Has The Pandemic Changed Our Behaviour Forever?
I think it’s safe to say the world has been a very different place lately. Societies have had to adjust and adapt at a rapid pace and as part of this change, perhaps unsurprisingly, we have seen a huge shift in behaviour in online searches. Some of these have impacted our own business, so we thought we would look at how searches have changed and whether they can be used to predict a shift in our offline habits going forward.
To do this we looked at Google Trends.
Definition from Google:
Google Trends provides access to a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google. It’s anonymized (no one is personally identified), categorized (determining the topic for a search query) and aggregated (grouped together). This allows us to display interest in a particular topic from around the globe or down to city-level geography.
Google trends are split into 25 | 50 | 75 | scales. If a peak in the graph has reached 50, and a second peak has reached 100, this means that there were twice as many searches for that term in the second peak than the first peak. This provides a great way to spot trends.
For example – Covid Symptoms
If we look at the graph for people searching for the term “Covid Symptoms” we can see that last week (13th September – 19th September) saw a 31% increase in searches versus the HIGHEST PREVIOUS POINT which was the 22nd – 28th March at the very beginning of the pandemic.
So with that explained let’s push on and see if the pandemic has changed our behaviours by comparing how we’ve used search before, during and after the first national lockdown.
With lockdown restrictions easing and places to eat reopening, we looked at the trends to see if behaviours have returned to normal or if people are seeing this as more of a long-term change.
Of course, at the start of lockdown, nobody really imagined that we’d still be in this situation 4-5 months later. The search terms we looked at on Google Trend show a huge spike at the start of lockdown with a second peak shortly after as it dawned on us all that this wasn’t going anywhere for some time.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that the searches for eating out dropped significantly in March. With levels returning / exceeding pre-lock down commencing in the first week in July (as lockdown restrictions for restaurants and cafes was eased).
Live graph of searches for eating out – showing a 70% increase in searches in the first week in August
We can also see below how the “Eat out to help out” scheme announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the 8th July impacted how people searched for the scheme throughout August when the scheme became available each week, from Monday to Wednesday
As lockdown restrictions eased, people were allowed back into restaurants, cafes and bars from the week beginning the 6th July, and we can see that there has been a distinct rise in searches for beer gardens as people looked to both socially distance and stay outdoors.
The current trend would indicate that people are far more interested in venues with beer gardens since the search volume is higher than at almost any point in the last 12 months.
However when we look at the data over the last 5 years we can see similar spikes across the summer months, and we’d make a wild guess that the spikes coincided with glorious weather, something we have been lucky to have been blessed with over the lockdown period.
Searches for pubs, cafes and restaurants “near me” have surged since restrictions were eased, pointing to a need to get back to enjoying pre lockdown socialising, a good pint and nice food.
Finally we looked at the popularity of food deliveries (excluding groceries which we cover later), explicitly deliveries from restaurants (which were closed and had to find ways to generate revenue).
As with most things during a time of crisis, those who adapt are generally the ones who survive. We saw restaurants close their doors but within weeks, many of them adapted to the new situation by offering takeaways and/or deliveries. As news got out to the general public, people took to the net to find those businesses.
What we find really interesting is that the search volume hasn’t dropped much despite the reopening of venues. To us, this highlights that people have enjoyed the delivery services and are looking to continue searching (and hopefully ordering) restaurant food rather than visiting the venue and eating inside or outside.
As we’re sure you can imagine, searches for Deliveroo (the takeaway delivery company) also went through the roof, pretty much doubling their usual search traffic overnight!
And they are still riding the wave even with restaurants and pubs re-opening. And as you’d expect, we see similar trends with other delivery services such as Just Eat.
Has lockdown changed our eating and drinking out habits?
Our Verdict: Maybe
Generally there appears to have been a large bounce back for pubs, cafes and restaurants, however the delivery services some of these venues offer, looks to have proved really popular and as a result is here to stay.
