Consumers returning to their places of work after lockdown are displaying new media consumption habits and purchase behaviours.

Charting consumer sentiment – including spending intentions – in times of uncertainty such as these is a challenge, to say the least.

Yet, despite the latest measures imposed to combat the spread of coronavirus in the face of an imminent second wave, evidence of changed behaviours and their associated opportunities for brand owners is emerging. And of particular interest are those relating to a newly identified group of people known as the newly ‘Returning To Work’ (RTW) consumers.

Who is the newly Returning-To-Work consumer?

Newly RTW consumers are those consumers returning to office work after a period of working primarily from home, and individuals who were previously furloughed but have since returned to work.

Along with working from home consumers, key workers and furloughed workers, they are the newest of four sub-groups of the UK commercial radio listening audience identified in Radio and the road to recovery, the third of three waves of COVID-19 attitudinal, behaviour and spending research conducted by Radiocentre since April this year.

Sitting somewhere between those people who are ready to return to some semblance of normality and those with strong concerns that make them resistant to doing so, newly RTW consumers have residual money concerns – which for many have been sharpened by furlough.

But as they return to their work, their reviving confidence can be seen in shopping habits and spending patterns, suggesting they will be more resilient to the challenges of recession ahead.

Establishing new shopping and media habits

New shopping and media habits have emerged and, as the months pass, a number remain evident, suggesting a likely long-term shift. Online grocery shopping by the newly RTW consumer, for example, which rose 20% during lockdown, has increased by a further 5% post-lockdown. Other non-grocery online shopping, which grew by 29% during lockdown is up a further 15% post-lockdown – the highest growth across any of our working status-based audiences.

When it comes to in-store shopping, newly RTW consumers are the group most likely to be returning to the high street – a clear sign of greater confidence. And a third of them are spending more in their local area than they were before lockdown.

In terms of media behaviour, the data shows that 36% of the newly RTW are now listening to more radio than pre-pandemic levels, tuning in for an extra 112 minutes each day.

In terms of location of listening, this group has increased listening more at work and on public transport in comparison to the other working status-based audiences – although listening at home and in the garden also remains high. This suggests that they are still transitioning from the home back to the workplace, spending significant time in both locations across the week, which is helping to drive up their overall time spent listening.

Rules of engagement for what’s next

Without doubt, challenging times lie ahead. But our findings also point to some light at the end of the tunnel.

In the weeks following the easing of the national lockdown restrictions, there was inevitable concern about money (a worry for 56% of newly RTW consumers) and job security (a worry for 50%), making the RTW group most worried about these issues after furloughed workers.

Yet confidence and resilience levels among newly RTW consumers is strong. This group’s spend on products is second highest, after WFH consumers.

Upheaval has encouraged experimentation, with 30% of all commercial radio listeners trying a new brand since the pandemic’s start – a trend most evident amongst RTW consumers, where the figure is 35%.

Opportunity for brand owners therefore lies in targeting consumers – the newly RTW group especially – to encourage brand switching, and to implement new strategies to prevent existing customers from switching away. And without doubt, whatever a brand’s switching strategy, with proven ability to build brand consideration and drive online and in-store purchase, radio will surely have an important role to play.

Radiocentre’s Radio and the road to recovery research builds on its Staying connected during the coronavirus crisis and Bounce-back and beyond studies. More details can be found here.