Barclays marks three years from the start of the UK’s first lockdown with new insights revealing which consumer trends adopted during the pandemic have stood the test of time and which have been left behind, as the increasing cost of living also continues to impact discretionary spending.
British bank Barclays commemorates the beginning of the UK’s first lockdown on 23 March with a retrospective look at the trends to emerge from this time. Its analysis puts forward the three trends that have stood the test of time, and the three that, like the pandemic, fizzled out of the public eye and into the pages of history.
It’s difficult to deny how the blow of the pandemic shaped the lives consumers live today, chief among this change being felt throughout the use of financial technology.
It was an era of new hobbies, less socialisation, side hustles and plenty of alone time; yet three years on, which of the trends given wind by the pandemic have survived into the present day? This is ultimately the question the bank’s latest research seeks to answer.
Barclays’ top three ‘lockdown legacies’:
The pandemic powered a boom in UK entrepreneurship and inspired many Brits to start new side hustles and small businesses – especially furloughed employees who found themselves with extra time on their hands. Barclays’ data shows that almost one in three Brits (28 per cent) has started a new small business or found a way to supplement their income since the first national lockdown three years ago.
The majority who started a new venture (86 per cent) are still running their small businesses or side-hustle, with over a third (34 per cent) saying it has become their main source of income. Popular start-ups and money-making initiatives started by these commercially-minded Brits include cleaning businesses, online tutoring, translation services, baking, cat-sitting, jewellery making and online fitness classes.
During the pandemic, long supermarket queues and a shortage of grocery delivery slots led to a surge in demand for meal-box subscription services, and three years on many Brits have become even more reliant on their ease and convenience. Almost half (46 per cent) of those who signed up for pre-prepared meal kits and 35 per cent who started using make-your-own meal-kit subscriptions during the lockdowns now spend more on these services each month than they did during that period.
Lockdowns also led to a rise in demand for digital entertainment, services and experiences. Brits watched more boxsets and spent more time at home during the pandemic, leading to rapid growth in digital content consumption. By April 2020, spending on digital content had increased by 40.5 per cent compared to February 2020, the last full month before the first lockdown.
Even as restrictions eased after March 2021, digital content and subscription growth have averaged 41 per cent throughout the post-lockdown period versus February 2020.
When many leisure and entertainment venues closed, 62 per cent of Brits took advantage of the opportunity to learn a new hobby or skill, and millions have continued their pandemic pastimes. Since life returned to normal, Brits have continued to enjoy the most popular pursuits of gardening (20 per cent), exercising (19 per cent) and baking (16 per cent).
In particular, online training has continued to prove a popular way to stay in shape, with some fitness fans now using free online exercise videos to save money (13 per cent) instead of paying for classes. A similar number also say they now prefer to exercise at home or outdoors rather than visiting a gym (12 per cent) after adopting a new routine during the pandemic.
Barclays’ top three ‘lockdown leave behinds’:
Price overshadows support for shopping locally
Brits shopped closer to home and became more community-spirited during the height of the pandemic, leading to significant growth at local food and drink specialist stores – such as butchers, bakeries and independent and convenience shops. Across the whole of 2020, spending in this category was up 28.6 per cent compared to 2019.
However, now that almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) shoppers say they are looking for ways to reduce the cost of their weekly shopping amid the cost-of-living crunch, Brits are increasingly prioritising lower prices over their desire to shop locally. Three in 10 (30 per cent) of these shoppers are buying from larger supermarkets because prices tend to be lower than in smaller, independent shops, and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) has shifted their spending because larger stores tend to have more options when it comes to budget and value ranges.
Despite these inflationary pressures, however, millions of Brits have remained loyal to local businesses. A quarter (25 per cent) say lockdowns made them realise how much they value their local high street, so they still try to support it where possible and 23 per cent now try to spend locally rather than shopping online.
Avoiding takeaway temptation
Over half (52 per cent) of consumers who ordered takeaways during the lockdowns say they now spend less on takeout food than they did during that period, with 25 per cent reporting they now spend significantly less.
Meanwhile, the proportion of grocery spending online compared to in-store has risen compared to pre-lockdown levels. Before the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020, only 10.0 per cent of grocery shopping was conducted online – this rose to 16.0 per cent during the lockdowns and until the restrictions were eased in March 2021, and has now settled at 13.4 per cent (February 2023 data).
This indicates that – of the millions of Brits who switched to buying groceries online during the lockdowns – many more have changed permanently, compared to those who have now returned to their preferred way to buy their weekly shop.
The number of home deliveries has fallen by an estimated 22 per cent compared to during the pandemic – Brits report that they received an average of 5.0 deliveries per month during this period, compared to only 3.9 per month now. In addition, 22 per cent of shoppers say they currently receive no online deliveries at all, compared to only 16 per cent during the pandemic.
Another e-commerce trend that has fallen in popularity since lockdown restrictions lifted is click and collect. Of the 53 per cent of Brits who have used this service, one in three (31 per cent) now use it less regularly than they did during the lockdowns, compared to just one in five (19 per cent) who have increased the number of orders they choose to pick up in-store.
Standing the test of time
“From ‘insperiences’ to online fitness, the pandemic shaped and accelerated several notable shifts in consumer behaviour,” comments Marc Pettican, head of Barclaycard Payments.
“However, the cost-of-living crunch is slowly unpicking some of these trends as Brits have had to become more selective about how and where they shop. For example, the boom in takeaways has tapered off, as has spending at local independent stores, as consumers continue to look for ways to cut costs to help make ends meet.
“What is positive though is that the entrepreneurial spirit we saw during the pandemic still lives on, with over a third of those who started a small business or side hustle in the past three years even managing to turn it into their main source of income.”