Retail evolution starts at home:

How can DIY retailers captivate a changing audience?

By Blackdog - one year ago


With lockdowns behind us, the cost of living on the rise and greater consideration for our environmental impact, our latest Blackdog Insight Report highlights what home improvement retailers need to be focused on to evolve.

Captivating customers in a changing world

A mainstay of industrial parks, a landmark just outside the town centre – the big home improvement brands have a commanding retail presence. Smaller but widely recognised brands have made their mark too. Loyalty from tradespeople has built trust with those less well-versed in the art of home improvement and their printed brochures have made life a little easier for some. Now they face a whole colour chart of new challenges.

With finances being squeezed and ‘green’ credentials colouring conversation and decision-making, all in a post-lockdown landscape, what can the sector do to help? And what can brands do to captivate customers?

Shining a light on the problem

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To get an understanding of what brands in the home improvement sector are dealing with, our Insight Report engaged with 206 homeowners to find out:

· What, if anything, they planned to do around the house

· How they prefer to shop for DIY projects

· Where they get their inspiration

· If sustainability affects their decisions

· How they intend to spend

Looks matter

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Some of the first things home improvement retailers need to bear in mind when they question how to captivate their customers is what they hope to achieve and where they’re getting their ideas.

Major renovations aside and with a focus on projects that homeowners would undertake themselves, the biggest motivation by far was cosmetic.

63% said they want to make their home look better. A sharp drop to 43% who feel some updates are overdue, closely followed by 42% who want to increase their comfort levels. Only 26% gave any thought to increasing the value of their home.

So, if the biggest driver to head to a home improvement store is to make the home look better, where does their process start? It’s actually quite a small divide between the 44% who develop their ideas once they’re instore and the 49% who look to social media for insights and inspiration. Pinterest and Instagram provide a vision of what homeowners want to achieve, but do they do enough to demonstrate what and how such desirable outcomes can be achieved?

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Is this an opportunity for brands to introduce experiential retail as a way of bridging the gap between ambitions generated online and real-world practicalities?

The death of instore has been greatly exaggerated

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Most home improvement brands adapted well during lockdown, offering an efficient online service so people could get on with projects that could no longer be put off, or convert cobwebbed corners into an airy office space.

But DIY, by its very nature, is a hands-on experience. So, will customers come flocking? Should retailers let their online marketplaces fall into the disrepair they’re so keen to prevent in the real world? Or do they need to take a spirit level to that relationship and get the balance just right?

When it comes to paint and tiles, customers want to see what they’re getting up close.

Almost 80% said they’d buy each product instore rather than online.

That number shoots up to a whopping 87% for flowers and plants – clearly a far more personal purchasing decision.

The gap closes considerably for tools and indoor furniture, although instore just has the edge. Buying lawnmowers and garden furniture, however, was a much closer call, with the latter more likely to be bought online by a 2% margin.

With 85% of consumer journeys starting online1 but the majority of purchases made instore, how can DIY brands create a captivating, frictionless retail experience?

We believe to truly captivate people you must play to a brand’s strengths:

Big projects on smaller budgets

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Unsurprisingly, in the wake of lockdowns and with remote and hybrid working on the rise, four of the top five projects homeowners wanted to spend their money on involved space optimisation2. Building an extension or annex took the top two spots, while adding a conservatory or separating wall to create new rooms took four and five respectively.

Our own research found that three of the five main reasons for improving the garage had similar motivations, with the addition of wellbeing appearing in the form of creating a home gym.

Such large undertakings usually involve tradespeople, but is there room for home improvement retailers to offer expert advice as belts tighten? Or encourage professionals to choose their services and supplies over their competitors’?

Home improvements that help the planet

Climate change continues to be an increasing concern, particularly for millennials and Gen Z consumers. How much does this affect home improvement retailers? From stock to suppliers, online advice to instore signage, brands need to listen to their customers when it comes to sustainability.

Across all consumer spending, 68% of customers will spend more on sustainable options (up from 59% in 2019).

72% of consumers also said that shopping sustainably was now very important. We’re seeing this shift in conscience in the DIY industry too, with 65% of DIY shoppers paying more for sustainably sourced materials3.

While just under 20% of those asked were motivated to make their home more energy efficient or more sustainable, our research found that 60% of homeowners will choose more sustainable options providing the price is comparable. A further 13% will opt for more sustainable products every time, regardless of the price.

Can all paint be green?

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Sustainable paint once seemed about as readily available as tartan paint, but that’s changing. The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) counts household paint as one of the top 5 most hazardous substances. This is in a country where Mountain Dew and Cheez Whiz are commonplace.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that as paint is applied the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off are as much as 1,000 times higher than found outdoors. That’s bad for the painter and the planet.

But there is good news. Brands like ECOS Paints and eicó are leading the charge when it comes to sustainable paint, with the latter having a carbon-positive production process. So there’s a little less guilt about having to import it from Iceland and Sweden.

Closer to home, the ever-popular Farrow & Ball – with a selection of famous shades so expansive that #ElephantsBreath is an Instagram trend – rates A+ for interior air emissions according to the French Indoor Air Quality Decree across its entire range. This scale measures the emittance from paint after 28 days of drying and curing. In addition, dry waste from the Dorset-based company’s manufacturing plant is either recycled or converted into energy while 97% of its liquid waste is recycled.

Other household names now offer low or zero VOC options, but is enough being done to eradicate high-VOC products? Are consumers being properly informed? Is the life cycle of products being taken into account? A low-VOC paint might sound good, but if it’s being transported 1,000s of miles with no carbon-offset in packaging that’s going to landfill, it rather defeats the purpose.

Sustainability’s still a sticky subject

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With the landfill thought in mind, take a moment to consider adhesives and sealants. Like paint, they’re essential to many home improvement projects and you need considerably less, so you’d think there would be an abundance of sustainable options.

In the UK, an estimated 150 million plastic sealant and adhesive cartridges go to landfill every year. That’s more than two for each member of the population.

There are products such as Hippo PRO and Geocel who have introduced foil packaging systems to drastically reduce the use of plastics, but these aren’t nearly as easy to find as low-VOC paint.

Offering mindful DIY options is something home improvement brands must make a priority. For their customers, their reputation and the environment.

But the same audience that’s demanding more sustainable solutions is increasingly sceptical of ‘greenwashing’ by brands, making mindful DIY a minefield. As Gen Zs step into millennials’ place, these issues are only going to become more contentious. Acting now is the best – and only – option for home improvement brands that want to last.

1 Internet Retailing 2022

2 Home Renovation Trends 2022

3 RetailWire & Improvement Trends in Retail 2022

All other statistics: Blackdog and Pulse Home Improvement Sector research, April 2022

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