During the pandemic, shopping online became very much the norm - what else was there to do? However, recent trends suggest that online purchases may be here to stay for some sectors, despite lockdowns being a thing of the past.
Even accounting for rising inflation and cost of living, we are still spending substantially more online than we were before. In February 2020, internet sales accounted for approximately 19.7% of all retail sales, whereas in May 2022 this had risen to 26.6%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
While some shoppers have reverted back to old habits in recent months, with in-store retail getting slightly stronger, online shopping remains prominent.
Products such as clothing, sports equipment and household electrical appliances have seen the most notable increase in e-commerce sales. Some of these changes reflect the shifting habits of consumers, likely caused by people taking up new hobbies and activities in a bid to improve their mental health and wellbeing with a renewed focus on home life.
Additionally, we have seen an increase in the purchase of gardening items such as flowers, seeds, plants and fertilisers - again, due to new habits. There has also been more pet foods and accessories bought, as a probable result of people expanding their household with furry additions.
The percentage of online food shopping remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, despite people having to cut back on their food shopping spends due to the cost of living crisis. 49% of adults reported that they were buying less food and were getting less for their money due to rising prices, but more were buying online.
Clothing trends also show an acceleration towards online spending, however it is not clear whether this will permanently remain or revert back to more in-store buying. Retail volumes in May 2022 were only slightly higher than in 2019, suggesting that there’s not been much of an increase in the amount of clothes being purchased in general.
Whilst the amount we are spending on retail is considerably higher, retail volumes have only increased by 2.6% since early 2020 - largely owing to price rises as opposed to buying more items. 62% of individuals reported that they had been forced to reduce their non-essential purchases as a result of increased living costs.
Social spending, including travel and eating out, understandably plummeted during the pandemic due to lockdown restrictions. This did recover once the restrictions eased, however it is seen to be decreasing again with people typically having less disposable income.
Spending on fuel has risen continuously since the beginning of 2022 as a result of significant price hikes. This trend has continued, despite remote and hybrid working having become the norm for many sectors, and despite one in five new vehicles sold so far this year being electric or hybrid.
Data also suggests that people over the age of 55 reduced their spending more noticeably in the early days of the pandemic than younger groups. This may be a result of advice to shield at home due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.
More recently however, we have seen a reverse in this trend; there’s been a higher growth in the spending among over 55s compared to other age groups. This could potentially be due to a build-up of savings and disposable income during the months spent at home.
There are so many things that have changed as a result of the pandemic; as we leave lockdowns behind, it’s clear that some of these shopping habits have become embedded within us and are here to stay. It is the responsibility of business leaders to embrace these changes and adapt to new behaviours.