Coronavirus: Immediate Impact on Retail and Leisure Sector

By Jane Ainsworth on 2nd June 2020

• 11% of Brits can’t wait for life to get back to normal
• 35% to take a staycation in 2020
• 26% planning a day leisure shopping

Following the Government’s moves to ease lockdown measures in the UK, many of our clients operating in the retail, leisure, travel and casual dining space have been questioning the extent to which public confidence will affect consumer demand for their products and services.

National news has often painted a conflicting picture, with images of crowded beaches at odds with predictions of empty bars, shops and restaurants, as Britons shield themselves from the virus.

That’s why, as the Government’s plans became a little clearer, we surveyed 2,000 members of the public in partnership will OnePoll, to assess attitudes towards everything from visiting pubs, museums, theme parks and shops, to taking holidays, investing in big ticket items such as a car and even moving house.

The Results

Whilst there is undeniably concern amongst British citizens, the overall picture was one of relative positivity, with 31% of respondents agreeing that lockdown policies had been right so far, and a further 10% saying they should be relaxed even further.

47% of those quizzed agreed they would be venturing out more over the coming weeks, with a further 11% saying they couldn’t wait for their lives to get back to normal and “would be there as soon as the pubs opened their doors for the first time.”

Only 13% of respondents were very worried about their job security, and although 78% of people felt a recession was likely, 48% thought we would see a recovery within 12 months – compared to 39% who felt the recession would have longer-lasting effects.

Differences by Demographic

Throughout the survey, there was a trend of around 30% of respondents being more concerned about the future, worried about mixing in social spaces again and wishing to maintain social-distancing – but this tied in with circa 30% of respondents identifying themselves as high-risk when it came to the virus. 44% of people aged 55+ identified themselves in this category, compared to 23% of 45-54-year olds and 19% of 18-24-year olds.

The extent to which this group would have visited pubs, bars, restaurants, shops needs consideration by individual marketing teams – but, naturally, the impact on businesses reliant on the grey-pound is going to be significantly higher than those attracting a younger demographic.

Indeed, only 25% of 18-24-year olds said they remain very worried about catching the illness and will continue to remain at home as much as possible, compared to 39% of those aged 55+.

Along the same vein, 17% of 18-24 year olds say they can’t wait to get their lives back to normal, compared to just 11% of those aged 55+.

Despite the illness being shown to very rarely affect children, there was a marked dip in confidence amongst new parents with children aged 0-3, with 45% saying they would continue to stay at home, compared to a national average of 37%, but those with school-aged children mirrored national averages, suggesting restaurants and tourist attractions seeking to appeal to a family market would not be battling against undue levels of parental concern.

Interestingly, some attractions – such as theme parks – held specific appeal to parents of younger children.

These are the results by sector:

Pubs and Restaurants

When asked how likely they were to drink in a beer garden in early-July, 14% of those quizzed said they were highly likely, and 23% likely.

18% remain undecided, 12% somewhat unlikely and 16% very unlikely. 17% of respondents said they didn’t do this before lockdown anyway.

As could be expected, there was greater concern around mixing indoors, with just 10% of people saying they were likely to drink inside a pub, 14% somewhat likely and 25% very unlikely. 16% of respondents said they didn’t do this before lockdown.

Food was, however, considerably more likely to lure people inside than drink, with 14% of people saying they were very likely to eat inside a pub or restaurant and 27% somewhat likely. Just 15% were very unlikely.

There was also good news for outlets planning to operate a takeaway service. 48% of respondents were likely, or highly likely, to order a takeaway with just 9% highly unlikely. Again, 16% of respondents didn’t do this before lockdown.

Observations: When it comes to marketing / targeting, the following observations are worth bearing in mind:

