The struggles on many UK high streets are well documented, with shop closures and job losses rarely away from the headlines.
But we Brits do still love to shop.
The retail industry accounts for a third of all consumer spending and 5 per cent of the country’s total GDP. Indeed the industry generated £380billion in sales last year – that’s 4 per cent more than in 2017.
The retail industry accounts for a third of all consumer spending and 5 per cent of the country’s total GDP
It’s just that our shopping habits have changed and are in continuous evolution. The hot topics and trends of the day shape how, what, why, when and where (and if) we decide to part with our hard-earned cash.
Here’s just some of the issues that are moulding consumer spending today, and some of the ways in which our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ is responding in a bid to stay relevant.
1) Spotlight on shared ethics and values
A poll from YouGov recently found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of the UK population now only want to buy from companies that share their ethics and values.
The finding marks a significant shift in sentiment, with shoppers truly eager to know that the cash they spend is not helping fund practices they do not support.
‘Consumers are growing increasingly interested in the origins of products and if a brand is found to be morally questionable, it risks alienating a growing section of the public,’ says innovation funding company MPA Group.
This trend is manifesting itself most obviously in the beauty industry, which is undergoing a radical transformation as a result.
Beauty chain Lush recently launched a new fascia called ‘Naked’ where all its products are cruelty (and plastic) free in response to high consumer demand
Beauty and make-up brands were until recently notorious for animal testing and the use of animal products.
However, customer demand for more ethical methods is forcing heritage brands to invest in more ethical methods and driving the proliferation of new cruelty-free brands.
Within that, there’s a clear uptick in demand for vegan products. The Vegan Society says that 56 per cent of Brits now regularly adopt vegan buying habits – such as making sure toiletries are cruelty-free.
As a result, the vegan beauty industry is predicted to reach $20.8billion by 2025, helping to fuel unprecedented growth in the overall beauty market.
As Diego Ortiz de Zevallos from The Body Shop told MPA Group: ‘The beauty industry is improving year on year thanks to new technologies, research and innovation, and with growing competition in the vegan territory, brands are striving harder than ever before to achieve the same standards in their vegan and non-vegan portfolio.’
2) Rise of night-time shopping
The rapid growth of online shopping in the UK came like a thunderbolt out of the blue to many traditional UK chains, and has since driven a herculean effort by retailers to encourage people to keep visiting their stores.
It wasn’t long before most realised they would need to fork out for their own online operations too if they were going to compete with the new digital rivals.
Data from the John Lewis Partnership credit card found that one in 15 online purchases is now being made between the hours of midnight and 6am
But the almighty shift to online is now turning us into a nation of nocturnal shoppers. As the restrictions of opening hours go out the window – online shops are open 24/7 – we’ve started making purchases in the middle of the night.
Data from the John Lewis Partnership credit card found that one in 15 online purchases – 6.6 per cent – is now being made between the hours of midnight and 6am.
While, that may not sound like a lot, it’s a 23 per cent uplift on last year.
Women are responsible for two thirds of the night-time spending, but men who shop at night spend more on average than their female counterparts.
JLP says we’re spending the most on holidays at night, but also searching for duvet covers, televisions, laptops, headphones and even new beds – perhaps inspired by night-time discomfort.
Mike Jackson from John Lewis & Partners, said: ‘Our research suggests shopping is now a 24-hour activity. More customers are shopping on their smartphones and tablet computers and it would appear many are using this technology to shop from the comfort of their own beds.’
3) Reducing waste
In recent years, and even months, we as consumers appear to have become more concerned than ever about how our purchasing decisions weigh on the planet.
In fact, eye-opening research from KPMG found that two-thirds of Brits care more now about the environmental impact of the consumer goods they buy than they did five years ago.
50 million tonnes of waste ends up in UK landfills each year
Programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet have helped shine a light on the 50 million tonnes of waste that ends up in UK landfills each year and fuelled a sharp rise in demand for ethically sourced products.
A desire to slow environmental decay has even driven some shoppers to vote with their feet and shun the businesses they see as contributing to the issue.
In response, companies across all sectors have been pursuing ways of reducing waste – especially plastic and some palm oils – first and foremost by decreasing their reliance on non-recyclable materials.
