From vegan sausage rolls to smart tech: what Britons bought in 2019

Happy women in shopping on high street

Shoppers are increasingly looking for organic and vegan products, researchers report.
Photograph: bojanstory/Getty Images

Some of 2019’s most popular buys tell the story of a Britain that is actively looking to spend more time at home, achieve a better work-life balance, and take steps to be more environmentally friendly.

Though evidence suggests that households have cut back on big purchases such as holidays and cars this year, Jack Duckett, associate director of consumer lifestyles research at Mintel, says research for their British lifestyles 2019 report found respondents were feeling confident about their finances on the whole. “From a consumer perspective, unemployment levels are really low in the UK and real wage growth continues to be positive,” he says.

“When we asked people to look at their finances, they’re saying: ‘Actually, I’m fine. I’m in a relatively good situation and I’m not going to seize up my spending.’”

Just because you’re feeling fine about your finances, it doesn’t mean you can’t make your spending work harder for you. With the American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday Credit Card, you can earn up to 5% cashback on purchases made with the card in the first three months up to £100, and then up to 1% thereafter. (See Important information panel.)

So what have we been spending money on in 2019? This year, the Office for National Statistics added smart speakers, baking trays, dog treats and electric toothbrushes to the virtual shopping basket it uses to calculate the country’s annual inflation rate, making our changing shopping norms clear as day. And there are more consumer trends that refect our changing world …

Vegan sausage rolls
When vegan sausage rolls hit the high street in January, they caused something of a stir, with bakeries struggling to keep up with demand. Their success influenced supermarkets, many of whom expanded their vegan ranges. Shoppers say they’ve adopted this lifestyle in the past five years, primarily because of animal welfare concerns, health reasons and because they want to be more mindful about the environment.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror, applying cream on her face

Organic and vegan beauty products are a must-have. Photograph: Studio Firma/Stocksy United

Eco-conscious beauty products
This sort of mindful shopping is touching other sectors too. Mintel found that 47% of adults think about how ethical a brand is before buying personal care and beauty products, the highest of any other category. Organic and vegan beauty has surged in 2019, according to research by one online beauty retailer, with 68% of shoppers saying they buy organic products and 56% saying they buy vegan products all of the time or more than they used to. That’s despite more than a third (39%) not being vegan themselves.

Hannah Elderfield, senior behavioural analyst at the consumer behavioural specialist Canvas8, says it’s part of an evolution of beauty as a sector that combines notions of self-care, wellness and health into one. “People are now looking for beauty products that boost their emotional state, rather than just buff out so-called imperfections – it’s about feeling happier, empowered and more confident,” she says. “Part of this shift is due to a rising desire for products that align more closely with people’s values. In 2019, environmental concerns and sustainability issues grew even higher on the agenda.”

Smart tech
In 2018, it was reported that five times as many British households own a smart speaker compared with owning a pet rabbit (10% versus 2%), while research from PwC predicts that the UK is set to spend £10.8bn on smart home devices in 2019. Their findings point to smart entertainment such as televisions, and wearables such as smart watches, being among the most popular buys, with 39% of smart tech owners entering the market via the former. This trend looks set to continue – buying intentions have doubled since 2016, with 18-25-year-old aspirational homeowners being more likely to bring smart tech into the home than any other age group.

Investing in me time
Sales of underwear, nightwear and loungewear grew by 18.8% over the past five years. “That’s enormous,” says Duckett. “It’s a change we could never have predicted a few years ago.” He points to flexible work culture, where home workers want to feel comfortable but smart, as one reason for the rise. Another is social media influencers, who have made this sort of dressing aspirational.

It’s part of a broader trend of shoppers who are investing more in their “off time” at home. Research from American Express found this extends to hobbies – 11 million adults having taken up a new one this year, with artistic interests such as painting, drawing and creative writing topping the list. The most common reason people gave for spending money on a new hobby (an average of £23.50 per month) was to find a better work-life balance. Experiences as a whole have remained a strong category in 2019 when it comes to consumer spending, whether that’s at home or elsewhere, says Duckett.

“We’ve got so much stuff and no place to put it,” he says. “This has filtered down to us thinking: what else can I spend my money on that I can get more value out of. People will look for experiences in leisure, entertainment and holidays.”

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Important information

Applicants must be UK residents, aged 18 years or older. Approval subject to status. Terms and exclusions apply to earning cashback. See for more information. 5% cashback on your purchases made in the first 3 months up to £100. Cardmembership begins from Card approval. Introductory offers are not available to anyone who currently holds or has held any other American Express personal Card in the past 24 months. Cashback will be payable at a rate of 0.5% on spend up to £5,000; 1% on spend more than £5,000. There is a minimum annual spend of £3,000 to receive cashback. Cashback is not earned on non-purchase transactions.

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