  • Men are more likely to drink inside a pub (29% of males said they were very likely, or somewhat likely compared to 19% of females)
  • Women are, however, more likely to order a takeaway (52% v 44%) and to eat outside a pub or restaurant (43% v 39%)
  • The younger you aim your marketing, and therefore product / service, the better you are likely to perform as lockdown measures ease, for example:
 Choice18-2425-3435-4445-5455+
How likely are you to drink in a pub beer garden?Very likely21.56%17.01%13.71%13.61%11.58%
Somewhat likely27.06%28.15%26.79%19.71%19.08%
Neither likely nor unlikely13.3%20.23%19.0%21.11%16.58%
Somewhat unlikely12.39%9.09%12.46%11.67%12.63%
Very unlikely12.84%12.61%15.58%18.06%18.95%
N/A didn't do this before lockdown anyway12.84%12.46%12.46%16.39%21.18%
  • There are significant regional variations. London, the South East and North West have the highest numbers of people very likely to drink in a beer garden at 18.33%, 17.24% and 17.27% respectively, compared to the East Midlands (7.91%), East Anglia (11.48%) and the Scotland (11.73%)
  • Broadly, the higher the household income, the more likely people are to drink in a beer garden, eat and drink inside a pub or order a takeaway
  • Occupation might also be worth considering when targeting potential consumers – those who have gone out to work as usual throughout the crisis were more likely to visit a pub beer garden than those who have been working from home (24% v 18%)

Leisure, Travel and Tourism

In what is potentially good news for British leisure and hospitality businesses, Britons remain overwhelmingly reluctant to travel abroad this summer, even if restrictions are lifted. Just 17% claim to be very or somewhat likely to board a plane for in search of warmer weather, compared to the 35% who are very or somewhat likely to have a staycation in 2020.

Along these lines, 35% of respondents said they were very unlikely to travel abroad this summer, compared to just 16% who said they wouldn’t have a UK break.

Theme parks: Mirroring experiences across the globe, there is some nervousness around theme parks here in the UK.

Removing the respondents who didn’t go to theme parks before lockdown, 17% said they were very likely or somewhat likely to pay a visit, but there is clearly a critical role for marketing to play, with 22% still undecided and 18% only somewhat unlikely.

This suggests that educating consumers on the social distancing measures that will be implemented at such destinations will be critical over the coming weeks.

By age range, 25-34-year olds are most likely to visit a theme park, but parents are far and away the most likely group to not let coronavirus stop their summer theme park plans.

42% of parents of pre-school age children are likely, or very likely, to visit a theme park, with 19% undecided, and 25% of those with primary school age children likely, or very likely, with 24% undecided.

Visitors are most likely to come from London, the West Midlands and the North West.

Paid-for Outdoor Spaces e.g. gardens, zoos and living museums: As no doubt expected, outdoor attractions such as gardens and ‘living’ museums will be in demand as lockdown measures are eased.

  • Very likely to visit – 9%
  • Somewhat likely – 22%
  • Undecided – 23%
  • Somewhat unlikely – 13%
  • Very unlikely – 16%

There was a relatively even spread of interest across age ranges, with 25-34-year olds marginally the most likely to pay a visit (40% likely or very likely).

Paid-for Indoor Spaces e.g. museums and stately homes: Predictably, there was more nervousness around indoor tourist attractions:

  • Very likely to visit – 6%
  • Somewhat likely – 14%
  • Undecided – 23%
  • Somewhat unlikely – 17%
  • Very unlikely – 22%

Parents are far more likely to visit than non-parents, especially those of pre-school and primary school-aged children.

In fact, 48% of parents of 0-3-year olds are likely or very likely to visit such a place, as are 34% of parents of primary school-aged children, with results dropping sharply thereafter.

Campsites: Removing the respondents who didn’t camp before lockdown, 8% of respondents said they are very likely to camp this summer, 15% are somewhat likely and 24% undecided. 20% are somewhat unlikely and 33% very unlikely.

25-44-year olds are the most likely to camp, with the over 55s the most likely to now stay away, which could affect sites which appeal to caravan and motorhome owners.

As with theme parks, educating people on new health and safety measures could be key to converting the “undecideds”.

Hotels: 16% of respondents say they didn’t stay in hotels before lockdown. Of the remaining people, just 7% of respondents said they were likely to stay in a hotel this summer and 13% are somewhat likely.

Where hotels miss out, holiday home owners and campsite operators could benefit – but convincing people that accommodation and facilities will be suitably cleaned will be the key challenge.

Gyms: While 43% didn’t visit a gym before the pandemic, 6% of respondents say they are very likely to visit a gym over the summer, and 8% somewhat likely.

Gyms will benefit from marketing to the 18-24 age bracket which is the most open to going to a gym, with 14% saying they are very likely and 12% somewhat likely to go, compared to just 2% and 3% of over 55s respectively.

