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GUEST COMMENT Evolving consumer preferences retailers should know about in 2021

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During the coronavirus period, high streets and retailers across the UK have witnessed a significant drop in revenue. Multiple lockdowns have led to a huge surge in online shopping as consumers have moved online to buy everything from weekly essentials to luxury goods.

The lockdowns and social distancing brought about by the coronavirus pandemic may well change the way many people browse, compare, trial and shop indefinitely. However, as the rollout of the vaccines continues, and with restrictions loosening in recent weeks, the normalcy so many have craved for over a year is now on the horizon.

What will this mean for the UK’s high-streets, shopping centres, supermarkets and independent retailers?

Data, analytics and advanced technology will be at the heart of retail brand’s ability to deliver the evolving experiences customers want. 

We discuss key consumer trends observed over the past year, which present a series of fresh opportunities for brands.

Consumers want to feel in control

Consumers seek convenience and immediate, fleeting access to products and services. A growing cohort want to be freed from long-term ties while retaining quick and easy access to opportunities.  

Over the past 12 months, the idea of entering a high street store or supermarket might have felt like a risk many people were unwilling to take. Therefore, more consumers have requested key household items be delivered directly to their doorstep using premium courier services. 

Over a third (37%) of consumers have subscribed to a paid next-day delivery service (e.g. Amazon Prime) – 9% more compared to two years ago. 

Customers’ interest in flexible, subscription-based buying has also seen an increase over the past year. In particular, customers bought toiletries and personal hygiene products (15%), clothes (15%), beauty and cleaning products (14%) and also alcohol (13%) via a monthly subscription – all notable increases on 12 months ago.

Consumers also appear happy to relinquish ownership over possessions in favour of services that enable short-term renting.  In 2019, 25% of GB adults claimed to have used, or be interested in using, an app that enables them to rent a car from a nearby location at short notice and for a short period of time. The demand for convenient relationships of this kind has been building for some time, providing brands with the opportunity to retain customers with the promise of apparent freedom.

Fuelling these trends is consumers’ need to feel in control. It’s an aspiration that motivates many to lead more streamlined lives without inflexible commitments.

Digital communication channels are essential

Coronavirus has altered many aspects of consumers’ behaviour, especially the need for a remote connection to engage with their favourite brands. 

The ‘Customer Engagement: How to Win Trust and Loyalty’ report, conducted amid the pandemic, highlights a number of changes to consumer behaviour and brand engagement since the survey was last fielded in 2018.

Many consumers have had to adapt and turn to digital channels to maintain daily essential communications. Almost half of consumers (47%) are making video calls weekly. 1 in 10 (12%) consumers have video called a brand and nearly a quarter of consumers (23%) are interested in brands using video calls to engage with them in the future. 

Consumers are also open to and taking advantage of presence-free communications when engaging with brands. In addition to video calls, half of consumers (52%) have used chat customer service and would do again, or they are interested in doing so in the future.

Discovering brands through podcasts and gaming

The DMA’s ‘Future Trends: Speak and Listen’ research revealed 27% of weekly podcast listeners agree they discovered new brands through podcast advertising. In addition, most listeners (59%) find marketing they hear via podcasts/radio relevant. 37% of the British population listen to podcasts at least monthly and the percentage rises to 67% among men aged 16-29 and 54% among households with incomes of £75k+.

Recent DMA research also reveals that more than one in three (39%) gamers like seeing real-world brands in the games they play. This figure increases to 59% for younger consumers too – those aged 25-34 years old.

In addition, a third (37%) of gamers said they would like to see more of their favourite brands in-game and a similar proportion (35%) would like to buy real versions of products they see within games.

Furthermore, nearly half of gamers (47%) would like to test out products in games that haven’t been released yet from their favourite brands. For consumers aged between 25-34 years old, this figure rises even further to 62%.

Many brands are already investing and creating virtual products that live inside these gaming worlds. Therefore, if you are thinking about entering the world of gaming with your brand, it’s important to understand the gamer mindset and how they are willing to engage with brands in-game.

Given the significant amount of time many people commit to the digital realm. Podcasts and gaming platforms can be real opportunities for brands to connect with groups of customers who may not typically engage with them.

Marketing preferences and relevance

Email is the most popular channel to receive marketing messages from brands – with 73% of consumers ranking it in their top two preferences.

However, there is a marked difference in this generationally. While email is the channel preferred most by Gen Z (45%), it is far less pronounced in comparison to other age groups. This figure may be influenced by a preference to receive brand content through other channels like social media (37%), video (25%), and even phone calls (19%). Gen Z is also more likely to report messages received via social media (56%) and video (59%) as relevant.

At the other end of the generational spectrum, Baby-boomers prefer email (88%) and mail (52%) significantly more. This older group of consumers are also significantly less likely to find the marketing messages they receive through many of the channels asked about as relevant – with just email (63%) on a par with other generations.

Millennials are the generational cohort most likely to find marketing messages relevant across all the channels asked about within the survey.

Responding to evolving consumer preferences

Consumers have come to expect efficiency and convenience from all aspects of the customer experience – whether at point of sale, delivery, or in their long-term relationships with brands. 

While email still leads the way across all generations, in terms of preference and trust, beyond this central channel there are a myriad of ways brands could engage customers. The differences between generations highlight key trends that brands should be aware of when planning their marketing campaigns.

Coronavirus has accelerated many key trends we’ve been tracking in recent years, such as digital-first routes to brand engagement. The general public increasingly relies on technology and remote interactions with brands to purchase goods and services. So, in order to accommodate this rising demand for 24-7 convenience and remote communication, retailers will need to adapt and innovate.

While digital engagement with brands is a more viable and needed option for consumers during the coronavirus period, we expect the experiences of living through the pandemic will increase willingness to engage with brands remotely in future.


Tim Bond, Head of Insight at Data & Marketing Association

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