The Impact of COVID-19 on the UK Retail Space

Jennifer Keck By Jennifer Keck Oct 7, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to impact the way we live and work, it should come as no surprise that it has also changed our shopping habits. Yet due to a lack of uniform restrictions, retail has fared differently throughout the world. Even countries with similar laws and values, such as those in Western Europe, have experienced unequal outcomes.

To help brands adapt their retail marketing campaigns to consumers’ evolving needs, Braze and Wakefield created a report on the future of global retail. We also zeroed in on data from the United Kingdom and two other leading European economies—France and Germany—to help marketers better understand the changing retail landscape in the region.

COVID-19 Hits UK Retail Hardest

When it comes to shopping habits, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on consumers in the UK. Compared to France and Germany, a higher percentage of UK consumers (55%) spent less on non-essential items as a result of restrictions. More UK shoppers also reported:

  • Buying items online that they usually buy in-person (46%).
  • Buying from local businesses to support the local economy (41%)
  • Delaying a purchase they intended to make (39%)
  • Shopping in-person at a different store than their usual shop (32%)

Fortunately, opportunities for growth still exist. During the pandemic, 26% of global consumers tried at least one new brand, and nearly 95% say they’re likely to buy from that brand again.

But to reach new consumers, you’ll need to develop a messaging strategy that speaks to what they care about most. In Europe, that’s value—with 45% citing it as the top reason for repurchasing from a brand. As you rethink your messaging, focus on value over quality and availability.

UK Consumers Least Likely to Shop In-Person

Not only have UK consumers changed their spending habits, 78% said that they don’t feel comfortable shopping in-person. That’s more than double the percentage in France (29%), with UK millennials (aged 24-39) reporting that they feel the least comfortable of any age group.

Again, it’s all about your messaging. How you address the pandemic will have a major impact on whether consumers return to stores. Globally, 45% reported that a store’s safety policies will inform their holiday shopping decisions. And given UK consumers’ reluctance to return to traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experiences, an emphasis on safety precautions will be particularly important there.

UK Consumers Most Likely to Shop Online

Unsurprisingly, a much higher percentage of UK consumers (47%) said they prefer to shop online as opposed to in-person. Only 27% of consumers in Germany and 22% in France reported the same.

Here’s where your ecommerce marketing strategy can pay off. Focus on keeping users engaged via mobile and other digital channels to boost sales. Mobile users are 10X more likely to make a purchase and 12X more likely to make a second purchase, making them well worth the investment.

Expect Lower Holiday Spending, Especially in the UK

Although holiday shopping will likely take a hit across Europe, 41% of UK consumers said they plan to decrease their holiday spending. In comparison, only 26% of consumers in France and 17% in Germany reported the same.

To help offset that drop in spending, double down on mobile to start driving engagement before the season begins. Try experimenting with in-app messages and develop cross-channel campaigns to prime users for your holiday messaging. Once the season starts, they’ll be more likely to consider making a purchase.

Preparing for a Very Different Holiday Season

Although brands may be facing a challenging UK market, shopping trends look more promising in France and Germany. However, that doesn’t mean you should write off the UK. Opportunities still exist, as long as you know how to reach consumers. Revamping your messaging along with a bigger push toward mobile can make all the difference.

For more insights on global and European shopping trends, download The Future of Retail: Opportunities for Brands in the New Normal.

Jennifer Keck

Jennifer Keck

Jennifer Keck is a copywriter and founder of Keck Marketing. When she isn't writing, you can find her watching B-horror movies or exploring hiking trails in upstate New York.

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