11 Jun 2020

Marketing Matters: Honey, who shrunk the home?

A recent John Lewis and Waitrose report on life in the lockdown makes interesting reading*. It’s based on a OnePoll survey of 2,000 representative adults combined with sales data and online searches from the two retailers and insight from expert partners. Reporting a surge in online buying, it throws a light on what people are buying and doing in the lockdown, and the experiences they crave.

Many people discovered how small and confined their homes actually are. Watching TV journalists reporting from their homes and meetings with colleagues via Zoom and other video conferencing tools the rest of us can also see and share the restrictions of their confinement. Whether it’s the unforgettable sight of Charles Saatchi strolling naked behind his partner, the fashion designer & TV presenter, Trinny Woodall reporting obliviously on national television, or conversations off screen in team meetings with boisterous toddlers and dogs occasionally joining in the call before being dragged reluctantly away.

In the old normal we lived most of our lives outside the home. Travelling, shopping, being entertained in other people’s homes, eating out, partying, weekends away, or holidaying in a hotel or spacious apartment somewhere lovely. We returned for relatively short periods to sleep or get ready to go somewhere else. Or we pottered around the home alone.

Now, confined with a various mix of partners, friends, kids, parents, grandparents or grandchildren, the reality is very different. Few homes were built for this. Certainly, for the last 100 years or so people were expected to live most of their lives outside the home. So, it’s not surprising life in lockdown and working from home is stressful and confining. No wonder people are bursting to get out.

Bedrooms have shrunk. Communal living areas often include a kitchen – not ideal if that is where someone works. Small bathrooms are a pinch point. Few are designed for multigenerational living. Fittings are sometimes flimsy and not up to high usage. Opening shower doors, or shower doors left open can be hazardous. Many showers were bought on looks alone. Older or infirm members of the family may find it difficult to get in and out safely with high thresholds. They may need a grab handle to help them, or a robust seat in the shower. Anyone can slip on a wet shower tray, and there’s nowhere soft to cushion a fall. In new homes, more thought has probably gone into designing the bathroom layout, so it looks larger than it is, than into making it work for the mix of people who use it. When total visits a day are few and fleeting as people rush off to work, or back out in the evening, these limitations are less obvious and less important.

That’s just the bathroom! Crammed in all day with other people, it’s not surprising that homeowners are thinking about improving their homes. Google searches for home improvements have soared 42% in the lockdown.

If the Coronavirus was expected to go away, and people could get out and get back to the old normal, we could forget about this. But it isn’t. We’ll be living with it for the next two years at least, and possibly for four to five years in some form.

Many companies are wondering if they need their expensive offices and whether some or all of the team can stay and work from home. They say it takes three weeks to embed a new habit. How much of what we’ve been forced to adapt to will become our new normal?

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that our homes were designed for the old normal and they will have to be modified in many ways to suit living and working in the new normal. That’s millions of existing homes to improve. That’s lot of work for everyone. Are you prepared for this?

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