UK Consumers Are Thinking For The Long-Term

What 6 years of social media data can tell us about evolving UK consumer trends

People in the UK are becoming wiser consumers. They’re eating more healthfully, shopping more thriftily, and making better use of their commutes — according to social media at least. Overall, Brits have become more inclined towards decisions that bring long-term benefits instead of just short-term satisfaction. Our research suggests the UK’s consumers are making lifestyle changes that will stick, perhaps rooted in a move towards a ‘post-capitalist’ society.
When we analyzed millions of UK conversations across social networks, we found that Brits are talking more and more about healthy habits and lifestyles. In this post, we’ll explore those conversations and the significant shifts they reveal.

Slow And Steady Wins The Day

Once dubbed the ‘fat man of Europe’, the UK’s attitudes to health are turning a corner. Fitness is becoming ingrained in the social fabric. Large chunks of the population display long-term commitment to a healthy lifestyle. And social media conversations around exercise show that more people than ever are actually completing their workouts. In 2010, only 34% of conversations focused on completing exercise, while this jumped to 64% in 2015. Brits are not just doing exercise, but also changing their perceptions of it— 57% of people said they disliked exercise in 2010, but that number dropped to 21% by 2015.

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The growing popularity of niche fitness options is one factor driving this change. CrossFit conversations have almost doubled over the last five years, with similar jumps for both yoga and Pilates.

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In contrast, conversations around ‘traditional’ British team sports, such as football and rugby, have dropped from 47% to 27%. This shift could also reflect the rise in women’s participation in sports, where more are participating than ever before, partly thanks to some clever marketing by Sport England.

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Bodies Are ‘Made In The Kitchen’

UK consumers’ healthy lifestyles no longer have much space for fast food. The percentage of conversations where people said they liked fast food dropped by over half between 2012 and 2015, from 56% to just 20%. And there seems little fast food chains can do to reverse this decline, as recent efforts to introduce healthy options have been met with cynicism. In fact, a huge 81% of conversations deem these efforts as ‘ineffective’ and maintain views of fast food brands as unhealthy.

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But fast food is just one aspect of the shift toward healthier eating habits. There has also been a wider shift away from eating out towards cooking at home. Thirty-seven percent of conversations in 2015 revolved around eating in, compared to only 25% in 2010. Cooking is gaining popularity too, as the steady rise in conversations around it shows.

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Spikes in the data suggest cooking shows such as the Great British Bakeoff and Masterchef are partly responsible for ‘setting the country on a new path’, engaging not just the over-35s but also new millennial audiences.

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When they do eat out, people in the UK increasingly seek variety in their dining experience, preferring to try new restaurants rather than sticking to those they know. Out of the 25% of conversations related to dining out, 39% mention eating at new restaurants, compared to just 9% that mention returning to an old favourite. This shift suggests dining out has become more of a treat where people like to be adventurous, perhaps in response to the economic downturn in the UK overall. Value for money is another significant factor, reflecting broader social shifts in this direction.

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Enforced Downtime

These days, workers in the UK are facing longer commutes than ever before, with over three million travelling for more than two hours per day. Resigned to their fate, people are turning the experience into a chance for downtime, and conversations around commuting have become more positive as a result. So what are people doing during their enforced downtime? Most are either gaming (37%) or reading (31%), largely via mobile devices.

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Despite the move towards screen time as the common denominator in commuting entertainment, the humble paper crossword emerged as a surprise winner. Twenty-six percent of gaming-related conversations mentioned it, closely followed by Minecraft on mobile at 25%, Sims at 14%, and Football Manager at 11%.

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Thrifty Shift

In the UK, the search for value is exemplified by changing conversations around shopping. Where once ‘retail therapy’ was the name of the game, consumers in 2015 have largely forsaken impulse buying in favour of seeking value.Conversations around spontaneous shopping have fallen to an all-time low of 18%, while more than one in four (28%) relate to themes of ‘bargains’, ‘good value’, or ‘cheap’.

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In an age of Amazon, online shopping predictably dominates the conversation (mentioned in 96% of shopping-related conversations), underscoring this massive change in UK consumer habits.

This new thriftiness is likely to be a response to the era of austerity borne out of economic crisis, combined with the rise of internet shopping.

The trends presented above reflect a wider pattern of consumers in the UK who have begun thinking long-term and sustainably, making wiser lifestyle decisions that are likely to bring positive future results. Brands need to adapt accordingly, but, fortunately, they now have insights from social sentiment data to light the way.

For more insights into the changing nature of UK trends, read our complete UK Consumer Trends Report.

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