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What are we buying, post-lockdown?

Diane Hall


Picture of UK high street

In the early days of the pandemic, you could have been forgiven for thinking the only things of value were hand sanitiser, pasta, flour and toilet roll. Now that things are looking more normal, shops are open and money is being spent, have our consumer habits changed?

Considering that online sales during lockdown absolutely rocketed, it’s clear that anyone who wasn’t au fait with internet ordering soon got to grips with it when Boris told us all to stay at home. Whether this was to order the weekly food shop or to get necessary items delivered to your front door, the internet came into its own during the pandemic.

Technology wasn’t just a saviour to shoppers, it also allowed UK PLC to work from home (where appropriate).

Homeworking has proved such a success during the last few months that reports show employers are considering incorporating it on a permanent basis. In a survey by Hays, more than half of the respondents expect to be working a ‘hybrid model’ within the next six months and beyond, i.e. where some time is spent in the workplace and the rest working at home. 

This is because many employers have seen the light and the pound signs associated with smaller offices and reduced employee expenses. They’re certainly more convinced of the merits of homeworking now research has shown productivity doesn’t lessen when an employee is not physically in the workplace (in fact, it increases).

Apple macbook on a wooden desk

Apple macbook on a wooden desk

Technology has allowed people to work from home.

The knock-on effect of being forced to work from home is that we’re now looking at our living spaces and contemplating how we can transform them into viable home ‘offices’ on a longer-term basis. It doesn’t necessarily mean knocking down walls, adding extensions or installing a summerhouse at the bottom of the garden…workspaces can be achieved by simply rearranging your furniture and looking at the practicalities of the available space in your home, however small.

Furniture, today, needs to be multi-purpose to earn its place; it’s not enough (unless you’re blessed with a large house and an equally large bank account) for a piece to simply look pretty.

Working from home, long-term, needs to be more than sitting down on a dining chair at the kitchen table. Whilst this is okay for a couple of hours, if you were to do this for forty hours a week, you’d end up with long-term back issues and a lot of shoulder pain. And what about all the equipment you used in the office that you will need at home if homeworking was to become a permanent ‘thing’, e.g. a printer, scanner, two computer screens, perhaps – extra spending the pandemic would be responsible for.

Working practices aside, being forced to spend more time in our homes prompted many people to decorate – possibly through boredom than anything else. B&Q et al only closed for a matter of days once lockdown was announced, citing that they were essential retailers. Remembering the queues they had to service when they opened again for actual browsing, repeated when such as IKEA reopened, home improvements certainly seemed to provide escapism during the pandemic. The figures don’t lie: spending on goods for our homes rose by 3,000%, compared with the same period last year.

Being non-essential retailers, clothes shops suffered a drop in sales. Even those with an online offering found it hard to rely on the sole avenue of income. Many people, bored, but with enough energy and attention to ‘add items to bag’, spent hours on virtual clothes shopping; however, if we are to believe financial reports from major brands in the industry, it seems that just as much time was spent packaging up items for return. 

Hot tubs and garden furniture sold out as soon as they appeared in stock, as the weather earlier in the year saw us spend hours in our gardens.

home office set with large pc moniter and a 70's inspired leather chair

home office set with large pc moniter and a 70's inspired leather chair
Picture of small dumb bell sets

Sales of office furniture increased during lockdown

As did the sale of home gym equipment.

With no gyms open until recently, providers of home exercise equipment were also winners during lockdown. As was gym wear, even if this wasn’t necessarily worn to work out in, but to ‘lounge around comfortably’ in. The other ‘must have’ item in anyone’s wardrobe, due to Covid-19, is the humble face mask. Whereas many people opt for plain or disposable masks, some of us have taken the opportunity to showcase our personality/hobbies/tastes, etc. by choosing patterned or branded face coverings to protect ourselves against the virus.

What we haven’t spent on during lockdown – completely understandably - includes overseas holidays and new cars. Not much point having either when you’re unable to leave the four walls of your home.

As things slowly return to normal, it will be interesting to see how much of our ‘pandemic spending habits’ remain. I expect online sales to maintain the levels they reached over the last few months, and I also believe any money spent on clothing, leisure activities/equipment and holidays to be much less during the rest of 2020 than was recorded in previous years.

Keeping up with the Joneses and hankering after designer brands doesn’t now seem to be the be all and end all, either. Lockdown effectively felt like pressing the ‘pause’ button on life for some people, myself included. It gave us chance to revaluate our priorities. When your health is threatened, what good is the latest handbag or must-have outfit? How much does throwaway fashion impact our climate, and what about the working conditions of the overseas employees paid pittance to make such garments? Should we buy only what we need rather than the things we want?

Pandemic spending habits were likely as individual as we are; however, I’d be very surprised if at least some people didn’t make lasting changes going forwards.

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