Shoppers head into April with a spring in their step, as retail re-awakens

What are British shoppers’ plans and priorities as lockdown restrictions finally start to ease?
20 April 2021
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Maiko Skorupski
Maiko
Skorupski

Consumer Insight Director, Worldpanel Plus

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This time last year Brits had just finished our first ever month in ‘lockdown’ – adjusting to school and office closures and picking up more groceries in readiness for more time spent at home. This year we find ourselves in the opposite situation, waking up from a long winter slumber, finally able to make plans to socialise and head outside.

Even for the supermarkets, which have had open doors throughout, there’s signs of a shift back towards physical stores. Online grocery growth slowed in the four weeks to 21 March and share of spend dipped back to 14.5% from 15.4% in February1.

Now slowly reopening for business are the non-essential stores, pubs, bars, restaurants and hair and beauty salons that have been forced closed throughout much of the pandemic. As part of the lifting of lockdown rules in England and Wales, some of the restrictions on these types of businesses have eased, with Scotland and Northern Ireland expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. Just one week in we can already see an eager response from the British public to get back to some normality.

Time to shop till we drop

After the roadmap out of lockdown for England was first announced in late February, followed by separate plans for the devolved nations shortly after, excitement about the coming months was palpable. But what were UK shoppers most excited about in early March? We asked shoppers what they were looking forward to most, bearing in min how easing of restrictions will be approached where they live. Top of our lists were socialising with friends (61%), restaurants opening (50%), hairdressers/barbers opening (45%) and non-essential retail stores opening (44%).2

Since then, there’s been huge progress on the roll out of the vaccine – and perhaps as a result, shoppers aged 45 and over are even more likely to be excited about all of these (index 131 for hairdressers, 111 for socialising and non-essential retail and 106 for restaurants).

For those most excited about non-essential stores re-opening, an overwhelming majority (80%) were most enthusiastic about clothing stores opening their doors. Although in recent months online still accounts for a large proportion of fashion sales (60% of trips in the latest 12 weeks3) there are still many of us who ‘prefer to see the items in person,’ with more than half of respondents to our survey of more than 15,000 shoppers stating this as the number one barrier to shopping online.

We’re also more than twice as likely to think returns are a hassle compared with other categories bought online4. Given this, it’s no surprise that on Monday 12 April, the first day of restrictions easing in England and Wales, clothing stores were by far the most popular non-essential retail destination as Brits made up for lost time.5

Non-essential retail recovered quickly after re-opening after the first national lockdown in 2020, and rebounded to around 75% of 2019 sales within two to three weeks. By August 2020, two months after the June reopening, spending in bricks-and-mortar retailers was back to pre-pandemic levels. This time, with longer opening hours and growing confidence among older shoppers in particular, we predict an even bigger surge of spending from consumers within this first week of re-opening, expecting it to hit £3.9 billion.6

However, there is still a way to go to reach previous levels of footfall as shoppers remain cautious, with trips to clothing stores still only 27% of the levels seen on the same day 2 years ago. 

As well as clothing, we expect shoppers to keep buying into home-related categories in the coming months. Sales of outdoor living (items like furniture and BBQs) and gardening have risen 24% and 51% in the past year, and will continue to perform well as we enter the summer months and gatherings at home continue to play a pivotal role in our social calendars.

A Mediterranean summer, come wind or rain?

With large events and bigger social gatherings still off the table, many Brits are embracing the outdoor dining options available. We’ve seen an upward trend for those visiting restaurants and cafes since the start of the year, as many outlets have adapted to COVID-19 restrictions by offering take-aways. Pubs have certainly seen an uptick in this last week since reopening has been permitted in England, but given many can’t offer an outdoor option, footfall remains much lower compared with other dining out options.

Given the current demand for non-essential retail, restaurants and cafes have the opportunity to capitalise on this, and offer shoppers a more European-style evening out where they combine shopping with dinner and drinks to treat themselves. There will be significant opportunities for retailers that can create this kind of experience. However, it’s also worth noting that consumers have grown used to entertaining at home and increasingly saw eating out as an indulgence throughout 20207. Restaurants should also focus on how they can offer experiences that people can’t replicate at home, to capture consumer spend and justify that trip out in the coming months.

Older customers were the slowest to return to restaurants, pubs and cafes in August last year, with their biggest concern being around venue hygiene. However, this time with many older people  enjoying greater freedom thanks to having had their vaccinations, we could expect a more positive response with more of them heading out to enjoy a meal and drink out. Still, one thing we can’t control is the British weather, which will be a defining factor in the success of eating and drinking out until further restrictions lift in mid-May.

The next wave of excitement…

Shops and restaurants reopening is certainly a big step on the path to normality, but many of us are looking to the next milestone: the summer holiday. When asked in early March, 17% had made a firm booking or bought tickets for UK holidays, and the same number have booked foreign holidays (17%)2. The latter is perhaps looking a little optimistic now with the government adding countries to the “red list” to reduce the risk of new variants arriving in the UK, but many remain hopeful for a glimpse of some summer sun. 

Back in March, people were also booking events with a bigger price tag, or which involve longer-term planning. One in five said they’d made a firm booking or bought a ticket for theatres and music venues on their reopening, indicating how many of us are already preparing and staying one step ahead of the progressive phases of lockdown easing. 

It’s still only been one week since non-essential retail and hospitality outlets in England were able to open their doors once again, but the signs are that consumers are feeling positive as we head towards the summer. Look out for more insights from us as the UK reopens, and find out how consumers are reacting and feeling.

Notes:

  1. Kantar FMCG Panel, 4 weeks to 21 Mar 21
  2. Kantar Survey of 69,376 shoppers, 4 – 10 March 2021
  3. Kantar Worldpanel Plus, Ecom,12 weeks to 21 March 2021
  4. Kantar Survey of 15,386 shoppers, Jan 19 -26 2021. Categories asked about: Clothes, Electronics/Computers, Beauty/Cosmetics, Groceries, Furniture/Decorations, Toys, Home Improvement/DIY, Sport/Outdoor, Healthcare, Alcohol.
  5. Kantar Worldpanel Plus, Daily Data, Monday 12th April 2021.
  6. Kantar Worldpanel Plus, Physical Data, August 2020.
  7. Kantar Out of Home panel, survey 1,971 respondents, October 2021

 

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