Third time’s a charm for UK consumers

Frances Lazenby, Senior Strategist at The Ozone Project, says the mood of the nation has been transformed as the UK’s third national lockdown thaws and consumer confidence to spend within key categories returns

With the chill of winter behind us, the UK’s third national lockdown thawing, and the green shoots of the spring focusing our attention on a (hopefully!) sunnier summer, will it be third time’s a charm for UK consumers as they finally escape their homes with a mammoth spending spree?

Well thankfully, as reported recently by The Times, Britons responded to the initial easing of lockdown on March 29th by splashing out on their newly permitted freedoms, with spending on leisure and entertainment growing by +136% in the first week of April. This has been followed in the last week by jubilant scenes as non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality and pub gardens reopened on April 12th.

At The Ozone Project, we are incredibly fortunate to have a unique single view of what 99% of the UK’s online population is reading across our portfolio of leading publisher websites. This first-party data fuels our insight-led approach and has been critical in helping us understand what content consumers are reading, how this influences their behaviour and ultimately where they may be looking to splash their cash.

With businesses being impacted differently by the relaxation of pandemic restrictions, what follows is a look at key advertiser categories and the trends we’ve seen over the past year and what they might suggest as life returns to a sense of normality.

A consumer savings nestegg

Starting with the personal finance category, for many UK consumers lockdown paired back their expenditure significantly turning the cash they would normally have spent on the high street, on eating out or on holidays, into savings. Earlier this year, data from the Bank of England suggested that UK households have built up record levels of excess savings during lockdown, with consumers expected to use over 95% of those extra savings to top up their pensions, pay off debts or to invest.

Looking at engagement with our personal finance content, the final quarter of 2020 saw interest in this type of content soar across the Ozone platform, with page views up +83% in Q4 versus the previous quarter. While the pandemic’s impact on economic uncertainty and worries about money largely drove this spike in engagement, we saw savings content account for an ever-increasing proportion of personal finance page views.

In addition, our most engaged-with savings content is highly positive in sentiment – a significant contrast – unsurprisingly – to many other areas of personal finance content. This savings content is designed to provide inspiration and guidance to readers, keen to reach their own financial goals. The sentiment of savings content – as shown in the final bar – is very different to that of other areas such as banking, financial assistance or retirement planning.

Like the post-March 29th boost to the leisure and entertainment category and as restrictions continue to lift, we may well see some of the following categories benefit from increasing consumer confidence as Britons celebrate their new-found freedom.

The new car journey starts

Gauging where consumers may spend their hard saved lockdown cash creates some interesting stories – let’s start with the automotive category. Engagement with our car content grew significantly in Q4 2020, as weekly page views of the content doubled compared to Q3. Early 2021 continued this positive growth, with weekly page views in January up +29% compared to December 2020.

Elsewhere, we saw a tripling in the consumption of ‘buying and selling’ car content in Q4 versus Q3. Combined with the sentiment of the most read content being positive, suggested consumers were making their car buying plans in time for new model launches in March this year.

2020’s DIY trend continues

Lockdown restrictions easing off over Easter – when for the first time in months gardens became a legal space for small gatherings with friends and family – created a buzz around our homes and gardens content as the DIY trend from the spring 2020 lockdown came back.

In the build up to the first bank holiday weekend of the year, we saw interest in our home and garden content on the rise, with 9.5 million unique users viewing 52 million pages of the content type in the 30 days before the Easter weekend.

Our depth of home and garden content is 61% positive in sentiment, which may provide influence on consumers seeking inspiration, information and advice on household hacks. Popular experts with a broad appeal, including Mrs Hinch, Dick and Angel Strawbridge, and Monty Don, are among the people most related to our home and garden content. The most-read subtopics include home care, home appliances and interior decorating.

Travel set to take off

Finally, travel – home or away – looks set to take off again with lockdown’s end in sight as desperate Brits are itching to see the world outside their homes and local areas. As with previous UK Government announcements about lockdown restrictions, we saw increased engagement in travel content in the week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s lockdown easing roadmap on February 22nd. Across the Ozone portfolio weekly page views of travel content increased by +26% versus the week before the roadmap was announced, with dwell times up +31%. Our travel content has remained a source of positive inspiration with 75% of editorial containing no mention of the pandemic.

While conversions and purchase are more likely to happen at weekends, reading patterns show weekdays to be critical research periods. In particular, spikes in engagement were most pronounced on dream-filled Monday evenings and just before the working day ends on Fridays.

Our data allows us to see patterns in line with lockdown restrictions lifting. For example, both long haul and short haul content spiked on July 13th last year, which marked the day the Government allowed all remaining shops and services to reopen. A week later on July 27th when all non-essential travel to Spain was advised against, we saw an enormous spike in interest in content based on other short haul or UK destinations.

As the Government gears up for its next announcement on May 17th, it will be interesting to see whether there will be a similar impact on engagement in this type of content.

The road to freedom

While there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the road to freedom, the success of the UK’s vaccination roll out, low Covid-19 infection rates and broad public compliance with the current rules provides us with hope that a fourth lockdown can be avoided.

Of course there are still no guarantees about that, but with clear signs that consumer confidence is returning as lockdown eases we expect to continue to see rising engagement in our content as consumers seek out sources of inspiration to enjoy their freedom and spend their cash.

Frances Lazenby

Frances Lazenby is a Senior Sales Strategist at The Ozone Project, the leading premium digital advertising platform, providing advertisers with access to highly attentive, broadcast-scale audiences across the UK. Ozone’s monthly audience of over 45.3m* engaged readers - 99.6% of the UK’s online population - can be found in a context that they trust, through an ecosystem that is transparent and easy to access. Formed by Guardian News & Media, News UK, The Telegraph and Reach PLC, The Ozone Project is bringing advertisers and publishers closer together to deliver better outcomes for all.

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