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UK lockdown: five lessons for brands to learn from last time

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This week, the UK found itself in its third national lockdown. But what does this mean for the country’s 2.4 million students? Using our learnings from that first lockdown back in March, together with new insights, we’ve put together five key pointers for brands looking to nurture and support their student customers during this time.

Not all students are remote

As we once again prepare to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives, it’s important to recognise that this message does not apply to every single student. Those studying medicine, dentistry, and other subjects aligned to medicine and health will return as planned. The same is true for a number of other subjects where at-home learning is impossible – such as veterinary science and social work. Any student who has a teacher training component to their education course, or a professional, statutory, or regulatory body assessment in January, will also return to their studies as normal.

The UK lockdown doesn't affect all students

With the majority of students resuming the now-familiar zoom lectures, and completing their assignments remotely, there will be a limited presence on university campuses across the country. The key for brands is to tailor offers and messaging to all students, regardless of where they are. While some young people will be embracing what we now know as “typical lockdown” – think loungewear and food deliveries – the students who are still on campus will appreciate in-store offers for essential items, and deals on all things that will enhance their in-person learning experiences during this difficult time.

Students aren’t defeated by lockdown – but they are angry

It’s easy to see why morale is low among the Gen Z demographic. Their studies have been disrupted and many of their pivotal uni experiences are on hold until COVID-19 subsides. Not on hold, however, are tuition fees, rent, bills and utilities.


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Now, more than ever, young people need to know that there is positivity around the corner. By providing treats and offers to enhance their at-home experiences during lockdown, or creating a buzz around the return to normal – which moves ever closer as the vaccine is rolled out – brands can certainly play a part in sweetening the pretty rubbish deal for the class of 2020/21.

Gen Z will buck global shopping trends by spending more

It goes without saying that students are spending less money on in-person events, nights out and transport at the minute. And if the first lockdown was anything to go by, they’ll be keen to divert that spend into treats and experiences they can enjoy at home.

Last lockdown, 45% of UK students increased their online shopping habit, with 36% maintaining similar levels to their pre-pandemic frequency. As a result, our fashion partners saw uplifts in sales as high as 288%, with many benefitting as a result of a quick pivot to loungewear and comfort-focused clothing. Health & beauty brands saw uplifts as high as 620%, with some tech brands seeing orders increase by 251% in lockdown.

We expect that the “treat yourself” mentality will remain strong among Gen Z for the duration of this new lockdown – but to guarantee engagement during this time, brands should make sure that their messaging is aligned with Gen Z’s mindset. The brands that forged the strongest connections with students last time around were those that accurately understood how the pandemic was affecting them – recognising, for example, that 60% had felt anxiety or depression as a result of the pandemic, and that 43% had experienced boredom.

New Year shopping will get a lockdown twist

New year is usually a time of renewal, with fresh habits and resolutions making it onto young people’s agendas – as well as new purchases and shopping habits, too. Despite the lockdown, this mindset will still be present. This student cohort is one of the most dedicated to education yet, and many will be on the lookout for productivity apps and additional courses to keep their brains ticking over. This makes it a perfect time to offer student-friendly discounts on things like language apps, online courses and virtual events.

Many people turned to at-home fitness solutions in the first UK lockdown, such as yoga.

Subscription services – particularly in the media space – skyrocketed in that first lockdown, with Gen Zs widening their exposure to both digital and print media services. No doubt, the start of a new year will bring with it a renewed interest in this type of product.

A usual staple of new year messaging is fitness and gym subscriptions. This January, though, students will once more be swapping in-person gym visits for digital alternatives – such as fitness apps and livestream classes. As digital natives, this way of exercising isn’t daunting to the younger generation – in fact, for many, it’s preferable to explore fitness at home on their own terms.

Perhaps a bigger concern for brands should be understanding Gen Z’s reasons for staying fit. It’s a rocky start for the year for many young people – and the last thing they want to see is overly-aggressive, goals-oriented fitness messaging that suggests they need to change. Instead, opt for a gentler approach that focuses on building long-term habits that will benefit physical and mental health during a tough time.

Now, more than ever, there’s hope

Back in March, when the UK first found itself in lockdown, there was little indication when “normality” would return – and what it would look like. This time around, there’s a lot more hope. While in the short term, the UK is doing everything to avoid a major health crisis, in the long term, the vaccine rollout has come to represent the beginning of the end.

The UK lockdown is a short-term disruption - but for many, the vaccine is a reason to stay positive.

This lockdown, young people can start to think about things like travel and holidays again, cautiously making plans to satisfy their wanderlust and get back out into the world again. Even in-person events closer to home – such as concerts, days out and nightlife – all seem a little bit more tangible within this year. The key is balancing the short-term disruption of this lockdown – and supporting students with timely discounts and encouraging messaging to get them through – with the long-term hope for the future that now exists.

New year messaging is tricky to land – particularly with Gen Z. Make sure you’re clear on what they want from brands with a visit to our New Year, New Habits hub. 

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