It comes as no surprise that the COVID-19 crisis has precipitated a revolutionary change in how we live our day-to-day life. Time that people previously spent commuting to work, gathering with friends and family, going out for dinner came to an immediate halt after the announcement of a lockdown in March 2020, so how did consumers change their use of time?

The digital revolution – how a new gain in time changed consumer behaviour

Research published by the ONS suggests that by not doing activities such as travelling and commuting to work, many consumers gained an extra 1 hour 6 minutes a day of free time. This gain in time neatly matches with an increase of time spent on entertainment platforms and video services across the general adult population. Other research from the ONS displayed that the time spent on entertainment platforms increased by 44 minutes a day, and total viewing of audio-visual content increased by 47 minutes to 5 hours 40 minutes per person per day in 2020.  Ofcom suggests that most of the time spent was on subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime with reports stating that the viewing of subscription service platforms doubled in 2020 alone.

Not all consumers turned to entertainment services to fill time. People spent an extra 17 minutes a day completing DIY projects, rising by 147% since lockdown started in March 2020. This change in consumer behaviour is further reflected by the research conducted here at Davies Hickman using Google Trends to more precisely identify and characterise changing consumer habits from their online searches. Check out our full report here  to find out more about how google search terms reflect changing consumer habits from January 2020 to January 2021.

Has working from home granted us the gift of time?

Despite 46% of people in employment doing some work from home by April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, our productivity did not decrease as those able to work from home worked the same amount of time as they did in 2014 according to reports from the ONS.  As staying at home became encouraged yet not necessarily practical, employees demanded flexibility. Hybrid working – an expression which has now become a household term – has become a compromise to ensure workforce efficiency as employees are granted this flexibility whilst still reducing the impact of covid-19, with research conducted by Davies Hickman for BT finding that 91% of executives confirm that they prefer to utilise a variety of work settings including offices, different work sites, their home or local co-working spaces. 

This was not as much of a concern for the 15% of people reporting that they had been furloughed by the end of April 2020 according to the ONS, as the nation’s priority turned to stopping the spread all together. Those who were furloughed or worked from home however did spend more time sleeping, resting, and exercising as well as gardening and DIY, implying consumers were more eager to fill time doing activities which they may not have had as much time for.

How do we now spend time?

As pre lockdown life gradually returns, the demand for hybrid work becomes even greater. Employees demand the same flexibility, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions. According to Envoy, this is because employees can get work done when they can be most productive, leading to greater and more efficient outcomes. Despite people encouraging hybrid working to ensure safety when it comes to catching the virus, the easing of lockdown restrictions according to the ONS  led to an increase in our time socialising, spending time outside, travelling and shopping. According to research, we now spend an extra 17 minutes a day travelling compared to last year – correlating with data which shows we spend 8 minutes less on streaming services compared to March 2020 and  an extra 9 minutes a day shopping. The introduction of the vaccination programme has further introduced more freedom for consumers, with research suggesting adults, particularly those over 40, being more comfortable socialising in 2021 than in 2020. 

What opportunities exist for organisations to respond consumers changing time use?

Saving time is likely to remain important as is providing convenient ways of interacting. But, sector by sector, there will be innovators who develop new propositions and services that consumers will want in the remainder of the 2020s. For example:

  • Banks have tried to entice consumers to complete mortgage applications by video for many years. Now, that is more likely to meet with success.
  • Car dealers are beginning to have more success with online sales where geography matters less and players like Cinch and Cazoo deliver to the door
  • People with the option of hybrid working, will increasingly need spaces in their homes which are health and safety complaint, energy efficient and data secure. New home builders and housing associations will respond with new floorplans and high spec connectivity
  • The environmental impact, and complicated logistics, of home delivery will increasingly be on the agenda as carriers explore new ways to improve last-mile delivery.

Why work with Davies Hickman

Davies Hickman provides the latest consumer and market trends by conducting in-depth market research. We help our clients to compete and satisfy their customers’ needs as technologies evolve. Our innovative research methods and data analysis provide valuable customer insights that help our clients thrive.