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Life in lockdown: Assessing UK non-grocery occasions

6 May 2020 / By: Megan Bateman

Restrictions on movement across the nation have meant significant lifestyle changes, with many consumers juggling work, socialising and schooling from the confines of their house. In the past month we saw significant shifts in purchasing habits, not only in grocery, but also across non-food and beverage categories.

The state of play: where are we now?

Lockdown was officially announced in the UK on 23 March, with a three-week extension of the measures from 16 April. Britons are currently still being urged to only leave the house for essential reasons. A limited relaxing of restrictions is expected to be announced on 10 May, although this is not certain at time of writing.

Most ‘non-essential’ retail spaces remain closed. Non-grocery needs persist, however, and, as ecommerce is seen a viable alternative for purchases during this time. Retailers like John Lewis & Partners have reported 84% online growth since mid-March.

The non-grocery sector is playing an important role in helping people remain compliant. In contrast to the panic-buying of March, April has seen new occasions evolve as shoppers adapt the household for life in lockdown.

Research suggests that post-lockdown life could potentially mean shorter and more specific restrictions. With this in mind, we may see these newfound occasions and purchase needs hanging around for a while, particularly as shoppers are likely to view many of these products as a long-term investment.

Non-grocery lockdown occasions: what are the key opportunities?

Setting up the home office:

With roughly 60% of the UK population now working from home, electricals and homewares have seen a surge in demand from shoppers upgrading their domestic workspace. With physical distancing expected to be recommended for many months to come, more people will likely invest in these products to ensure flexibility, comfort and, most importantly, productivity.

Currys PC World offers advice on home tech across a range of needs and products. (Source: Currys PC World)

This is a significant opportunity for ergonomic products as many will be ill-equipped for hours sat in front of a computer at home. As with many high-cost electrical and home items, the main challenge here will be cementing loyalty and repeated sales for your brand. Do your consumers understand all the benefits and know how to get the best use out of your products? Detailed product description and post-purchase services like chatbots are essential in this regard. Furthermore, can you recruit users as brand advocates that will extol your product’s virtues via social sharing?

Juggling the kids:

With parents working remotely and children largely out of school, shoppers now need to educate and entertain their offspring at home. Categories like arts & crafts, toys and electricals have been and will continue to be important.

Suppliers looking to take advantage should position their products so they can be repurposed for different needs. Inspirational ‘toy hacking’, e.g. painting with Lego, is a great way to ensure specific SKUs can be serve a range of different activities. There is, however, a clear watch-out for electricals, as many parents will be eager to limit screen-time. Think about how you can leverage valuable moments like ‘shared family time’ during lockdown.

Staying healthy indoors:

To ensure physical and mental wellbeing, many have shifted behaviours to remain active. For example, 53% of Gen Z’ers worldwide report they are exercising more (vs. 43% overall). This means that gym equipment like spin bikes, weights, yoga mats and even performance trackers will likely have witnessed significant engagement. Social media, of course, has played a vital role with apps like Instagram being used as D2C platforms by niche brands looking to extend their reach.

Sainsbury’s GM banner Argos targets use cases across its assortment. (Source:

For brand managers looking to drive relevance, thinking should centre on ensuring these positive habits remain post-lockdown. How can your brand be further embedded in consumers’ lives to ensure longevity? The expected impact of furlough on salaries will become more visible from May onwards, so are there any solutions you can create that would help with potential budgeting constraints?

Moments of virtual connection:

Facetime catch-ups, ‘happy hour’ celebrations and even boozy virtual quizzes have all emerged as significant new moments in British lives as we continue to connect with loved ones and friends, despite physical separation. Cocktail glasses, trivia games and electronics are all products helping people to get together and socialise in some way.

Harnessing this surge in new ‘meeting places’, suppliers should examine the possibilities afforded by new technologies and virtual platforms, where special moments - a virtual pub quiz, for example - might be associated with a relevant brand story.

Time for new hobbies:

As shoppers spend less time either commuting and/or working in lockdown, we have seen a significant shift whereby many are making purchases to keep them busy at home. Stationery, crafts, DIY, gardening equipment and baking accessories are all ranges experiencing uplift as shoppers look to master new skills, driving them to spend more in categories that often have been dormant for some time.

Brand managers might want to ensure longevity by creating initiatives to maintain these new habits stick post-lockdown. More importantly however, with specialist stores mostly closed, suppliers are reminded to assess their online presence and revise as appropriate in alignment with stock and availability.

For further reading on the impact of COVID-19 on consumer habits and how brands and retailers are responding to these shifts, visit Kantar’s Coronavirus Hub here

Megan Bateman

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