UK consumers championed local economies during lockdown yet increased spending with large retailers

A new survey by iStock, a leading global source of visual content, has found that more than half of UK consumers (54%) believe it’s important to support small and local businesses who are struggling during the pandemic, but only 35% of those respondents have actually changed their shopping behaviour to do so. In fact, 51% admitted to having increased the amount of shopping they do with large retailers and brands since the onset of the pandemic. Most of them (69%) due to convenience – the fact that they can get most things they need in one place. 

The research on consumer attitudes towards small and local businesses was conducted as part of the Visual GPS global consumer research initiative by iStock in partnership with YouGov. It surveyed 5,227 consumers across the UK (2,062), Germany (2,158) and France (1,007) at the beginning of November, when many countries went into lockdown for the second time this year.  

Compared to the other countries, Britons are generally more supportive of small business (54%), with slightly less in France (50%) and only 41% in Germany believing it is important to support local businesses who are struggling during the pandemic.  

The majority (68%) of people who have increasingly shopped with small businesses have done so because they want to actively make a contribution and support them. This is particularly the case for women (72%) and Millennials (77%). 

The opportunity for small businesses 

While the desire to help and support the local economy is clearly there, small businesses have to act to convert supporters into shoppers. As much as 86% of consumers say they don’t feel personally addressed and valued by marketing efforts, so small businesses have to improve their communication with potential customers. They certainly have the advantage in terms of trust and customer loyalty with almost a third (30%) of consumers saying they feel cared about when shopping with small businesses – compared to only 2% of people who feel cared about by large retailers.  

“The good news is that overall, consumers feel three times more likely to be personally addressed and valued by small businesses compared to large retailers” commented Jaqueline Bourke, Head of EMEA, Creative Insights at iStock. “Leveraging this stronger personal connection and the fact that almost a quarter (23%) of consumers are more likely to shop with small or local shops if they see their values reflected, opens up many possibilities and opportunities. We have seen similar attitudes reflected in our Visual GPS research from earlier in the year, which showed that six in ten people prefer to buy brands that are founded by or represent people like themselves.” 

Attracting new customers with smarter communication 

iStock has put together a few actionable tips for small businesses to improve communication and marketing content with potential customers and convert goodwill into shopping behaviour:  

  • Convenience: This is the number one reason for consumers to shop with large retailers. Small businesses should focus on demonstrating how shopping with them can be just as convenient. An example could be to use their marketing to highlight delivery and return options, a wide product range, or a variety of payment options.  
  • Smart targeting:GenZ and GenY in particular are passionate about supporting the local economy. They are also most likely to react to different forms of marketing and, to no surprise, social media is the channel they use most. Video and image ads on social media have an impact on almost half of GenZ and GenY so small brands should ensure to activate those channels and target younger generations. 
  • The right content:Sustainability and funny content tie for first place in the types of content consumers want to see these days. Small businesses who source locally or are particularly eco-friendly can use this to their advantage in their marketing. With the pandemic taking a toll on everyone, a quarter of consumers want to see content that reflects their current lives and experiences. Only 8% want to see content that shows someone they aspire to be and would much rather see themselves reflected in marketing content and visual representation. Examples of diverse content can be found at  

Content consumers would like to see from brands 




Content that reflects me/ my life experiences  




Content that shows someone that I aspire to be  




Funny content that makes me laugh  




Content that shows equality and diversity  




Content that focuses on sustainability  




Content that shows the brand is tech savvy  




Content that shows physical wellbeing  




Content that focuses on mental wellbeing  




To learn more about Visual GPS and how businesses can improve their storytelling, please visit the iStock blog.  

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