Coming out of Lockdown - Will Shifts in Consumer Buying Behaviour be cause for Optimism for UK Manufacturers?

Coming out of Lockdown - Will Shifts in Consumer Buying Behaviour be cause for Optimism for UK Manufacturers?

It’s fair to say the game has changed beyond any recognition since February where the biggest challenge to the UK economy was coming out of the EU and many of us were coming to terms with the damaging impacts of Storm Dennis.

With a mix of good old fashioned British stoicism and denial, who could have ever imagined a health crisis taking place on the other side of the world would ever hit our shores and confine us to our homes?

And confined to our homes a great many of us were so how were we going to navigate our way through the lockdown in what has so frequently been defined as the “new normal”?

Three months on and we now know the answer to that with a great many heroes stepping up to the challenge whether employed within the public sector or business, of course we mustn’t forget members of the local community who rose to the challenge the pandemic thrust upon us. Indeed we should also acknowledge the fiscal support many (not all) have benefitted from so that now as we come out of lockdown our attention is turning to the state of the nation going forward.

Manufacturing is often cited as an indicator of the health of a nation economically meaning much has been made of their response to the covid-19 challenge and as always there will be those who have fared better than others.

Referencing the Make UK & BDO Manufacturing Outlook 2020 Q2 Report the key findings are:

  • Output plunges to lowest level in 30 year survey history
  • UK and export orders at lows comparable to financial crisis
  • Employment and investment suffer significant cutbacks
  • Just over 10% of companies operating at full capacity
  • Industry forecast to contract by almost 10% in 2020

As bleak as these figures are there are some sectors that have at least performed well considering these conditions which include (but are not limited to):

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Medical Equipment Manufacturers and Supplies
  • Logistics & Delivery
  • Streaming Services
  • Supermarkets
  • Food & Drink

On the flip side industries such as automotive, petrochemicals and those relying on the hospitality sector have seen a serious decline in performance which may affect their ability to come out of the lockdown on the other side.

Although this is not uniquely a British problem it will acutely be felt here due to our disproportionate reliance on global supply chains in terms of both imported components and finished products as well as exported goods.

So what now?

As always there are two schools of thought in terms of the UK’s recovery from lockdown with the optimistic camp predicting a “V-shaped” recovery at best or a perceptively pragmatic “U-shaped” recovery meaning we should exit the situation at a similar pace to how we entered it. Conversely the pessimistic camp foresees many bumps in the road with us only getting back to something resonating normal deep into 2021, therefore an elongated “U-shaped” recovery.

This should not come as a surprise but the real telling factors come from how this has impacted consumer behaviours and whether there will be any lasting impacts as a result.

A recent survey commissioned by the Manufacturer on the attitudes of UK adults show that:
  • 75% now believe more strongly in the importance of UK manufacturing
  • 71% believe that manufacturing has risen to the challenge of Covid-19
  • 76% are concerned about the UK's reliance on cheap imported goods
  • 74% now believe that a strategic long-term plan to support the sector to become more productive and competitive will help insulate the UK economy from future shocks

Therefore this presents a real opportunity for UK producers to promote the benefits of localised production across the supply chain and review their internal structures to optimise ways of working with key business partners.

Over the past few years there has been a shift in mind-set whereby consumers are buying into the concept of localisation and provenance evidenced by the championing of product quality that we have come to expect from buying goods made in the UK. Furthermore a particular driver in terms of consumer behaviour has been triggered by our increasing concerns for the environment as well as employee and animal welfare.

This is now ramping up to another level by us demanding that we protect the industries that contribute significantly to the economic health of the nation. We’ve been overwhelmingly impressed by how these businesses have responded to the crisis and transformed their operations to accommodate changing demands. This ranges from hearing stories about how one company shifted focus (albeit temporarily) from gin production to producing sanitisers and how a luxury handbag manufacturer supplied much needed PPE to the health service. This is all just as well given recent events show that in times of crisis our reliance on getting hold of much needed equipment from overseas has not served us well and understandably many countries put their own needs first, leaving the UK exposed.

It is this realisation that may well drive consumer tastes away from cheaper foreign imports and take a more responsible approach to consumerism, adopting the less is more philosophy or rather substitute quantity for quality, buying the best the budget allows.

Over the past few years we have demanded convenience from our retailers, developing a want it cheap - want it now culture from where behemoths like Amazon have risen to shape consumer habits and why we see our high street shops on their knees. Yet as our lives have been massively disrupted we are taking stock to reevaluate our priorities, reviewing our relationships manifesting in how we interact within our environment going forward. This is why although globalisation may never be over, our over reliance on it may well be.

Just a thought....a feel free to leave yours in the comments section below.