Is the work-from-home boom ending?

29 September 2021, 13:42 PM
  • Independent retailers saw a boost in sales from home workers during lockdown. With staff returning to offices, what can they expect next?
Is the work-from-home boom ending?

Footfall across all retail destinations rose by 2.7% last week from the previous week, according to Springboard, marking the first increase in the past four weeks. This rise was supported by workers returning to offices: In central London and large city centres outside of London, footfall rose by 6.5% and 6.1% respectively, while the areas that have benefited from home working during the pandemic, such as outer London and market towns, saw footfall rise by just 1.5%.

“High street footfall was undoubtedly supported by a shift back to the office, demonstrated by a greater uplift from the week before in central London and large city centres outside of the capital, than in smaller high streets and in outer London,” explained Diana Wehrle, insights director at Springboard. “In areas of central London with a large proportion of office rather than retail space, footfall rose by more than in central London as a whole.” These areas experienced an 8.8% increase in footfall.

Convenience is on the rise

Kantar’s latest analysis also reveals how new working habits are changing shopping behaviours. “With people set to return en masse to offices and schools in September, shopping habits are expected to change,” warned Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel Division, UK. “There are big lifestyle changes on the horizon with commuters heading back to the office and the return to school this autumn, and we’d expect this to impact how people shop.”

Consumers already appear to be making more frequent top-up shops to food retailers, and there are signs of fatigue when it comes to home cooking, with demand for convenient ready meals growing by 11%. Independents can also expect sales at their cafés to pick up steam in the coming months.

No return to 2019 behaviours

Despite these changes, Fraser believes shopping habits won’t return to what they were in 2019. “We shouldn’t expect to shift from habits learned in lockdown straight back to pre-Covid patterns overnight. It’s most likely that the needle will settle somewhere in between,” he said.

Indeed, a survey by YouGov has revealed that one in four businesses intend to allow all workers to work from home at least some of the time. Only a fifth of business decision makers say their company will require workers to come into the office five days a week after the pandemic, down from one in three before.

Many businesses are only asking their employees to come in one (7%), two (12%), three (11%) or four (6%) days, and a fifth of businesses (19%) plan to let their staff choose whether to come in at all.

Neither the general public nor business leaders expect workers to return to the office full-time after the pandemic. Another survey by YouGov for the BBC revealed 70% of the public believe workers would “never return to offices at the same rate”. Meanwhile, 79% of senior business leaders said the same.

With the Government proposing to give all employees the right to request flexible working when they start a job, there is no doubt that hybrid working will remain post-Covid. While retailers should expect demand for convenience food, food to go and foodservice to rise, they can also continue catering for the flexible schedule of the home worker. 

For more tips on how to sell to home workers, click here.

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