We can also see that continued interest for food deliveries reflected in both the Deliveroo searches and the Just Eat search results.
Online Food Ordering Including Groceries
Remember the early days of the lock down when even trying to get an online delivery slot meant waiting in a virtual queue just to enter the website?
Trends would suggest that search behaviours for online groceries and grocery delivery have reduced, however there are still approximately three times as many people searching for these terms since the lockdown restrictions were eased.
It should come as no surprise to see supermarkets who were resistant to this service (or made changes to their service at the start of lockdown like Aldi and their partnership with Deliveroo) now fully embracing online deliveries as they see some customer behaviours change.
Only last week Aldi announced their new click and collect service.
But we think the thing to bear in mind here is that once you’ve started buying your groceries online, you no longer need to search for it. You simply place your order with your preferred online grocery store.
Therefore a drop off doesn’t necessarily mean people have stopped using this service and reverted to shopping in-store.
A press release from Tesco on 24th August 2020 stated that their online sales had increased from 9% of sales pre-lockdown to more than 16%. They expect their online sales to hit £5.5bn this year, up from last year’s £3.3bn.
They are creating 16,000 new permanent roles to meet this demand, so it’s clear that they think this is a permanent shift in behaviour.
Asda have also seen increases in online sales as per their press release dated 21st August 2020. They’re working towards offering up to 1 million online slots per week next year.
They stated “The supermarket also delivered record online sales in the quarter – seeing its online grocery sales double and click and collect sales quadruple during Q2”.
We’re almost certain we’ll hear similar stories from the other supermarkets very soon.
Other food service companies have also seen strong interest over lockdown including Hello Fresh, which saw a huge spike in interest in the first week of lockdown (maybe as people struggled to find the food they were looking for?).
Looking at the graph it also appears that this interest hasn’t dropped and has gradually got stronger (maybe as people start to enjoy the meals and try new recipes, or maybe as people recommend others to try them out?).
Has lockdown changed how we will shop for food?
Our Verdict: Maybe
Whilst the trend graph shows a decline from the main lock down period, the trend shows people are still searching more than at any other point in the previous 5 years. Again this could be an example of people using the service for the first time, liking it, and sticking with using the service from now on.
Shopping For & Sending Birthday Gifts
A great example of a shift in lockdown behaviour is gift deliveries. Whilst locked up at home, not able to see our friends and family, people turned to the internet to have gifts delivered.
Even now, you can see that the levels of search for gift deliveries are still higher than usual (excluding the annual Christmas spike of course). In September 2020 searches for gift deliveries look to be double the same period last year (and previous September’s).
It will be very interesting to see if the Christmas spike is much higher this year than the previous 5 years (especially as we see a rise in cases and the government adding new restrictions to our daily lives)
Birthdays during lockdown have been a huge challenge for many, especially for those who live alone. Usually a time for celebration with family and friends, finding novel and interesting ways to enjoy birthdays at home has become a very popular search.
Searches for birthday gift ideas has also risen. Where people would often pop out to the shops and browse for gift ideas, that’s just not been possible. So the internet has been the place people have turned to for that inspiration.
At British Hamper, we have seen a significant increase in orders for Birthday Hampers.
Has the pandemic changes our gift buying behaviour for good?
Our Verdict: Yes
The lockdown forced more people to look for gifts online, and it is highly likely some of those people shopped online for the first time – just one of many new experiences we were all forced into due to the lockdown.
Chances are they found the experience far easier than they expected, and maybe with repeat purchases have become familiar with the ease of buying gifts online.
Whilst we still see some people shopping for gifts offline in shops, with current and possibly future restrictions these numbers are likely to be lower. It’s also possible people don’t want to take the “risk” and therefore they find it easier and “safer” to buy online?
Cast your mind back to late March 2020. As stocks of certain foods became hard to come by, people turned to long-life foods and started stocking up. It wasn’t just toilet rolls that people went mad for. Baked beans, tuna, soup, pasta, rice.
