Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Understanding ‘The New Commuter’

By James White, Chief Commercial Officer, Evening Standard

There is no doubt that working patterns have been challenged, adapted and reimagined for many of the commuters that previously lined platforms and filled the streets of the City. 

Now, as we welcome the lifting of restrictions, we are already seeing footfall on the streets of London increase, with TfL data showing consistent week on week growth across the network and the tube reporting to be operating at 43% of capacity and buses at 65%. 

While some of this movement has accelerated with the resurgence of the entertainment economy, as theatres, bars and restaurants reopen fully, office life is also starting to return. Many major businesses including Deloitte, NatWest and BP are introducing long-term hybrid working models and, despite fears in some quarters, the City’s resilience and reputation as a commercial hub remain unshaken – in May alone over £550 million of transactions were made in London for City office buildings, the highest May turnover since 2018 demonstrating long term confidence in the future of the office.  

The Evening Standard’s own reader survey shows that 40% of its readers were looking to be back 2 or 3 days a week in the coming weeks. A recent study from IPSOS suggests 29% of people are looking forward to getting back to the daily routine. Whilst things may never return to how they were before, there is clearly an appetite for a slice of normality. 

Despite a partial return to normality, we recognise that there will be a period of adjustment, as we settle back into new routines and find a new work-life balance. For the Evening Standard, this also means a period of monitoring and relearning the habits, behaviours and needs of our readers who live and work in the capital.

Rise of the Optimisation Economy

In January 2020, the Evening Standard launched a research project, Life 2.0, that showed consumer behaviour is changing, with people prepared to spend money on products and services that free up their time for experiences. We call these people the optimisers and London is undoubtedly their home. Our readers are 72% more likely to be optimisers than the average person in the UK and 81% of them see London as a city that offers them great opportunities for living and socialising.

Sadly, not long after the launch of our research, these experiences were taken away from us. Many were undeterred, seeking out alternative experiences from the safety of home. Whether through meal kits, virtual cocktail making classes, digital exhibitions or streamed theatre shows, the optimisers still found ways to make the most of lockdown life.

However, as London reopens and we readjust to the much-anticipated ‘new normal’, one thing is for certain – London’s optimisers will be seeking out bigger and better experiences more than ever. They have missed the social connections of being in the workplace, craved an evening meal with friends in the heart of Soho or even just yearned for the familiarity of the regular café lunch spot.

The New Commuter

As new commuting patterns emerge, most anticipate that we will see many workers commit to 2-3 days a week in central London. 

With less time in the heart of the capital, these ‘New Commuters’ will want to take advantage of every second of their time, by working their social life around their commute and office work. Whether this is seeing friends, checking out much-missed eateries or flipping down the red velvet seats on Shaftesbury Avenue, all will be more consciously planned and savoured than ever before. 

As we readjust to new patterns of working, living and socialising, it will be up to individual businesses, brands and advertisers, to gather insights and quickly get to grips with new commuter behaviours. As routines are likely to be divided more evenly between home, public transport, offices and city centres, publishers will need to reach readers via multiple, flexible touchpoints across digital, print, social, on the street and audio. Those who live and work in London want quality, diverse and relevant journalism delivered to them in a way that slots seamlessly into their busy lives, whether that’s on a website at their desk, while listening to a podcast on their lunchtime walk, by checking their phone whilst running between meetings, or by picking up a paper on their way home. 

At the Evening Standard, we are constantly monitoring the changes in commuter behaviour, and understanding what makes them tick and where and how they want to consume their news and media. With a 200-year heritage as the voice of the capital, we know Londoners better than any other media brand; this has helped us adjust how we reach readers at home, on the go and at work, and determine the journalism we produce for our readers across print and digital to help them make the most of the city. 

The landscape of our city and the lives of its residents have changed beyond recognition in the past 18 months, but we remain certain of one thing.  London’s ‘New Commuters’ are still the same savvy and trendsetting optimisers as before and are looking for ways to experience the best of what the city has to offer more than ever. As representatives for London, its businesses and residents, it’s our responsibility to help them do this.