The Independent’s most loved (and hated) lockdown buys

Was 2020 the year that changed our shopping habits for good?

Eleanor Jones
Thursday 18 March 2021 14:11
<p>Some of these products have proved lifechanging... others are gathering dust</p>

Some of these products have proved lifechanging... others are gathering dust

What’s the weirdest thing you bought during the pandemic? That’s the question we posed to our colleagues in the company Slack channel this week – and their responses didn’t disappoint.

At this time in March last year, it’s fair to say that panic buying had set in. The supermarket shelves had no pasta or toilet paper to speak of, and online delivery times were being pushed by weeks as retailers struggled to keep up with demand.

Aside from the obvious surge in sales of hand sanitiser, soap and disinfectant wipes, demand for items like jigsaw puzzles, kitchen gadgets, and craft kits soared as we did our best to keep ourselves busy in the face of a strange new normal.

With salons shut, hair clippers, gel nail kits and eyebrow dyes were also in high demand, and the home workout took on a whole new meaning as we adjusted to life without the gym, sparking queues for Peloton Bikes that were more competitive than the Glastonbury ticket battles of our previous lives.

Fast forward almost 12 months and two more national lockdowns later, we’ve filled our homes with an absolute plethora of weird and wonderful items we would have scrolled straight past pre-lockdown.

Read more:

From exercise equipment to instruments, here’s what we bought during the pandemic – and whether or not it’s now just gathering dust.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Boots vented self stick large rollers 5s

I purchased some velcro rollers on a whim at Boots and I’ve been teaching myself how to do a Hollywood-style blow dry. I underestimate how long it takes every time but there’s nothing else to do on the weekend so it’s great practice. I will look like Priscilla Presley coming out of lockdown, promise!

– Clara Hill, Indy100 reporter

Donner soprano ukulele beginner kit

I bought a ukulele on Amazon after the YouTube algorithm randomly served me a tutorial video. I thought it looked pretty easy! Having sulkily given up learning guitar aged 18 (I really just didn’t have the patience) I had a very basic understanding of chords and strumming patterns already. Within an hour or so of picking it up for the first time I could play a couple of basic versions of easy songs. Now I watch a YouTube tutorial every couple of days and it’s been a great way to relax during lockdown three!

– Tom Richell, head of multimedia

Foreo UFO smart mask device

While I gave up trying to laminate my own brows back in lockdown one, I did invest in some beauty gadgets to bring the spa feeling into my home for the many times I needed a pick-me-up over the past 12 months. Nothing beats the real deal, of course, but these come pretty close. Now I do a mini facial every Sunday night to start the week right. For this I use the Clinique city block purifying mask (£30, One of the best clay masks I’ve ever used, it is also a scrub that provides a light exfoliation when you remove it.

Any time I have a facial, the steaming part is my favourite bit. This Sarah Chapman mini facial steamer (£119, is a perfect at-home version, with a 10-minute programme that allows you to stop, relax and breathe as nano steam particles work their magic, leaving your pores unclogged.

LED has been a beauty industry secret for decades and now at-home versions are making the treatment accessible for us all. I love the Foreo UFO as it is an affordable and super-quick 90-second treatment with a range of masks and you really do see visible results, with fewer spots and a glowing complexion.

– Harriet Hall, lifestyle editor

Helinox ground chair

The best thing about owning a Helinox ground chair, aside from zero back pain after sipping cans on the grass all day, is the looks you get from your fellow park-goers. When you first get it out of your tote bag (yes, it’s that small and light), they will guffaw at your ridiculous item. But then, after fifteen minutes or so, you will see their stares change to pure jealousy. Your reclined position will inspire envy in the hearts of all who witness it – and there’s definitely still enough outdoors-only socialising left for you to justify the admittedly ridiculous price tag. I’ll also be using mine extensively during what I hope will be a summer of camping. You’re welcome.

– Suzie McCracken, IndyBest senior production journalist

JLL IC300 indoor exercise bike

I bought this product in early March 2020, when I could see the gyms were likely to close and I wasn’t able to run because of injury. I was a bit freaked out by the price initially, but it hands-down made lockdown bearable. During the summer I had it out on our small terrace and would spend 30 to 40 minutes on it every morning before work, either doing online spin classes, or just doing my own interval workouts. I also bought a couple of kettlebells and some resistance bands from Amazon at the same time. I’ve loved having the indoor bike so much I’ve actually upgraded to a WattBike atom (£1.899, now, which is due to be delivered soon. I don’t think I will bother going back to the gym when it reopens because I enjoy being able to exercise on my timetable at home. It’s been a game changer because there is no barrier to working out – it’s just there, conveniently in your home.