Pretty much anything that you could stick in a cupboard for months and it wouldn’t go off sold out. Even now, some of these items can still be quite hard to find in stock at your local supermarket.
Our new love of baking as a population seems to have dropped off somewhat but ingredients are still scarce in some shops. Along with the long-life tinned food, people bought packs and packs of UHT milk so when fresh milk availability was low, they didn’t have to give up their daily brew.
It wasn’t just UHT milk; dairy in general saw a big rise in sales during lockdown. Reports show that sales of milk, cheese and butter (essential for those hugely popular banana bread recipes amongst other things) spiked during the initial lockdown with a year on year increase of 69% in weekly sales.
When we compare the two searches for recipes versus restaurants we can see an enormous shift towards recipes as people, now stuck at home, looked for a variety of recipes (including banana bread – see below) whilst the interest in restaurants (all locked down) plummeted until their re-opening announcement.
General bread baking also spiked during the lockdown as people turned towards self sufficiency
Ingredients became more scarce too, as more people wanted to make the same thing at the same time.
Bread makers and Pasta Makers
As people took to baking their own food, the trends for bread makers and other baking/cooking gadgets also increased.
And since pasta became the lockdown gold (at least for a few weeks!) people looked to make their own Pasta. Searches for pasta makers and pasta machines peaked suddenly before slowly returning to pre lockdown levels.
Has the pandemic changed our behaviours towards home baking?
Our Verdict: Maybe
We think many people are enjoying the satisfaction of making their home made bread and pasta, and if the increase in searches around bread makers and pasta machines is anything to go by, then people will be using these on a more regular basis.
Granted, it’s unlikely to have Warburtons trembling at the knees, but the pride in a great, tasty banana bread made by your own two hands takes some beating!
Either that, or there will be some really cheap second hand machines for sale in the run up to Christmas!
Fitness & Exercise
Being stuck at home certainly took a toll on some people’s waistline(!) with many people looking for ways to either keep fit (all gyms were closed) or simply ideas around losing weight.
Searches for the term “lose weight” spiked in the first week of May (6 weeks after lockdown), about 10% higher than the usual spike at the beginning of January. That “interest” continued throughout and after lockdown, possibly due to news reports that obesity put people at greater risk from Covid19.
And helping the nation to lose weight throughout lockdown was Joe Wicks.
As lockdown hit, and schools closed, Joe Wicks launched his daily PE class. Kids and adults alike tuned in for his 30 minute sessions to keep themselves active and counteract the extra calories they were eating.
Joe was reasonably well known before lockdown but he’s clearly reached celebrity status now. His body coach YouTube has 2.53 million subscribers at the time of writing. If you haven’t already checked out his PE sessions and want to give it a go, you’ll find them all on his channel under the name PE with Joe: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheBodyCoachTV
His YouTube channel was averaging 1000-6000 subscribers per week prior to the Covid lockdown however check out these stats for subscribers over the initial lock down period once he started his PE lessons:
- 223,000 Subscribers 16th-23rd March
- 490,000 subscribers 24th-30th March
- 170,000 subscribers 31st March – 06th April
- 60,000 subscribers 07th -13th April
- 60,000 subscribers 14th – 20th April
- 50,000 subscribers 21st – 27th April
- 30,000 subscribers 28th April – 04th May
- 30,000 subscribers 05th – 11th May
- 20,000 subscribers 12th – 18th May
- 20,000 subscribers 19th – 25th May
- 10,000 subscribers 26th May – 1st June
He jumped from 1,060,000 subscribers before the lockdown, to 2,150,000 on the 07th April, to 2,460,000 by June!
As people looked beyond just Joe’s online PE classes, general fitness became a more popular topic in lockdown especially as gyms were closed. People turned to either general or specific fitness equipment to help them stay in shape.
Home gym equipment saw a huge spike, with searches still not back down to pre lockdown levels
With specific pieces of equipment still seeing search interest above that first week of New Year’s fitness resolutions including treadmills:
Exercise bikes & rowing machines:
Has the pandemic changed our behaviour towards fitness and health?
