Credit: David Hawgood/Geograph

7 ways our buying habits are changing

Cars and fizzy pop are in, solar panels, leather and newspapers are out.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Dec 2015

The demise of British manufacturing continues to be exaggerated, it seems. Total sales for UK manufacturers in 2014 were up 2.6% to £363.9bn from the year before, according to the Office for National Statistics’ annual Prodcom report. That’s 21.4% higher than in the dark days of 2009 at current prices. But while some have ridden the capricious waves of consumer buying habits, others have been swept clean off their boards. Here are some of the winners and losers.

Petrol > diesel

The decline of diesel is nothing new. Long before anyone had heard of defeat devices, UK producers were experiencing a rapid shift to petrol. Sales of motor vehicles with petrol engines bigger than 1,500cc rose 17.9% to £16.2bn in 2014, while those of diesel or semi-diesel engines between 1,500cc and 2,500cc were down 24.9% to £7.7bn.

Books > Newspapers

Print may not be dead, but it’s got a serious case of gangrene. Daily newspaper sales fell 13.7% in 2014 to £137.6m, which is a whopping 69.1% decline since 2008. Lovers of the written word can take some comfort though from the resurgence of books. Sales of books, brochures and leaflets increased 6.7% to £952.6m, with average annual growth since 2008 of 8.6%. What’s an e-book again?

Mascara >Medicine

Maybe we’re getting over our collective hypochondria, or maybe we’re just not that sick any more. In either case, sales of basic pharmaceutical products and preparations fell 9.7% last year to £10.9bn. It seems we’ve been putting the money to a good use though – on our faces. Sales of beauty, make-up and skin care preparations have risen 62.3% since 2008 to £722m (up 1.3% last year).

Wood > Leather

The ONS’s fastest rising product division was the thrilling ‘wood and wood products’ category, including straw, cork and plaiting materials, but excluding furniture. Who needs furniture anyway? Sales were up 12.4% last year to £6.9bn. That was somewhat offset by the collapse in leather goods sales, down 68% to £32.8m in 2014.    

Fizzy drinks > Whisky

Tastes are clearly not becoming more refined. Whisky sales fell for the first time in five years as China’s anti-austerity drive bit. They were down 1.6% to £3.1bn, but things were looking much less flat in the soft drinks category. Sales there exploded 29.7% to £4.5bn.

Civil aircraft > Military aircraft

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing. Sales of military aircraft (including parts, repair and installation) were £6.6bn last year, a decline of 11.5%. Sales of civil aircraft parts on the other hand, rose 12.9% to £8.6bn. Peace out.

Everything > solar panels

Take away a lucrative government subsidy and look what happens. Sales of solar cells by UK manufacturers fell 72% to £81.8m in 2014 as George Osborne rained on the manufacturers’ parade. They may have cause to take heart though – the agreement at the Paris climate change conference surely means the future’s bright for solar in a global sense, even if it isn’t in Britain.   

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