Consumer sentiment in a COVID-19 world

23rd November 2020
Go back to insights

CIL’s Consumer Pulse Survey has measured consumer sentiment throughout 2020, identifying changes in intent and long-term behaviour as we adjust to a new kind of normal.

In April 2020, during the middle of the UK’s most restrictive lockdown, CIL posed two simple questions to the British public:

1) What are you most excited about doing post-lockdown; and

2) How do you think your behaviours will have changed?

The results evidenced the growing importance of social interaction and physical and mental wellbeing, alongside the acceleration of the trend towards online – whether retail, working out or even chatting to friends through video conferencing.

In November 2020, we asked again. This is the latest update of our research. If you have any further questions or would like to explore the data further, please get in touch.

The feedback gathered from the Spring lockdown was clear – we desperately missed our family and friends, couldn’t wait for a haircut and as soon as they reopened, we’d be back in the pub and the gym. This time, however, we asked consumers to reflect upon what they actually prioritised when the lockdown ended. Our research finds a slightly less enthused consumer.

What did you do when the measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 were eased?

But, was this really the case? While it is difficult to unpick the exact sentiment behind the answers, it’s likely the reality is much more nuanced. There is clearly uncertainty but much more is known about the virus now than it was during the first UK lockdown, and this may be affecting opinions. Or possibly, it’s as simple as the anticipation is greater than the realisation. What is clear, though, is the value we place on social interaction. Despite less enthusiasm, such activities were prioritised the highest.

I’ll fix that next weekend…
The enforced and sustained amount of time we’re spending at home has clearly affected consumer motivation to work on home improvements. Home or garden renovations were a high priority in April – they were even higher post lockdown.

We’re all going on a summer holiday, aren’t we?
This year saw travel operators faced with an unparalleled shock – and despite recent news of a vaccine helping to prop up share prices, CIL’s research shows that consumer intent has not fully recovered.

Yet, this finding doesn’t chime with what we’ve been hearing and seeing – in fact, caravan parks have had record summers in terms of both sales and holidays. The answer is again nuanced. Domestic holidays appear to have been a lower priority among those more economically affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the reality of long-term furlough or risk of unemployment likely becoming more real.

This dynamic is apparent across lots of activities. When the lockdown was lifted, those that prioritised going to a restaurant, pub or hairdressers trended downwards by income bracket. Consumers recognise that the pandemic has brought with it much economic uncertainty, both at a macro and a micro-level. This recognition has led to some consumers saving rather than spending.

The next key question challenged how we might change our behaviours in the future. What do we plan to do more or less of in a post-COVID-19 world? The starkest finding this time was that the reality of long-term, infection-reducing measures appears to be hitting home. Intent to work from home has increased in our November research, alongside shopping online for all manner of goods and services. It’s not just limited to food and Amazon anymore, there’s a clear and growing interest in subscription services across all consumer categories.

What do you think will be your biggest permanent change moving forward?
Net change in intent (% who intended to do more minus % who intended to do less)

Exercise from home
Exercising at home remains surprisingly robust. The colder weather doesn’t appear to have affected intent just yet – nearly a third of us plan to do more at home workouts in the future, roughly the same as in April. This could be a warning signal to the UK gym industry – despite a decent recovery in late summer and autumn, long-term intent to work out in a fitness facility is down. However, this does present opportunities for some of the tech-led players focused on the industry – demand for fitness apps is high with 42% of respondents using one more than they did before COVID and 31% saying this will be the biggest permanent change moving forward.  

A troubling time for the hospitality sector
In line with recent ONS data which found more than a third of hospitality firms had little or no confidence of surviving the next three months, our research found troubling times ahead for the pub and restaurant trade. Intent to eat and drink out remains negative – particularly among the 35-64 age category and the middle-class. Perhaps long-term office closures are affecting sentiment with the demise of the post-work catch-up.

What do you think will be your biggest permanent change moving forward? 
Drinking out by age group

What do you think will be your biggest permanent change moving forward? 
Eating out by age group

Finally, we also want to understand what consumers have actually done more of since the start of the pandemic. When we compare this change with long-term intent, we can identify clear stickiness among consumer habits.

Perhaps unsurprising, long-term winners appear to be working from home, shopping online, home delivery services, cooking (which is increasingly linked to home delivery services with the various meal kit businesses) and recognition that it’s perhaps time to be a bit more financially cautious.


Sign up to our mailing list to receive our latest insights.