Written by Steve Collinge – International speaker, thought leader, retail influencer and commentator, MD Insight Retail Group & Executive Editor Insight DIY.
2020 was a tumultuous year for retail, with many sectors decimated by lockdown, forced store closures and declining footfall. However, within the many challenges faced by retailers and individuals last year, there were a few surprising bright spots, and one of these was the resurgence of the Home Improvement industry.
Being forced to stay at home and confront the home and garden projects that we’d just been too busy to take on in previous years, acted as a catalyst for growth. Combined with a new found enthusiasm to improve our homes and gardens, a sector which had been in decline and had witnessed over 250 store closures since 2014, experienced growth not seen since the 1980’s. Trends that had been building over the previous few years accelerated rapidly in 2020 and others emerged for the first time.
So, with 2021 already well under way, which of these trends are here to stay and which are likely to play a key role influencing retailers and manufacturers strategy in the decade ahead?
Younger generations enthusiasm for Home Improvement
With time on their hands and money in their pocket, the enthusiasm that we have seen for the younger generations to begin tackling DIY tasks is likely to continue. The latest UK lockdown combined with the established retailers’ efforts to engage directly with the under 30’s on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram will only fuel this further. With four new Home Improvement TV programs all launching in 2021 including the return of Changing Rooms on Channel 4 with Davina McCall and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and the new series Flat out Fabulous on BBC3, this is likely to have a further significant impact on the overall market and encourage even more younger generation home owners and renters to try DIY for themselves.
On-going Home Improvement
Lockdown has taught us that we can make very positive changes to our living spaces, quickly and cost effectively. We have seen how decorating our rooms, improving storage or simply creating an organised workspace can have a positive impact on our mental health. As a result, homeowners are now searching for makeover ideas more than ever before and the availability of inspiration and ideas on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest are providing the much-needed trigger to engage consumers.
I predict that whereas pre-pandemic, the inclination for consumers was to decorate or update their living spaces every 6-7 years, home improvement is now becoming more of an ongoing process, where we are continuously searching and investing in new ways to improve and update our homes and gardens.
It’s all about the project
With a greater number of women and now the younger generation both purchasing and using home improvement products, there is a real need for the established retailers to engage more successfully with these shoppers and move away from the functional retailing of products. All home improvement purchases are project related and it’s critical that the physical retailers understand this and begin merchandising their product by project, with aspirational displays, inspiration and advice, showing what can be achieved. With the very latest format B&Q and Homebase stores moving in this direction, the expected success of these I believe will lead to a significant change in store layouts and ways of merchandising. As the most powerful way to differentiate the physical store from online competitors, I predict that engaging and inspirational in-store displays will bring the home improvement categories to life in 2021 and ignite further interest in new ways to improve our homes.
The growth in transformative technology
In 2020, retailers had to adapt and change their business models rapidly and adopt new and interesting ways to engage with their consumers. A good example is the move to virtual kitchen and bathroom appointments when consumers were reluctant to visit physical showrooms. Transformative technology has been available for some time, including augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence but retailers have appeared reticent to use or even trial it. For retailers with physical locations, it’ll be even more important to differentiate themselves from online competitors by providing unique in-store experiences. There is a ‘wealth of tech’ available for physical stores as well as digital tools that can be adopted by retailers to deliver a significant improvement in the customer experience and it’s critical that retailers understand the range of technology that is available. I predict that the forward-thinking businesses will be keen to adopt and trial this new technology, both in-store and online, delivering new and engaging experiences for their shoppers, personalised to their needs and their home improvement requirements.
The growing importance of influencers
Influencer marketing has grown rapidly during 2020 in the Home Improvement category, and we predict further significant development of this in 2021 and beyond. But it’s no longer about edited product images and carefully crafted content. The Home Improvement audience is looking for authentic voices, individuals like you and I, taking on projects in the real world and showcasing what can be achieved. I predict that the retailer and supplier brands that recognise this and prioritise authenticity in their influencer partnerships with unique content will deliver engagement and returns well beyond their competitors.
There’s no doubt that 2021 will continue to provide a set of unique challenges that will test businesses within every sector. But for retailers and brands within the Home Improvement sector, it’s possible that we will look back at 2020 and see it as the catalyst for a golden age of home improvement. A sector revitalised by a new breed of engaged consumers, motivated by social media and influencers and stores completely transformed by project driven, inspirational displays and technology.