Digitalization has been happening in the UK for a while, but it altered from a steadily increasing pace to a skyrocketing shift due to lockdown. And young people, as fast adopters, led the way.
According to Comscore MMX data, the average time UK adults spent online per day increased by 37 minutes between January and April 2020, during which the nation transitioned from normality to lockdown. The divergence is seen across different age groups and three core themes: Shopping habits, media consumption and social media use.
Before the pandemic, physical retail sales were still the major player, but the UK was already a leading country in eCommerce. Younger people were the major group of digital consumers even though the amount they spent was relatively small.
When the lockdown was imposed, the biggest shifts occurred in the older age groups, which traditionally are least likely to adapt to online shopping, but were forced to do so. According to May 2020 data from eCommerce management platform ChannelAdvisor and research firm Dynata, 38% of consumers aged 65 and older purchased online for the first time during the lockdown, though only 11% felt confident about it. As Amy Jackson, business director at digital marketing performance firm Incubeta, puts it, “The high street will bounce back to some degree, though not as it was pre-COVID-19”.
We all suddenly had far more time on our hands in lockdown, and we turned to media. Digital media consumption, as traditional TV consumption, ramped up during the pandemic. In an interesting lockdown shift, younger UK viewers weren’t just watching digital videos, but also turned to traditional TV viewing in significant numbers. Havas Media data from June 2020 reported a spike in the usage of select media channels across all age demographics during the pandemic. This indicated that younger audiences were not the only ones that changed their viewing behaviour, but the increase was more pronounced among younger age groups. However, normality is expected to return with TV destined to fall into decline, while the lifting in digital media consumption will continue.
Social Media Use
During the lockdown, people have been spending considerably more time on social media. Younger age groups are more likely to use Instagram for shopping inspiration and social media has certainly helped local retailers to gain popularity with their delivery service, as consumer consideration shifted towards more local options with the intent to support local businesses.“Consumers’ thoughts have certainly moved a lot more to local,” said Jenny Stanley, founder and managing director at digital creative agency Appetite Creative. “There’s been a change in mindset, to support local suppliers, farmers and grocers, rather than going to the larger supermarket chains.”
The use of social media has been for entertainment instead of utility. Facebook saw similar proportions of young people and adults watching videos, with younger audiences remaining the majority of viewers on YouTube and TikTok. In fact, TikTok was the most downloaded app in Q1, and is enjoying renewed success, becoming bigger and broader. “ We've seen a distinct increase in our clients requesting social media campaigns, and especially our instant purchase format which allows users to directly purchase within the ad unit over the last few months” Jenny Stanley MD of Appetite Creative.
When the pandemic subsides, certain COVID-induced changes will disappear while others linger, yet it is important for businesses and individuals to understand and adapt to the post-pandemic world.