Our Verdict: Yes
We think the lockdown helped many people to focus, and judging by the increase in fitness and health related searches, many decided to do something about their own health.
Coupled with news around obesity and Covid19, it looks like many people are looking at ways to lose weight.
Could this affect gyms? Probably not, since for many people the gym is more than just about keeping fit. But we do think collectively there is now more awareness and maybe more determination to lose weight and get fit than before the pandemic started.
Self-Sustaining & In The Garden
Earlier we saw people looking at how to make bread, ingredients to make bread and machines to help them make their own bread and pasta. However the self-sustainability push didn’t stop there.
There was a significant increase in people looking to start their own Urban Gardens but that trend seems to have returned to “normal” levels (maybe everyone who wanted to start their own now has?).
Looking at the data around “home grown” we can see a sustained interest suggestion people have turned towards growing their own products or are still looking at ways to grow their own products.
And with the closure of restaurants over the lockdown period, it looks like people didn’t want to miss out on their favourite food, whilst wanting to feed themselves, with a huge rise in both Pizza Ovens:
With a combination of the glorious weather and the lockdown – people looked to spend more time in their garden, maybe with money to spend as the chances of a holiday looked to be diminishing. It would surprise us if this year becomes a record year for sales in garden accessories.
With a combination of good weather, lockdown, (maybe) surplus income and garden centres initially being closed, “garden furniture” looks like it should have had bumper sales over the lockdown period with searches TWICE the amount over the lockdown period than at ANY other point over the last 5 years.
A similar story can be seen with searches around both “garden lights”
As well as “garden bars” – maybe inspired from seeing Jon Richardson’s garden pub “The Dog and B***ard” on the cringe comedy show “Meet The Richardsons“
Has the pandemic changed our behaviour towards self sustenance and enjoying the garden?
Our Verdict: Maybe
If people have started their own urban gardens, growing their own fresh vegetables and seeing their efforts land on their dinner plates, then chances are they will continue to enjoy this.
And the enjoyment from building your own pizza, and cooking it yourself is a fun, family activity which is likely to continue when there is good weather.
If the searches for garden bars, furniture and lights have seen a surge in purchases of these items, then we could see more people having friends around in their own gardens versus meeting up in the local pub.
Working From Home
If there was one area most people had no choice about, it was working from home.
With the initial lockdown tightly restricting who could travel to work, the rest of us had to figure out how we could run a business from home. First up we all found out what a zoom meeting was!
Unsurprisingly Zoom have seen profits rise to $186 million, with customer growth an astonishing 458% compared with the same period in 2019. Annual revenue forecast were also raised by over 30% to $2.37 billion.
Whilst we all became accustomed to our new working life we realised that we were short on certain pieces of office equipment with a massive rise in searches for laptops:
For those laptops without a webcam (and the popularity of zoom meetings) people started to look for webcams:
On top of the problems in online meetings with people finding themselves on mute whilst trying to talk, people also found that their microphone quality was not up to standard prompting searches for microphones to also increase:
Some people decided to get more adventurous and look into using a green screen to hide those kids toys or the washing up in the background!
And it appears there was more than just the need for zoom meeting equipment, by the significant and sustained increase in office furniture searches during the lockdown period. It isn’t hard to imagine that for some people this “work from home” switch may become semi permanent or even permanent.
We’ve heard a few stories from friends and business colleagues of people completely renovating a room at their home and turning that into a work from home office, with some people even considering a standalone office shed for their garden. Certainly the interest in garden office sheds would suggest that:
Has the pandemic permanently changed our behaviour towards working from home?
Our Verdict: Definitely
Whilst it is great to have face to face conversations with work colleagues in offices and workplaces across the UK, how many of us have missed the traffic jams to and from work? How many of us have missed getting up an hour or two earlier than we do now, just to sit in traffic to reach work on time?
