Has the Home Improvement Consumer changed post lockdown?

Steve Collinge, MD at Insight Retail Group, considers the question of consumer sentiment in the UK since the lockdown has ended, and reflects on the implications for the home improvement industry.

We have all been affected by the unprecedented developments of the last four months. Day by day we are discovering just how lockdown has changed our buying behaviour and habits in a way that we could never have expected.

With the lockdown period forcing us all to spend probably more time at home than ever before and with spare money in our pockets that isn’t now being spent on travel, eating out or new clothes, our attention has quickly turned to how we can improve our homes and our gardens. This is no surprise, as our homes have become central to every aspect of our lives.

For many of us they’ve become the work-place, the switch off from the workplace, the restaurant, the place of safety and security from a new scary world, an outdoor space and the only place where we can socialise with our family and friends.

Forced to look at the rooms that needed decorating, the bathrooms that needed updating and the overgrown gardens, during lock-down we quickly sprang into action and buoyed by the best Easter weather for a generation, we dusted off our paint brushes and began working through our extensive job lists.

But there was a problem; and the irony here is almost painful. At a point when we had once again gained a real appetite to improve our homes and gardens, the very businesses able to provide us with the products necessary to satisfy our newfound cravings, were closed. Not only that, but the retailers and merchants who had held-back their digital investment over the last ten years, thinking ‘that internet thing will never take off’, were faced with a deluge of unprecedented online demand that almost swept away their websites, customer service teams and delivery vehicles!

This huge increase in demand was confirmed by research conducted by the insurance company Aviva, who interviewed more than 2,000 UK residents in May 2020 – six weeks into lockdown – regarding their current behaviours and future goals. Selected findings were then compared with a similar Aviva survey carried out in December 2019. The research revealed:-

  • 85% of residents had undertaken home improvement activities during the lockdown period, with decluttering proving most popular, a task carried out by more than half the population (56%).
  • Gardening came a very close second, with 52% of residents testing out their green fingers.
  • While more than a quarter (26%) had used the time for home decorating.

Now that we at least appear to be in control of the disease, has the Home Improvement and Gardening consumer actually changed? If so, is this change just for a limited period, until things return to some kind of normality or is this change more permanent.

The last of these questions is of course critically important to us, because it has the potential to change everything.

The switch to online

Research commissioned recently by Visa showed that nine in ten UK consumers (89%) purchased products online during the period when the lockdown restrictions were in place, with a huge 31% of those consumers purchasing something online for the first time.

Despite 54% of those surveyed saying they have cut back on non-essential spending, Home Décor was at the top of many online shopping lists, with over a third (36%) of Britons purchasing DIY ‘essentials’, plants, furniture or home furnishings during the lockdown.

As restrictions on non-essential retail begin to lift, the research reveals that many of our new shopping habits will be here to stay, with two fifths (41%) shopping online more frequently and the majority (74%) of those saying they will continue to do so.

The role of the store

I’ve talked about this before and the reality is that a large proportion of the Home Improvement and Gardening products that we sell, don’t really need a store at all.

Where the products are a simple repeat purchase or they’re entirely functional, where there just needs to be a decision made between different brands and price options, then buying online is simpler, easier, quicker and almost all the time cheaper.

Faced with that level of competition, the argument that the consumer needs to jump into their car, drive 5-10kms, walk 5,000 steps around a huge warehouse, with limited service and then queue up to pay for the privilege, before using their own petrol to drive home, seems rather weak.

However, our appetite for DIY is not waning

Now that the stores are open again, our newly found desire to update our homes and gardens just isn’t waning. On 17th June Kingfisher PLC published their full year results and within the annual report, shared some interested statistics on the last six weeks including like for like sales across their various formats, located in the UK/Ireland, France, Poland and Romania. Across the UK and Ireland, six weeks after lockdown, their like for like sales are continuing to increase.

This data below from Google Trends shows the number of searches recorded across Ireland for the words Paint (blue line), Tiles (yellow line) and Wallpaper (red line) for the period 1st January 2020 to the date of writing this article. The growth in searches for Paint around the end of March is significant and even more significant is how sustained this interest was.

Newly Found Project Confidence

One of the most interesting impacts of the virus is our newly-found confidence in taking on Home Improvement tasks. Google searches relating to DIY tasks have doubled this year and with the absence of the usual tradespeople to complete the nonessential tasks, consumers have not been put off from taking on the tasks themselves. When you dig a bit deeper, you find that most interestingly, you uncover that this newly-found confidence
is being driven by the younger consumers, those who traditionally were the least confident to take on tasks at home.

With no option to visit stores, the younger age group were busy accessing online help including YouTube tutorials or family and friends. Whilst the majority of the older generation still retain the skills necessary to complete the majority of basic tasks, a third of those between 24-34 needed help to tackle even the most basic of home improvement projects.

There’s nothing quite like a successful project completion to breed confidence and that’s exactly what’s happening with the younger consumers. Whether the lockdown period will singlehandedly halt the relentless shift from DIY to Do It For Me, I don’t think so, but slow it down, more than likely.

Conclusion

The increase in time spent at home and the growing importance of our homes as a multi-functional space will, I’m sure, lead to further expenditure and investment in DIY and Garden products in the years to come, and the growing DIY confidence of the younger generation bodes well for the future of the industry. However, the accessibility of online transactions means that a large proportion of this additional expenditure is likely to find its way there. Retail outlets are going to have to work much harder in the years to come and it will be essential for store owners to find new and compelling reasons as to why consumers should venture outside and spend their money in a physical store.

Steve Collinge is an international speaker, influencer, retail commentator and is Managing Director of Insight Retail Group Ltd and executive editor of Insight DIY. You can follow Steve on LinkedIn and on Twitter.