40% of Brits still work from home at least once a week. It’s a market retailers can’t ignore

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Home working is here to stay – at least for wealthier professionals. A new Office for National Statistics (ONS) report reveals that, during the second half of 2022, even though pandemic lockdowns had ended, 44% of Brits continued to work from home (WFH) at least once a week.

Between September 2022 and January 2023, 28% of Brits reported hybrid working (they worked both from home and at the office) during the previous week and a further 16% worked solely from home. It’s those who are most educated, work in professional occupations and enjoy the highest income who are least likely to go to the office every day.

People working from home are now a firmly established market that retailers ignore at their peril. These latest ONS figures show home working is far from a flash in the pan. Before the pandemic, very few people worked from home. As recently as 2019, just 12% reported working from home at some point in the previous week. Of course, Covid changed that. At its height, 49% of us worked from home at some point during the week.

Crucially, that number has not fallen nearly as far as less-trusting employers want us to believe or old-skool retailers would like to believe. In fact, the very latest figures (25 January to 5 February 2023) reveal around 40% of working adults still report working from home at some point in the previous seven days.

Many retailers should be targeting this group. They are slightly older: 17% of 35–44 year-olds work entirely from home and 35% hybrid work. Similarly, 18% of 45-54 year-olds solely WFH and 30% hybrid work. People working from home also earn more: 80% of those people earning over £50,000 a year work from home at least part of the week. 53% of these high-earners WFH at least once a week and 27% only ever work from home. 23% of workers with a degree report working from home only, and 44% report hybrid working.

That’s bad news for those untrusting employers who seem increasingly keen to get all their workforce back where they can see them. It’s clear that those who earn the most are in the office the least. In fact, only 10% of professionals who have the choice between WFH or at the office, choose the office every day.

It’s even worse news for those dyed-in-the-wool shop-based retailers with little online presence, who are still hoping our town centres will return to their pre-Covid spending patterns. They can no longer bank on lunchtime browsers to keep their tills ringing.

For those London-based retailers who have yet to adapt their sales strategy to this new reality, there’s further bad news. In London, 40% of all people work from home at least part of the week.

Stores that haven’t focussed on increased home deliveries and other strategies to target the affluent new WFH market have relied on hybrid workers splashing the cash on those days when they travel into work.

The ONS matches people’s spending with their office visits. It does that by comparing its CHAPS (Bank of England Clearing House Automated Payment System) records of credit and debit card spending with Google’s Workplace Mobility Index. That’s a record of how many people are travelling to work. During the pandemic, there was a very clear link between journeys to work and spending. Put simply, the more journeys to work, the higher the spending; the less people went to work, the lower the spending.

Indeed, the ONS’ previous home working report, which looked at figures from 2021, said spending was: “significantly negatively correlated with the percentage of people working from home and significantly positively correlated with the Google Mobility Workplace Index”. In other words, spending increased significantly on the days more people went to work.

During 2022, however, this link was broken for the first time, when spending on credit and debit cards was far less closely associated with the number of people going to work. Travelling to work impacted on spending by 52.3% before 2022. In 2022, it only impacted on the amount people spent by 10%.

That means stores and hospitality-related businesses can no longer rely on office-based workers increasing their spending when they travel to work. That’s why an omnichannel sales strategy, not over-reliant on town centre footfall, is increasingly essential.

As retail settles to a new equilibrium, it will be those retailers with strong in-store and online sales that will ultimately triumph in a post-Covid world. ParcelHero’s influential report “2030: Death of the High Street” has been discussed in Parliament. It reveals that, unless retailers develop an omnichannel approach, embracing both online and physical store sales, the High Street as we know it will reach a dead-end by 2030. Read the full report at:https://www.parcelhero.com/content/downloads/pdfs/high-street/deathofthehighstreetreport.pdf