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Hot off the press: Covid-19 market trends

With lockdown measures in flux, it's hard to know where to turn for clues as to what the future might look like across various industries. However, Dean Williams, founder and chief exec of Print-print has a few ideas up his sleeve...

As founder of an online print company, one of the more surprising aspects of my professional life is the level of insight it provides into the contemporary business marketplace. Think about it; as printers, we handle jobs for a broad range of industries. We know who’s marketing and when, and we feel the heat in a sector via the volume of material going through our presses.

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, it has become even easier to spot interesting trends. Here are three of the most significant trends I’ve noticed over the past few weeks.

A key role for QR codes – at last!

There has been a significant uplift in the number of businesses (particularly restaurants, bars, and beauty salons) using QR codes on their printed promotional material, such as flyers, postcards and posters. Prior to lockdown, I’d estimate that maybe 3 in every 500 of those print jobs contained a QR code. In August 2020, I’d estimate that maybe 40% of the jobs we’re printing for those businesses now include one.

Why? They are using QR as a key element of their ‘track and trace’ activity. By including a QR code on their marketing literature, they allow customers to access a site/app to provide their contact details in advance, browse non-touch menus and price lists, or even pay their bill while keeping social contact to a bare minimum. After years of struggling to find a truly useful and relevant application, it seems QR codes have finally found their niche in helping the post-lockdown economy get back on its feet.

Start-up saviours?

In normal times, we receive lots of work from individuals looking to create business stationery to support a new business venture. Over the years, we’ve published lots of blogs on our website, offering start-ups free pointers and advice on how to create a visual brand, so it’s always been a strong area for us.

Generally speaking, those individual start-ups come to us with some kind of visual branding already in place. A proportion of the time, we need to clean it up a little, re-draw it in some cases, to make it work as a printed design. In recent weeks, however, the number of people approaching us without even a basic design in place has increased ten-fold. But why?

Millions of UK workers have been furloughed and thousands more made redundant. Many thousands more are expected to lose their jobs as Government support for furloughed staff is phased out. Facing looming unemployment, many people have used their time off work to take steps towards establishing their own businesses, including many who previously would not have considered self-employment as an option.

Of those, many will crash and burn due to their lack of experience, but there are others who are coming to self-employment with an entirely fresh perspective and a real fire in their bellies. Without a ‘rule book’ in their heads, they are free to innovate and discover new ways of making their new ventures a success. I suspect that a portion of these new businesses will become rising stars and will be crucial to the UK’s economic recovery in the months and years ahead.

Sign of the times

The easing of lockdown restrictions has been staggered across different sectors and industries. As such, those businesses and buildings that have still to be given the green light to open have the chance to learn from the best practices of those already back in business.

For example, we’ve experienced a significant rise in demand for printed floor stickers, helping to guide staff and visitors alike through a newly-established one-way system to maintain social distancing. We’ve also seen a big increase in the number of transparent, pull-up banner stands, with restaurants, hairdressers and like using them as dividers between tables and treatment areas, giving their customers some extra peace of mind. For those still to ‘unlock’ there are valuable lessons to be learned from those already up-and-running.

One final point. In the next few weeks, I suspect that we and other printers will learn a whole lot more about the general strength of the UK marketplace. Traditionally, the second half of September (when most UK schools resume after the summer holidays) has been a boom time for print businesses like my own. While I fully expect business to be down on previous years, the size of that dip will provide lots of clues as to that state of the market and what to expect next.

Watch this space. We’ll keep you posted…

Dean Williams is founder and director of Print-print.co.uk

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