Medialab Christmas COVID Tracker

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Welcome to Medialab’s last coronavirus crisis tracker of the year. And what a year it has been. 2020 leaves us with many challenges: organisationally, for our teams, and in understanding the impact of this extraordinary crisis on our customers and supporters. However, it also leaves us with much to be optimistic about: how far we have come, a recovery (Brexit aside) to prepare for, and the remarkable achievements of science in providing a vaccine. Not to mention more cause for optimism in the leadership of the US.

To quote Scrooge himself, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

And so to round the year off, we are going to examine the impact of the significant move to online in the past year, and highlight some audience and market trends for consideration in 2021.

Digital Christmas

The acceleration of online adoption by audiences of all ages is one of the hallmarks of the crisis.

This is particularly prevalent in e-commerce adoption, with the crisis driving online share of UK non-grocery sales to nearly 60% in October. And according to a report by Insights firm, Edge by Ascential, UK online sales are now expected to grow by 19% in 2020, vs initial predictions of 11%.

The same applies for Christmas, as a report created by Kantar in the last week of November showed that 85% of respondents say they intend to use the online channel for their Christmas shopping. In response, the Royal Mail have hired a record 33,000 temporary workers to manage this Christmas period, which is two thirds more than usual. And in a sign of the times, furniture giant Ikea has announced it will stop printing its traditional catalogue, after 70 years, in 2021. The company said fewer people were reading the printed catalogue as customers moved to digital alternatives to shop and look for inspirations.

There are consequences to e-commerce growth, most notably in the decline in retail’s share of employment, which has been drifting down since the mid-2000s, with the closure of Arcadia and Debenhams this Christmas jeopardising 25,000 jobs. But more positively, it has opened up opportunity for organisations to be creative and forward thinking. For example, the Co-op began trials of grocery delivery with robots. In Milton Keynes, 8 Co-op stores have been using robots to provide 5,000 households in Northampton with contactless deliveries. And separately, e-commerce companies are now able to create and deploy shoppable video ads on TikTok directly from the Shopify dashboard, which opens up a whole new platform to directly reach and sell to their audiences.

A Glimpse at 2021

We have seen huge changes in 2020, some of these might be trends, and some might be blips – what will be key is our ability to pivot quickly around the changes that matter to us. Here are some potential pivot points worth consideration for 2021.

Accelerated online adoption here to stay

With the restrictions of lockdown, we have turned to many forms of online activity like never before. This shift in online behaviour has, understandably, led to a change in the balance of advertiser spend by channel with a greater proportion of investment in online channels, as reported by LinkedIn.

An even more squeezed middle, or an explosion of commerce for those who can afford it

Far from being a ‘great leveller’, the coronavirus crisis, and the economic downturn it precipitated has driven a wedge between those better-off and those less well-off. As reported by PwC, while some are anticipating spending more in 2021 with home improvement set to benefit, many are expecting to spend less, across all categories. Worse still, as reported in the Guardian, ‘destitution levels in Great Britain are expected to double in the wake of the pandemic’.

A coalition of partners as the new marketing model

One benefit of the pandemic has been what feels like a growth in partnership between organisations. From the NSPCC and LiDL, Oxfam and Selfridges, and Alzheimer’s Research UK and Jay’s Pub Quiz, the crisis has forged a range of partnerships between charities and commercial organisations. These have been important in helping organisations maintain share of voice, and grow distinctiveness.

The need for brand strength in an intermediated world

Intermediation is becoming an increasingly prevalent part of daily experience, from insurance aggregators, holiday booking sites, and property searches. Whilst this can simplify audiences’ lives, the risk for brands is that they just become a logo amongst a list of options, ranked by price, or some other attribute. Lockdown has driven more charity donations through intermediaries like Just Giving with one consequence being that many online donors are unable to remember the name of the charity they gave to. 2021 might see a continuation in the growth of online donation through intermediaries like Just Giving, placing greater pressure on charities to ensure people know about the cause they are giving to.

This is a summary from a more detailed COVID Tracker. If you are an advertiser and would like to access the full version, please contact our Integration Director, Nick Parker, at

Our updated Coronavirus Crisis Dashboard, focusing on many audience and sector trends driven by the coronavirus crisis, providing a frequently updated set of metrics to help keep you informed. If you are an advertiser you can register for access to the dashboard here:



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