Sector-wide observations:

  • Improving the family offering to offset a drop in the older market could prove critical for many tourist attractions
  • Marketing teams shouldn’t be too geographically narrow with their advertising and PR efforts. When asked how far they would travel to visit an attraction or tourist destination, respondents said:
    • 0-30 mins 14%
    • 31-60 mins 27%
    • 61-90 mins 14%
    • More than 90 mins 6%
    • No limit 10%
    • Wouldn’t travel 29%
  • Telling customers how the business is protecting them against the virus will be essential, but people want the headlines, not a book
    • 42% of respondents said they wanted a bullet-point summary on the website
    • 15% a detailed downloadable guide
    • 18% a video explaining the measures
    • Only 15% wouldn’t check such information beforehand
  • Tourist and leisure businesses should brace for a dip in secondary spend. 50% of those quizzed said they were likely, or very likely, to take their own food on days out to avoid eating food handled by others.

Retail

48% of respondents expect there to be no difference to their disposable income over the coming months; 10% think they will be better off and 40% expect to be worse off.

Removing people who didn’t buy luxury items before coronavirus, 10% say they will be more likely to treat themselves to something expensive after lockdown, 46% will spend as normal and 44% will be less likely to buy themselves a gift for the foreseeable future.

Removing those who rarely bought clothes and jewellery, 14% of those quizzed said they will be more likely to buy themselves new items for their wardrobe after lockdown, 52% said their fashion spending habits will remain unaltered, and 34% will need to cut back on spend.

Online will remain critical for retailers, with 26% of respondents saying they are likely to enjoy a day leisure shopping, compared to 38% who are unlikely to do so (14% didn’t do this before the pandemic).

House Buying

The pandemic has had a surprisingly limited effect on the plans of British home movers. Removing those who didn’t intend to move house in the coming year, 16% say they are now more likely to move home and 48% say their intentions remain the same, with 36% more nervous.

There is relatively little difference in attitudes towards house hunting between the core age groups, but there are regional variations. Confidence in the housing market is, unsurprisingly, highest in London and lowest in the Wales and Northern Ireland. Other regions across the country generated similar levels of interest.

Higher earners are more likely to consider moving house after the pandemic, in a finding which could please developers at the more premium end of the market.

Automotive

Removing people who had no plans to buy a car over the coming months, 11% of respondents said they were now more likely to invest in a new set of wheels. 49% said the pandemic had made no difference to their purchasing decisions.

Confidence is highest (in order) in Wales, London, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East – and lowest in the South West, Northern Ireland and West Midlands.

People earning between £50,000 and £70,000 per annum were significantly more likely to buy a car in the coming months than those in lower brackets, which could be good news for manufacturers of higher-end models.

Summary

There can be no doubt that the findings reinforce the need for operational changes as we adjust to the new norm, but the large number of “undecided” respondents highlights the critical role marketing will play in communicating new health and safety measures to potential customers and visitors. People are nervous, but not terrified, and the businesses that do the most to reassure their customers will doubtless be the ones that recover quickest.

In a further nod to the importance of marketing as we prepare for life post-lockdown, 9% of respondents told us they will be more likely to buy from brands that have continued to advertise to them, and 11% from brands that have helped to entertain them on social media over recent months.

A staggering 30% of respondents will deliberately seek out brands that have played their part in supporting the NHS and other charities, and a huge 41% of those quizzed will be more likely to buy British over the coming months. If your brand has British heritage, now is the time to be shouting about it.

Crucially, 33% of respondents will actively avoid brands that have had negative publicity around coronavirus (for the way they have treated staff or customers, for example).

Price will become key as people brace for a dip in household income, with 36% of those quizzed saying they will seek out brands that are discounting their prices – but that alone won’t be enough, and no business wants to be in a race to the bottom either.

The public is telling us that they need reassurances that we will protect them, that they will be more discerning about where they spend their money – and the brands that do good in the world will be the ones they favour.

As Henry Ford once said, “stopping advertising to save money, is like stopping your watch to save time”. As brands battle for their share of a reduced customer base, marketing will be key to their very survival.

 

The author: Jane Ainsworth is managing director of WPR. She has over 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering communications strategies for consumer brands including Dunelm, Tesco, Mothercare, Greene King, John Lewis, Bullring, Beaverbrooks and Westfield.