The last year has seen new consumers flock to the hobby amid national lockdowns and unprecedented time spent at home. Nearly a third (32%) of those with access to a garden or outdoor space said that they had picked up gardening as a hobby since the pandemic.

What is particularly interesting about these newcomers to the hobby, however, is their age and where they live. Almost half (45%) of those aged 16-34 and 39% of those living in cities had taken up gardening. Gardening and the associated retail sector still has an older, rural image but this data suggests that the demographics may be changing slightly.

This is great news for the sector – an influx of affluent, younger consumers means many years of potential revenues. Retailers should, however, look at how best to engage these customers. We have already seen Dobbies and Homebase lead the way with smaller format stores targeting the urban gardener. These new stores have a convenience-focus, which makes sense as research for this Report revealed that younger demographics value stores that are easy to get to via public transport. Online-only specialists like Patch Plants and Bloom & Wild have also gathered large numbers of, mostly younger, fans through their easy-to-follow, newcomer-friendly product information and growing advice.

Our research also shows how younger consumers are particularly interested in the other services offered by garden product retailers, including cafes, children’s play areas and in-store demonstrations or classes. Garden centres should therefore look beyond just convenience and develop stores aimed at the interests of this demographic. Beginner classes on subjects such as ‘how to grow your own produce’ or ‘what to do when designing your garden’ are likely to appeal.

From attitudinal research carried out for this Report we also know that this demographic is particularly engaged with social media. 57% of the 16-34 age group said that social media was a good place to gather inspiration and advice on gardens. Social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest have many popular gardening accounts with tens of thousands of followers. Accounts like these represent the first point of contact many consumers will have with the hobby of gardening. Retailers and brands in the sector should look to their social media strategy and consider how to develop content that appeals to this demographic. Companies should also stay on-top of trends seen in social media ‘inspo’ accounts. These trends could help them plan and develop new products or initiatives to appeal to younger customers.

Having a multichannel strategy is key

It is clear that events in 2020 accelerated the evolution of retail in the UK. The year saw an explosion in ecommerce across all sectors as customers stayed at home, following government instructions and concerns about exposure to the virus. In Mintel’s Online Retailing: Inc Impact of COVID-19 – UK, August 2020 report, we estimated that online retail saw record growth of 31% and ultimately accounted for 26% of all retail sales for the year, up from 19% in 2019.

Online retail is also clearly increasingly important for the garden product sector. 33% of those who had purchased garden products in the last 12 months considered online retail options a key factor when choosing where to shop. Many specialists in the sector were slower than others to enter the digital space, with current market leader Dobbies launching its first foray into ecommerce in 2017. In such a diverse sector, however, there were plenty of non-specialist rivals, such as supermarkets or DIY retailers, offering limited ranges from online stores. We have also seen a rise in usage of online-only non-specialists like Amazon and eBay, with 38% of consumers having used one to purchase a garden product in the last 12 months. Online-only specialists like Patch Plants also offer a challenge to existing garden centres with their beginner-friendly approach and convenient delivery options.

According to our research, the online channel is most popular across all three stages of the path to purchase. 54% of those who had purchased garden products said they were most likely to use online channels for the initial search, 68% said they used the internet for gathering information on products and 55% said they were most likely to use online channels when finalising their decision.

If we dive deeper into the data, we can see that ecommerce is vital for two key demographics. Contrary to what could be expected, even older consumers were relying on the internet when purchasing garden products, with 67% of those aged 55+ using the internet when gathering product information. The online channel is also vital for rural dwellers who may live far away from the nearest garden centre. 58% of those in village/rural locations used online channels when carrying out an initial product search and 74% did so when researching product information.

It is therefore clearly vital that retailers active in this sector have an ecommerce capability. Given how consumers were more likely to use the internet to research products, retailers should work hard to provide useful and easy-to-understand product information for all products on their websites. They should also look at ways to streamline the path to purchase for consumers who are researching but not buying online. It is also clear from the data that physical stores remain important for consumers, and retailers should not overlook them. In particular consumers used physical stores for the initial search and final decision making. Retailers should look at ways to better integrate in-store and online so as to provide potential customers with a fully multichannel retail experience.

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