Covid Customer Psychology - profiting from the gap between opinion and action

If you’re the owner of a business in the hospitality sector then you’re already an expert in customer psychology – even if you didn’t realise it. 


Covid Customer Psychology

covid shopper

You’ll know when the best time to push your two for one special offers are; what drinks go best in happy hour and what combination of flavours work best to complement each other at any given food service. 

 

You’re adept at influencing and positively manipulating your customers wants and needs before they realise they are displaying them so you understand just how important customer behaviour is in influencing and driving their decisions. 

 

Some of the most fascinating and profitable insights can be gained in the space between what customers say they want and what they actually purchase. 

 

Understanding this small but significant space can help us make sense of some seemingly contradictory evidence based on customers’ attitudes to the Covid-19 lockdowns currently in place. 

 

Opinion polls found that over 70% of respondents agreed with the latest national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on Halloween. 

 

What happened next is where the deficit between the opinions and actions meant that restaurant and bar owners who fundamentally understood their customers could take advantage of their desires. 

 

When it was announced that the lockdown was due to be implemented, it gave customers a four-day window to react in advance of the lockdown. As an overwhelming majority favoured the lockdown, you might think that they would take the extra time to prepare for an extended period at home and maybe get some extra supplies and luxuries to pass the time more agreeably. 

 

What actually happened, as any good pub philosopher would have told you, was that hundreds of thousands of people went out to enjoy themselves. 

 

OpenTable, the site that tracks online restaurant reservations, reported that bookings rose by 11% the day after the announcement compared to the previous year and on the day before the lockdown was imposed, they rose by 70% annually. 

 

Data for foot traffic at retail parks showed that they also spiked in the three days before the lockdown – being greater than their 2019 levels for the first time since the Covid-19 safety measures were introduced in March. 

 

Another piece of the puzzle landed last week following the news that a largely successful Covid-19 vaccine had been developed – online searches for holidays in 2021 leapt by 48%.

 

At first glance it appears counterintuitive. People are in favour of lockdowns and tighter restrictions yet in case after case, it appears that actions speak louder than words. 

 

35 million people took advantage of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme in August even though Coronavirus infections remained stable.  Once the scheme ended, restaurant custom plummeted. When restaurants were told that they would be closing, they were packed in the three days leading up to the final bell.  

 

Similarly, NHS Track and Tracers are reporting increased difficulties in reaching potentially infected individuals by mobile. 

 

One explanation is the increasing reluctance to answer calls from unknown numbers but equally the suspicion remains that there could be financial repercussions from being ordered to self isolate so it would be beneficial to practice feigned ignorance to avoid it.  

 

Weighing the evidence then, what is the most likely result for hospitality businesses when they are finally allowed to reopen, for argument’s sake, without restriction on December 2nd? 

 

Full houses as families and individuals take the chance to enjoy a meal and drink out with friends and family they haven’t been able to meet up with in weeks and months. 

 

The cloud on the horizon is that all expert analysis, evidence and experience points to the immediate return of the tiered local system of restrictions being resurrected and ominously, according to the Bank of England, staying in place until at least the end of Q1 2021 – that’s March. 

 

This is when the extended Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) furlough is due to expire although some expert predict that this would invite a similar surge in cases so the only adequate response would be more lockdowns – either locally or nationally – in the New Year. 

 

The answer lies in finding the sweet spot between the competing demands of public health, normal economic activity and individual freedom. There is some recognition of this among policy makers as the second lockdown period is already shorter and less restrictive than the first as they recognised that despite what people were telling opinion polls, more would be willing to break rules to socialise and shop.

 

If you’re relatively successful at reading and understanding customer behaviour in your restaurant, cafe or bar then you could try to apply the same judgement criteria to what the official response will be. 

 

Weighing up the competing motivating factors – will the lockdown be in place for Christmas?  Will they waive the rules for a week but look to impose a stronger, longer lockdown afterwards to make up for it?  Will more people welcome stronger restrictions in the traditionally darker and quieter months of January and February? When will the first virus trials and inoculation programs be likely to be implemented? Will this affect your customer base? – it might if it’s disproportionately made up of senior customers. 

 

Everybody has opinions about how to best combat and beat the virus but if you run a hospitality business then it might be viable for you to apply your innate knowledge of what people eat, drink and do rather than what they say they do to build a reopening plan based on this evidence. 

 

Combined with your existing customer data, you can produce a draft roadmap that could help you with your stock, supply and staffing requirements in advance of the busiest season of the year. 

 

You’ll have to make contingencies and be agile – what services could you offer under various types of local lockdown for example – but there’s no reason you can’t start laying the foundations of your winter recovery right now. 

 

Another easy step you could take would be to get in touch with us to arrange your free initial consultation. 

 

Like you, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we do understand our industry and we know how creditors, HMRC and other businesses dealing with administration and insolvency think and act. 

 

You can use what’s left of the enforced downtime to shore up your company’s financial defences so that if there’s another unexpected and unwanted closure, you’ll be in better shape to see it through.

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