever before.
Pandemic consumers are more cautious too. Financially, they’re better savers, happier squirreling away their hard-earned pennies than spending it. For obvious reasons, they’re more comfortable browsing digital shelves than physical ones — without the need for any risky human contact other than the occasional 5-second interaction with an Amazon delivery guy.
But you don’t simply have to take my word for it — thanks to a lot of hard work by some of my EY colleagues as Christmas approached, the evidence is there for all to see.
The EY Future Consumer Index on behaviour and sentiment “identifies the scale, scope and stickiness of the deep pivot to online shopping.” In doing so, it looks at what consumers in five key markets value, what it takes to meet their needs, and how businesses can and should adapt in the face of Covid-19. Given that I live and work in the UK, that’s the market I’ll be focusing on in this blog — but take a look at the latest edition for info on the other markets it covers.
Published in October 2020, the fifth edition of the Future Consumer Index found the majority of UK consumers fell into one of two key categories: “struggling and worried” (36%) or “OK but adapting” (32%). The rest, however, were “hard hit but optimistic” (9%) or “unaffected and unconcerned” (23%).
In light of these figures, it makes perfect sense that UK purchasing behaviour was unusually restrained in 2020, with a new type of consumer arising from the Covid ashes. In total, 71% reported they were concerned about money, while 47% were keen to spend less on Christmas than usual.
And it doesn’t seem likely these measured attitudes will change any time soon because, according to the report, a third of UK consumers believe Covid-19 will continue to affect their lives for at least another year, while 37% feel coronavirus has permanently changed their shopping behaviour.
Now we can see December’s high-street sales figures, it’s clear that, even though the pre-Christmas lockdown reduced UK retail sales, demand didn’t completely dry up. The thing is, people wanted to spend money over the festive period — they just needed to do this from the safety of their homes, clicking and swiping through purchases instead of braving (apparently almost non-existent) crowds of Christmas shoppers.
As you might expect, the sentiment varies for different types of product — technology, beauty, food, alcohol, and so on. This depends, in part, on a consumer’s desire to inspect a product in person before purchasing. As a consumer myself, I completely get that. Some items I’ll happily buy online after reading a broad range of reviews (and ignoring the pettier complaints), and that usually works out just fine. But others I like to see and feel to assess quality or try on for size — even during a pandemic.
Maybe you’re like me in that way, or perhaps you’d rather buy everything online and simply send the duff stuff back! I’d love to know your preferences, so feel free to leave a comment below. It’ll be really interesting to read your feelings about Covid shopping. And it’ll be even more interesting to read the results of 2021’s end-of-year Future Consumer Index.
I predict kinder figures for the high street! What do you think?