GDP growth slowed in August (+2.1%) from July (+6.4%), despite the boost to the hospitality sector from Eat Out to Help Out, while work from home (WFH) guidance remained in place for professional services.

WFH is providing resilience to B2B service verticals, thanks to the UK’s digital capabilities, while decimating B2C businesses, whose resilience is threatened as loan and furlough support programmes wind down. Rising unemployment casts a pall over consumer demand in the first winter of the pandemic.

Online continues to power retail sales, as consumers replace out-of-home with in-home activities. Online grocery sales have leapt to 10% of all grocery sales—double the pre-pandemic levels.

Over Q2, the value of online sales (excl. fuel) grew by 55%, whilst offline sales (excl. fuel) declined by 22%. Three months of lockdown has accelerated ecommerce by four years and households will spend more than ever before online, post-lockdown.

The rapid shift to ecommerce poses lofty challenges to UK retailers who have historically been timid in their approach to ecommerce. Integration between sales channels will become more important than ever before, but very few have managed to perfect this approach.

As more retail activity takes place online, ad products from the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook stand to benefit greatly, pulling spend from other ad and marketing budgets that were aimed at driving in-store behaviours.

 

Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

Retail sales in April, the first full month of lockdown in the UK, declined a massive 18% in volume, excluding fuels. As shops open, retail will rise month-on-month, but continue to decline year-on-year as the level of retail remains durably impacted by recession.

Online soared to 30% of retail sales in April, up from 22% in March. The share of online will retreat in the second half of the year as lockdown eases and expenditure returns to the high street, but it will still claim 25-27% of retail sales excluding fuels in 2020, up from 19% in 2019.

COVID-19 is accelerating a significant consumer shift to online, and is bringing to a head the crisis of physical retail sales, setting the stage for paradigm shift.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

Our all media ad forecasts predict 4-5% growth in advertising expenditure on UK media in 2020, driven by double-digit growth of pure play online, expected to reach 58% of total spend this year, up from 55% in 2019.

We expect that pure play online spend will grow by 10.9% in 2020, while TV and Press continue to fall by 3.1% and 8.6%, respectively.

Although the economic outlook for 2020 is more positive than 2019, debt-fuelled growth in spending is a continuing concern on the consumer side.

Car transactions are down for the third consecutive year and consumer demand is dramatically shifting (away from diesel and towards alternative fuels), but the marketing expenditure on used cars remains robust overall. Auto Trader has extended its leading position as the largest used car portal, so far shielded from the structural headwinds affecting its core customer group of dealerships. Several disruptors have entered the UK automotive space in the past couple of years, but none have gained real traction in the listings space, instead opting for ancillary approaches. Tech disruption will come, but much longer term.

Expenditure on UK classifieds peaked in 2004, but has since almost halved to £1.95 billion in 2018. In every vertical, the print to digital transition of expenditure has favoured a first mover, leading to dominant positions that challengers find hard to disrupt.

The property market was stagnant in 2019, with stable house price growth but low transaction volumes as Brexit uncertainty held back sales. An expected cut in interest rates this year should contribute to a slight rise in transaction volumes.

The low tide of transactions has cemented the reign of Rightmove and condemned challengers to low traction. No. 2 player, Zoopla, plans for a major drive in 2020 after a 1.5-year investment spree by parent private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.