The investment people seem to have made towards getting the correct set up at home to be able to continue to effectively do their work doesn’t feel like it has been made as a temporary measure.
And for employers, we think they will have been pleasantly surprised to see productivity not dropping as a result of people working from home.
We’ve also seen everyone from CEOs to Celebrities interviewed on national television using a zoom call, and realised that they are in the same boat as the rest of us, with bookshelves, kitchens, bedrooms and gardens as their backgrounds, and we think this has helped people overcome the biggest fear about using online meeting software – how we look and sound.
Therefore we also think that more professional firms will offer zoom meetings for good, as an alternative to a face to face meeting. Whilst we see team meetings continuing to be run using online meeting software providers like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
Early on in the lockdown we saw data and graphs being shared in the daily briefings showing the number of people driving, as well as public transport use.
Whilst not everyone is back to normal, there are still nearly two thirds of adults back in the workplace, whilst others are travelling to town and city centres for shopping, as well as visiting pubs and restaurants.
However Boris Johnson did advise people to avoid public transport if at all possible when travelling to work, recommending people find alternatives such as cycling.
When we look at the data surrounding this we can see clearly that there is still a long way to go before public transport is back to pre-lockdown levels. Let’s start with trains:
If searches for train times are any indicator on the public usage of train, then it looks like they are currently down by up to 50% on pre-lockdown levels.
Whilst not quite as bad, it looks like the usage of buses could be down by as much as 40% compared to pre-lockdown usage if searches for bus times reflects interest in catching a bus:
As mentioned earlier, Boris Johnson asked people to cycle or walk to work if they could as lockdown restrictions were eased, and on the 28th July he launched an ambitious £2 billion plan to boost cycling and walking.
But did lockdown change our attitude to cycling?
And whilst there has clearly been a sustained increase in searches for cycle routes (suggesting more people are looking to cycle), there is further evidence of more people searching for both “Mountain Bikes” and “Bicycles”:
It is clear that there was a significant increase in interest around cycling with search levels at least 25% up on pre-lockdown levels.
But the lockdown didn’t just increase interest in cycling, we also saw significant increases in other forms of travel.
During and since lockdown interest in both Electric Bikes and Electric Scooters has more than doubled, with searches for electric scooters currently 75% more than pre-lockdown levels, and searches for electric bikes still twice as high as pre-lockdown levels.
Has the pandemic permanently changed our travel behaviour?
Our Verdict: Maybe
There has certainly been a significant increase in more environmentally friendly ways of travelling (to work?), and the continued interest in cycling and electric two wheel travel points towards a higher adoption of these modes of transport.
As for public transport, the road ahead looks very tough. Even as we write this article, various parts of the country have asked people to avoid public transport unless travel is essential to try to contain another virus outbreak.
We’d imagine this means people will be very reluctant to travel on public transport over the coming months if they can find alternative ways to get to their destination, and this can only mean passenger numbers stay very low.
With everyone finding themselves in lockdown, attention turned to different forms of entertainment.
We looked at a few streaming services and couldn’t really find a significant increase in lockdown (Disney+ had a huge spike but that is more likely down to them launching the service in the UK, than a general increase in interest). However Netflix looks like it was clearly a big winner:
It is clear to see the lockdown resulted in the highest search volume for Netflix over any point in the last 5 years, with interest continuing at a significantly high level even within the last week.
Clearly Netflix has been helped with the lack of other forms of entertainment with the continued closures of theatres and entertainment centres. And it also appears that the re-opening of cinemas has had little impact.
Rather worringly for cinemas, despite the reopening, it appears that the appetite from the general public is lukewarm at best, with search interest down 65-70% on pre-lockdown searches.
The pattern is repeated if we look at specific cinema chains such as Odeon and Vue:
Has the way we enjoy entertainment been permanently affected?
Our Verdict: Yes
Netflix and other streaming services continue to grow, and as more people enjoy the content, it’s likely they will continue to grow through word of mouth recommendations as people tell their friends of all the great series available, especially as these streaming services continue to create their own, exclusive content.
