Lockdown overhauled our shopping habits almost overnight.
No longer could we quickly pop to the shop for that ingredient we’d forgotten, nor could we spent time idly browsing the high street. For some retailers, the closure of stores created a catalyst for developing their online offering, catering to an audience that was almost exclusively shopping from home. As consumers, we watched supply chains break down as manufacturers and suppliers were crushed under the weight of an unprecedented increase in digital demand.
Hand sanitiser shortages soon made way for panic buying. As a nation, we’re spoiled by choice in our supermarkets and shops, making it unsettling to see bare shelves. Getting your hands on toilet roll, flour or cleaning goods was a momentous occasion. Soon after, the UK turned to home improvements and gardening, with the plant sector struggling to keep up with demand. In March we saw huge spikes in Google search interest for office chairs and searches around home offices, followed by a dip in April. This later picked up again as we realised we were working remotely for the foreseeable future. We invested in our spaces and hobbies and largely said goodbye to next day delivery.
Below, we explore how our habits towards purchasing have changed during lockdown and what the future holds for two of the most unsustainable retail sectors: food and fashion.
Lockdown Lessons of Living with Less
One hot question has been on everyone’s lips as we compare notes on our experiences of the past few months; what will life look like after corona?
Some believe that 2020 will herald in a more modern way of working and living. The ‘new normal’ is a phrase that’s now been overused, but is it here to stay?
There’s a palpable demand for more flexible working with many of us eager to claw back hours spent on tubes, trains and in our cars. But, what about living with less? How will our shopping habits change in the long run?
Back in May, WRAP reported that lockdown had made us more food smart. We had to shop less regularly and couldn’t go out for a meal on a whim, meaning we were planning ahead and dusting off what was at the back of the cupboard. These new behaviours led to a 34% reduction of food waste in milk, potatoes, bread and chicken.
As lockdown measures have eased, food waste has risen. That said, it’s still below the pre-lockdown figures. In a July update to their research, WRAP reported how 70% of those surveyed wanted to keep at least some of their new food management behaviours.
The UK’s food waste facts highlight just how damaging our throwaway habits are for the environment, yet just 37% see a link between food waste and the climate. As we start to foray back into eating out, it will be pivotal to see if the changing tide on food waste is here to stay. If one thing is certain, it’s that rethinking what food we buy and how much we bin is only going to become more crucial in protecting the planet for future generations.
Read more about slow food.
Another retail sector that needs our attention is fashion. The impact of fast fashion on the environment is astonishing – it’s among the top three polluting industries in the world. The estimated lifespan of a piece of clothing bought in the UK is just 2.2 years.
Lockdown saw a nationwide spring cleaning spree. Spending almost all of our time at home saw many reevaluating their living spaces. Applying the Marie Kondo method to decluttering, or a similar approach, is a powerful way to strip back distractions and learn to live with less. In fact, it’s one of the first steps when exploring how to start living slower.
In June, more than a third (36%) of those who had decluttered their wardrobes opted for general rubbish. Of those who were yet to throw away or donate their items, 14% planned to do so via general rubbish.
The majority opted to donate their unwanted textiles and intended to store their items until lockdown eased and charity shops re-opened. Compared to 2017, WRAP also reported an almost 20% increase in the number of UK citizens who actively avoid generating clothing waste (50% vs 31%).
This is promising, as long as those who decluttered didn’t feel the need to replace their donated items. Or if they did, they chose to invest in items that would stand the test of time and long outlive those 2.2 years. Some may have also realised that they needed less, or at least didn’t feel the urge to buy new outfits (aside from loungewear, perhaps), when working remotely and faced with an empty social calendar. Comfort became key.
Could the future see a smaller distinction between our working clothes and ‘other’ clothing? Will we learn to embrace a capsule wardrobe that can be dressed up and down? Will we be less inclined to browse clothing shops going forward?
It’s perhaps too early to tell. But we can hope that removing ourselves from the social pressure of touting the latest trends and decluttering reveals a streamlined, tidy wardrobe which may have us reflecting on what and how much we really need.
If you’re thinking about your own shopping habits, you may find the following reads interesting: