New public polling from Hubbub has revealed how COVID-19 has altered UK shopping habits. The results were discussed by 30 diverse businesses as part of the ongoing Hubbub Explores series.  The participants sought to understand what changes are likely to stick and how companies should respond. Five key themes emerged. 

1) A moment of national reflection 

The impact of COVID-19 has been stark and sudden, forcing unexpected changes to daily lives.  Hubbub was intrigued to discover how people have reacted to this enforced change.  Are they yearning for a rapid return to the past or is this a more fundamental moment? 

The polling suggests that people don’t want a return to the old ways, with fewer than 30% of respondents wanting the world to go back to how it was pre-COVID-19.  Almost three-quarters felt society has an opportunity to make important changes: 68% believe it is possible to have both a strong economy and look after the environment. 

These views will be severely tested as society reopens and the country faces significant recession, but the indications are that there is scope for progressive companies to tap into this change of attitude and to demonstrate that they are supporting a new way of living.   

2) A rise in localism 

The High Street was taking a battering even before COVID-19 with the growth of online sales.  The crisis has accelerated this trend with many people using home delivery services for the first time and unlikely to revert to previous shopping habits – particularly with safety concerns still high.

This could hasten the demise of the big, central High Street as we know it, but there are signs that smaller neighbourhood shopping areas might flourish.  A third of people surveyed said they were using local stores for the first time with the vast majority saying they will continue once restrictions have ended. Over a third of people said they would try to continue to support smaller independent retailers and 30% want to make fewer journeys and stay closer to home.  This desire to shop more locally is connected to how people feel about their local area with over half saying they feel more positive about their local community. 

Internationally, policy-makers are reacting to the trend with the concept of the 15-minute town or city, where people can easily access the services they need by travelling for less than 15 minutes by cycling or walking.  This concept could gain further validity with the huge boom in cycling, concern about air quality, the growth of e-bikes and a number of cities creating more space for walking and cycling.   

3) Shifting consumer values 

Almost half of the households polled by Hubbub had deep concerns about covering the cost of essentials such as food, which was echoed as the British Retail Consortium reported that cost will be a major factor in consumer choice.    

Almost half of the people surveyed reported that they are trying to get more value out of stuff they already own.  This is particularly apparent with food, with people reporting they are throwing less away through careful planning, greater use of leftovers and increased use of the freezer.  With restaurants closed there has been a growth in home baking with retailers reporting shortages of basic cooking ingredients such as flour. 

Just under 50% reported cutting back on frivolous consumption.  Only 16% miss clothes shopping, and even among 16-24 year olds this only rises to 25%, suggesting a challenging time ahead for the fashion sector.  Workshop participants reported a noticeable increase in sustainability.  This is backed by analysis from Getty Images which reported searches for sustainability are up 142% and interest in sustainable living up 201%. 

A number of businesses reported that consumer concern about plastic pollution had dropped considerably.  One leading supply company reported that businesses are requesting more plastic packaging as people feel this is safer and it is also making home delivery quicker and easier to manage.  It will be interesting to see how resilient the ‘Blue Planet’ effect iwhen some degree of normality returns. 

4) Increased scrutiny of business ethics 

Workshop participants reported increased scrutiny of business ethics with the public identifying which companies have responded positively to the crisis and which haven’t.   

Almost three quarters of polling respondents felt that during the recovery period the UK needs to do more to protect the most vulnerable in society from the effects of future natural disasters and 45% think sustaining positive changes to society is more important than getting the economy back to how it was.  57% think tackling climate change and a 'green recovery' should be a key part of the government's economic plan for coming out of lockdown and 53% think focusing on a green recovery could help create a strong economy after lockdown. 

The Hubbub polling asked respondents how they would like to see brands respond to COVID-19.  The top concern was to look after employees, but the next were about creating products designed to last, to stop selling stuff not needed and to stop pressurising people to buy things they do not need. 

5) Greater collaboration 

An over-arching theme from the discussion was the need for greater collaboration.  Resilient businesses realise that they need a more transparent and collaborative relationship with their suppliers.  They also recognise that if they are to truly support local communities – particularly the most vulnerable – they need to build closer partnerships with the voluntary sector. 

Hubbub has already seen this in practice through our #CommunityCalling partnership with O2 seeking to redistribute unused smartphones to those who are digitally isolated.  We anticipate that partnerships such as these will flourish.  More examples can be seen in our newly released video.

Hubbub is running three more Hubbub Explores events covering food, travel and homes.  We will be pulling together all the findings into a GreenPrint that will be shared with businesses, government and community groups.  Click below to find out more or to participate in future workshops.

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Interested in our polling? You can find the full raw data here.