Cost of living is taking its toll on British women

October 18, 2023

The cost of living crisis is having a disproportionately negative financial impact on women,  according to new research from Mintel’s flagship British Lifestyles report*. Research reveals just under half (45%) of women feel financially worse off compared to a year ago; this compares to just over a third (35%) of men.  

This greater financial concern has led to a particularly cautious approach to spending over the past year. For example, 46% of women have cut back spending on clothing and accessories compared to 33% of men. What is more, concern is also driving a more cautious approach toward future spending as half (51%) of women expect to cut back on non-essential spending in response to rising prices compared to 39% of men. Overall, Mintel estimates that total annual consumer expenditure will grow by 6.5% to reach £1.73 trillion in 2023; however, much of the growth is driven by rising prices. This compares to 15% record growth between 2021-22.

Despite the squeeze on income, holidays are the nation’s number one discretionary spending priority, as a third (32%) of Brits say they would most want to continue to spend on holidays even if they had to cut their overall spending. The value of the holiday market will exceed 2023’s pre-COVID level, with the industry set to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. In 2023, the amount spent on these trips is set to rise by 13% annually to reach £63 billion. 

Francesca Smith, Senior Consumer and  Lifestyles Analyst, said:

“While few have escaped the severe impact of the cost of living crisis, women appear to be paying a higher price. They are more likely to be in insecure or part-time employment, typically earn less money and bear a more significant burden of unpaid care work, leaving them more exposed to tougher economic conditions. The past 18 months have placed additional pressure on women’s finances. They are feeling worse off and more nervous for the year ahead.

“The income squeeze has resulted in many savvy behaviours which we think will stick in the long-term, mainly where consumers have experienced financial benefits first-hand. At this point, shopping at discounters, such as Aldi and Lidl, has become a fairly class-resistant activity and one that will stick around.

“One category from this year’s British Lifestyles research that provides optimism is holidays, and we expect spending on this to continue to be prioritised. The value Brits place on holidays has only accelerated since the pandemic. During tough times, going on an extended break offers the ultimate escapism from everyday life and will be squeezed in wherever possible.”

Thrifty Brits embrace repair and refurb

“Brits continue to look at ways to combine value and sustainability, leading to a steady growth in the refurbished technology market. In 2023, one in five (19%) Brits said they were more likely to buy second-hand technology as a result of the cost of living crisis.  There is a definite risk to brand perception if a device cannot easily be repaired and has to be discarded before the user feels they have been using it long enough. 

“Beyond technology, there’s also growing demand for clothing retailers to offer repair services in their stores, and we are seeing more companies adding this service. Offering additional services such as alterations and repairs is a key way for brands to appeal to savvy shoppers, with 42% of women’s clothes buyers having repaired clothes over the past year.

Brits ditch weekly takeaways, while ready-to-cook meals thrive

“Consumers have significantly reduced the frequency of their food delivery/takeaway orders: just a quarter (24%) of Brits are ordering home delivery or takeaway once a week or more in 2023, compared to 30% in  2021. Cash-strapped Brits are looking for more special out-of-home experiences or meals prepared at home to save money. Rising costs and relentless consumer demand for free delivery and meal deals mean many delivery operators in this sector will have to work harder to maintain trading levels and protect their profit margins.

“Instead, Brits are increasingly turning to ready-to-cook meals**, sales of which are set to increase 41% between 2022-23 to reach an estimated £301 million. Similarly, frozen ready meals are expected to grow 16.5% between 2022-3 to reach an estimated £649 million. 

Copying the success of beauty’s dupe culture

“‘Dupe’ culture*** is prominent within the beauty and personal care market, with dupe products often going viral on TikTok and other social media platforms. Young women are well-versed in spotting and promoting dupes and believe quality does not have to be sacrificed for a lower price. Seven in ten (69%) women who use makeup have either used or are interested in trying cheaper versions/copies of premium makeup products. Own-label brands in other consumer categories, such as household, healthcare, food and drink, are well-positioned to explore the possibility of dupes. Prestige brands will need to prove the value and quality of their products to combat the threat of dupe innovations.”


*Mintel’s 2023 British Lifestyles Report tracks spending across major consumer markets, including beauty and personal care, food and drink, retail, leisure and household, to provide a snapshot of how today’s consumers live, shop and relax.
**Meals which only require packaging to be removed and the on-pack cooking instructions followed.
***Where own-label or more affordable brands emulate the quality and, often, aesthetics of more premium products.

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