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Consumer attitudes towards the post-Brexit consumer landscape

Introduction

Which? has conducted a  number of research projects aimed at understanding consumer attitudes towards the impact of brexit on their lives. A major part of this research was a regular tracker survey which monitored consumer views on Brexit over time, from September 2017 to July 2019. Each of the 8 waves asked consumers about their perceptions and attitudes towards the consumer landscape in relation to the UK leaving the EU. 

This article summarises some of the main headlines from this tracker research, while we also have more detailed analysis of consumer attitudes to Brexit and food, Brexit and travel, and a no-deal Brexit elsewhere on this site.

Expected economic impact

One of the clearest findings was that consumers expected that Brexit will impact the price of various consumer goods and services. The prices of holidays abroad and food consistently come out top of this list (both received 78% in March 2018). When the type of impact was explored, consumers generally felt the price of goods would be negatively impacted by Brexit. This was consistent across the duration of the research. 

Food was one of the products which a high proportion of consumers expected Brexit would have a negative impact on price; this was at its highest in the last wave of fieldwork (53%). One hypothesis could be that consumers are aware that a large proportion of foods (and drink) come from the EU.

Throughout the research there was a constant disconnect in the way in which people thought the UK would be affected by the UK’s exit from the EU and how this will filter down to them as individuals. Of those who thought that leaving the EU would have no financial impact on them (27% in September 2017), 1 in 5 (20% in September 2017) thought the UK economy would be worse off after leaving the EU. When all respondents were asked to think about the overall impact of Brexit on their household, a high proportion (54-60%) felt there would be no difference despite perceptions that prices will rise.

Brexit and consumer rights

There tended to be common perceptions across consumers that the consumer landscape wouldn't change when the UK exits the EU. This was the case with consumer rights. Overall, the majority of consumers  - over the 8 waves - felt it was important to uphold consumer rights in the UK after leaving the EU. Of all the consumer rights asked about (e.g. access to healthcare in the EU, rights to return products), ‘free roaming’ stood out as less important compared to others. 

When consumers were asked which of their consumer rights they would most like to see improved, ‘access to healthcare when traveling in the EU’ received the highest proportion (40% in September 2018) of endorsement. This was also the consumer right which consumers felt would impact their household if it were to be removed (24-29% over 8 waves). 

Safety and standards was another area in which consumers believed there would not be a change post-Brexit, as a majority of consumers felt standards would stay the same when the UK leaves the EU. Although at a general level people are confident in standards, children’s toys and car seats are examples where perceptions differ with large minorities feeling they don’t know enough. Throughout the research, around a quarter of consumers said they didn’t know about the current safety of children’s car seats (ranged 24%-26%) or children’s toys (18-20%). This was also seen when asked to think about safety post-Brexit. During the time of the research there was extensive reporting on problems with the safety of certain toys within the UK which could have impacted this uncertainty e.g. slime and school supplies.

Changes in attitudes through the research

Consumers’ attitudes on most issues remained stable across the research programme. This may be due to a number of reasons; one being that the tracker was conducted before consumers could feel the effects of leaving the EU, therefore the research was based on consumers’ assumptions about how future events would impact them and the UK as a whole.  The tracker was also conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, in which many of the issues explored e.g. choice, availability/supply and cost came to the forefront. 

There were a few exceptions to this flat trend in results over the duration of the tracker, and one exception is that optimism in new free trade agreements decreased over time. Across the research a high proportion (45-50%) of consumers thought that new free trade agreements would be ‘a good opportunity with some risks’. However the proportion did decrease over time, whilst the proportion of those who thought new free trade agreements ‘would be risky with no chance of significant benefits’ increased, starting at 6% in September 2017, and doubling to 12% in July 2019.

Conclusion and wider research

The final wave of the Brexit tracker was conducted in July 2019 and captured perceptions prior to the official date of leaving the EU in January 2020. Since then, we have continued to carry out research relating to both the end of the transition period and wider trade policy. This includes talking to people across the country as part of our ‘National Trade Conversation’, to understand the consumer perspective on trade deals and what these issues really mean to and for them.  Continued work in this area  will allow us to gain a better understanding of how the UK leaving the EU will affect consumers as possible impacts and changes become clearer.

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please contact Paige Johns at consumerinsight@which.co.uk 

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