We genuinely fear for the rest of the entertainment industry. We didn’t show any graphs around theatres, shows or live music simply because they are effectively still locked down so haven’t seen any bounce back.
What is more worrisome is the underwhelming performance of cinemas and their efforts to try and get the general public back to watching films on the big screen.
It feels like some of the big cinema chains could be really struggling if the numbers don’t bounce back and it wouldn’t surprise us if we hear of some big name casualties in this sector in the coming months.
This potential change could see cinemas and watching films on the big screen become more of a luxury experience in the future, but until an effective vaccine is discovered and administered we can imagine people choosing to stay away.
One area massively impacted not just by the UK lockdown, but also by the general global pandemic has been holidays. In particular holidays abroad.
Looking at the data above it is clear that interest in a holiday abroad is down between 25% – 50% on any of the previous years over the last 5 years.
The trend is even worse for holiday flights with search trends and interest down by at least 50%:
And if we look at a specific foreign holiday destination we can see the same downward trend
So it should come as no surprise that companies involved in the travel industry are having a particularly hard time at the moment, with Tripadvisor shedding 25% of it’s global workforce at the end of April.
Whilst holidays and flights abroad have certainly seen a significant decline in searches (and therefore interest), the opposite can be said about stay-cation searches
First up searches for hotels shows a significant drop in lockdown, however a resurgence after restrictions were lifted has taken the search volume to within 10-15% of pre-lockdown interest.
But searches for Bed & Breakfast accommodation has increased by over 25% versus the pre-lockdown figures:
And the desire to stay in the UK is reflected even more when we look at the search volumes around holiday cottages:
What is particularly spectacular is the figures show almost DOUBLE the interest in holiday cottages when compared to the traditionally highest annual volume of searches which is usually the first week in January each year.
And it wasn’t just bricks and mortar holiday destinations that saw a surge in interest. Both camping and caravan holidays also bounced back stronger than pre-lockdown figures with both showing a 25% increase than at any other point over the last 5 years.
Caravan parks saw the same strong figures:
Has the holiday travel industry been permanently affected?
Our Verdict: Short Term, Yes – Longer Term, Maybe
It is clear that foreign holidays and flights have taken a significant hit, and it feels like they have a long way to go before the masses are happy to travel abroad.
The decline in interest around foreign holidays has been to the benefit of various holidays within the UK and this could continue into next year with people waiting an extra year to go abroad or feel safe getting on a flight.
But in the longer term, holidays abroad should grow in popularity again, especially if an effective vaccine is discovered.
Coronavirus Related Terms
We finish by looking at terms surround Covid19.
We’ve already covered the significant increase in people searching for Covid Symptoms at the beginning of this article.
Next we look at the “hot potato” that is Covid Testing:
Baroness Dido Harding admitted yesterday that demands for test were 3-4 times above the capacity available, and this graph illustrates the sharp reason over the last 2 weeks compared to any other week.
On the 14th July, the government announced that face coverings were to be mandatory in shops and supermarkets from the 24th July. This graph illustrates the immediate peak in demand as many sought to buy a mask for the first time:
What is interesting is that the government referred to “face coverings” and not “face masks”. And despite the graph below showing a similar spike in searches for face coverings..
..93% of people searched for face masks over face coverings:
Have our behaviours towards Covid19 changed permanently?
Our Verdict: Yes
As we continue through the rest of this year, we expect to continue to see many people wearing masks in all settings. It wouldn’t come as a great surprise to see mask becoming mandatory across all indoor settings. As we get more comfortable wearing masks and face coverings we think this will become a long term change with people continuing to wear masks long after they stop being mandatory, after all, surely it would be a good thing if people who were feeling under the weather wore masks as they went about their business?
There were many more topics to we could have covered including parties, hair products and pet products but what else would you have liked to see? Maybe we can do a follow up if we get enough suggestions
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