High Street stalwart M&S, for example, has committed to taking all the glitter out of its Christmas decorations this year, and all supermarkets are exploring ways to cut down on plastic packaging use – many have now swapped out plastic bags for paper ones.
The shift in consumer attitude has also led to a proliferation of start-up firms, all built upon and dedicated to sustainability.
Morrisons is to sell a range of cleaning products in refill pods rather than single use plastic bottles, while Waitrose has introduced refill stations
MPA Group points to Bite, a subscription dental product company, which is attempting to disrupt the personal hygiene market with toothpaste tablets made exclusively from natural ingredients and packaged in fully-recyclable containers.
Environmentally-motivated innovations are also evident in the fashion industry, with Wrangler leading the way in the jeans market by using a foam-dye denim process to drastically reduce water waste.
MPA says: ‘Whatever a company’s motivation is for going green, there is a strong consumer appetite for environmentally friendly products and as such, more and more brands should look to incorporate them into their portfolios.’
4) We want it all, and we want it now
As the aforementioned switch to online shopping gains pace, shoppers are becoming increasingly accustomed to the sort of prices they can find on the internet, and the level of anytime-anywhere convenience it presents.
Some people already do most of their shopping online, but there’s also a growing number of shoppers combining the two: browsing online before going to a store, or vice versa – transacting online later.
Amazon Go stores use technology that means shoppers can walk out without going to a till
To stay in the game, forward-thinking high street stores have been changing fast – transforming into ‘destinations’, or offering services like click-and-collect in order to grab shoppers’ attention and get them through the door.
Bricks and mortar retailers have also been employing technology to make the physical shopping journey more convenient – speeding up the time at the till, or in the case of Amazon Go, removing the till altogether – to supposedly please the time-poor nation of shoppers we’ve become.
It’s hoped that such technology, along with specialist services, will encourage more shoppers to use physical stores, rather than solely shopping online.
However, some trials have backfired – as Sainsbury’s discovered this week when it decided to put tills back into its first checkout-free shop in Holborn, London.
The truth is we want stores to offer us speed and convenience, but also human interaction and assistance.
‘We’ve seen plenty of evidence of bricks-and-mortar retailers acting to secure their futures,’ said Philipp Gutzwiller from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.
‘The demands of UK shoppers, who are among the most sophisticated in the world, mean retailers must take a creative approach, ensuring the consumer experience continues to evolve at pace.’
5) We want to make healthier choices
It’s clear that health is climbing steadily up the agenda in the UK.
Research into store closures by PWC found that gyms were one of only three categories in growth on the High Street.
Meanwhile, a study by KPMG found that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of British consumers care more now about how healthy their food and drink is.
The study revealed that female consumers care slightly more than men, younger generations care more than older generations, and consumers in the North and Midlands care less than the national average.
But when it dug deeper into shoppers’ perception of ‘health’, 40 per cent admitted that they determine how healthy a product is by looking at the brand alone.
And despite the apparent focus on technology and social media, only 13 per cent said they used an app-based nutritionist, and only 4 per cent pointed to a social media influencer.
Head of health at KPMG Jason Parker said: ‘It’s great news that our population – and Generation Z in particular – is more engaged in taking responsibility for their own health.
Nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of British consumers care more now about how healthy their food and drink is, KPMG found
‘However, brands clearly have great influence over what consumers determine as healthy, and customers need to be clued up on the health claims around certain ingredients.’
Parker points out that when consumers make informed decisions about healthy eating, ‘we will slowly begin to see less demand on our health services for the vast range of issues that go hand-in-hand with an unhealthy diet’.
…We’re spending more than ever on takeaways
As consumers keep prioritising experiences and leisure over ‘buying stuff’ we’ve also fallen back in love with takeaways.
This is perhaps thanks to the explosion of firms like Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, which have attempted to take the pain points out of the end-to-end process.
The average household spent £38 a month on takeaways in 2018 – a 25 per cent rise on the last decade.
Our takeaways are getting healthier too, with a 388 per cent spike in vegan takeaway orders since 2016, according to new research by Retail Economics commissioned by the British Takeaway Campaign (BTC).
Orders of vegetarian food also increased by 136 percent.
Ibrahim Dogus, Chair of the BTC, said: ‘As people look for healthier and more diverse eating options, they aren’t turning away from takeaways – they are turning towards them.’