– Chloe Hubbard, executive editor

Upper Scale fish home delivery box

Ok, a box of fish is not glamorous or sexy. Granted. But it has been my best pandemic purchase. Once I had fewer things to spend money on in lockdown – no socialising or non-essential retail – I found myself thinking that there were essential items I should be spending more money on. To support local businesses, to buy better-quality produce and maybe even to select more sustainable options. A friend recommended Upper Scale – they sell fish direct to your door and you can order until midnight for next-day delivery. Over 90 per cent of the Upper Scale fish is direct from UK ports, where its bought from fishermen, and it arrives in biodegradable and recyclable packaging. And the fish genuinely tastes better: we normally go for tuna steaks, salmon and trout fillets, and cod cheeks, line caught in the cold waters of the Shetland islands. It’s a £20 minimum spend.

– Sophie Gallagher, deputy lifestyle editor

Opti weighted hula hoop

This started off with the best intentions – I hate running when it is cold, and with the gyms closed I needed to get my dopamine fix somehow. I purchased a weighted hula hoop as a way to get fit while watching TV and partly to prove to my teenage self that I could still do it. I loved it – it was fun and nostalgic, and kept me engaged with the added plus of not having to leave my house. For long bouts of lockdown I moved back in with my parents, in a house with ample space for the hoop to spin around, but once I moved back to London, I realised my tiny flat could not accommodate my new hobby. The only way I could keep it up would be to do it outside... and I’m trying to hold onto the little dignity I have left, so that was a no go. For now, it sits in the corner gathering dust.

– Eleanor Magill, freelance

Patch Wallace monstera adansonii plant

Do you remember the plant bit of lockdown one? Back when we were making the most of our existential terror and decided the best way to build a better world from the rubble of the old one was to litter our houses with bougie palms and ferns with names we couldn’t pronounce? That’s when I got my monstera adansonii, a so-called monkey face plant that Patch markets under the name “Wallace”.

I hate Wallace. He sits on my work-from-home desk alongside my work-from-home laptop, every day reminding me of my inability to do the basic things required to make him happy. Why are his leaves brown? Or yellow? Or drooping? Or bolting? A quick google tells me he is being either underwatered or overwatered, or is too warm, or is too cold, or needs more or less humidity. The Patch website tells me he is “easy-care”. Wallace tells me I am an idiot.

That he has survived the best part of a year is frankly a surprise to both of us.

– Vincent Wood, news reporter

Milliard therapeutic reading pillow

Known as a reading pillow, backrest pillow or, more embarrassingly, a husband pillow, I bought this soft chair with arms to make binging lockdown TV from bed a little more comfortable. There are some more stylish designs out there beyond this no-frills option, but it’s affordable, comfy and gets the job done. Is it worth it? In peak pandemic telly-watching times it was just the added level of comfort I needed. Plus, my dog enjoys resting his head on the pillow arms.

– Tal Dekel Daks, IndyBest audience lead

Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride Europe board game

If you’d have told me before lockdown that I would soon become completely obsessed with a board game about trains, I would, frankly, have been insulted. But after the initial couple of months of having nowhere to go, my partner and I got very into the world of two-player board games, and this is by far our favourite. The premise is simple – connect your trains between two destinations to secure the route before the other player beats you to it – but I’ve never played anything that ignites so much joy and fury in both of us in one sitting. It’s caused our biggest arguments in more than a decade, which gives you a small idea of just how invested you become. Set aside an afternoon, and then several more after that. The only downside is that it really made us miss holidays. 

– Eleanor Jones, IndyBest executive editor

Ugg fluff yeah logo slider

Arguably the most pandemic purchase possible, my trusty slippers have been a staple in my loungewear wardrobe since the beginning. While not the most pocket-friendly pair, I’m obsessed – the cloud-like fluffiness means they’re so cosy and they continue to spark serious joy, which I think justifies the price tag. Plus, when we’re eventually allowed to go on holiday (staycation or otherwise) these will definitely be coming with me, keeping the cost per wear low.

– Eva Waite-Taylor, IndyBest writer

For the best shopping finds, follow IndyBest on Instagram

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.