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Don't Gamble with your Future

Planning, evaluating and taking advice on your post COVID evolving business and customer trends has never been more important than right now.

In a few months’ time the furlough scheme will end and we will start to see the true extent of the damage that the pandemic has had on our economy. Businesses both small and large need to be ready to stand and survive on their own “Post Furlough”. Some will, and some won’t…

In the retail, leisure and hospitality businesses that I understand, (and outside of the company’s financial position which is key), there are some key principles with which to review the current business strategy.

1. Digital – Your online presence and experience is more important than ever in making customers emotionally attached and loyal to your products and services. Instead of your web site just being a marketing tool it needs to constantly evolve to add value to your business. The traditional marketing newsletter sign-up is out of date. Virtual tours, e-payments and table bookings should now be your ‘normal’. Creating memorable community events, activities, charity activities, take out / eat out services and live social media feeds for your customers to be part of, should become a fundamental part of your business.

2. Negative Digital – Whilst enhancing technology in your business plays one of the most important roles, it can also backfire. Customers are all aware of the negative impacts that digital can have on our lives from the use of personal data, negative online comments, ‘cancel culture’ and many more. Whilst using technology to deliver elements of your product / services are important, it is worth taking a step back, looking at the fundamental offer and ensuring that it is aligned with your overall customer journey and that it adds to the customers experience. Mental health is increasingly significant in the digital age and Apple tell us every week our screen time as a gentle reminder to you to not become a slave to the machines. So, if you have brought customers in to an environmental or ethical journey as part of your role in the environment debate then this is adding to your customer’s positive mental wellbeing, rather than adding to their individual digital dilemma.

3. Sustainability – It is certainly the case that an ever-increasing population is having an impact on the climate we live in. This reality will continue to drive world politics which in turn will put pressure on businesses to be more ethical and go beyond carbon neutral. Customers are now researching for more information on the people they spend money with and are looking for companies that go beyond just cleaning up after themselves, but actually put back more than they take out. Hospitality and leisure businesses have placed more emphasis on using local produce and local suppliers and some are going as far as supporting the reforestation and green space agenda. An alignment that has a positive impact on the environment, mental health and wellbeing will help win customers and develop loyalty for the future, so if you haven’t already, think now about creating your own positive story.

4. Customer behaviours and trends – Customer’s behaviours have adjusted quickly over the last 18 months and there are certain trends that now appear to becoming normal and for which businesses must align their operations with. The modern-day consumer continues to refine the behaviours that drive their spending habits and savvy businesses have aligned their policies and reinvested in order to embrace these altered behaviours.

i. Ethical & Community Values – Customers often evaluate your business before they even visit! They make decisions to purchase based on a number of factors such as; your support of a cause which they believe in, or whether your ethical values align with theirs. Customers are keen to support causes, and the sense of community spirit for such causes has risen substantially though the pandemic. We have seen many examples where the use of technology and digital media has quickly rallied support for ethical and social change. Engaging local communities and taking advantage of the sense of togetherness that has arisen from the pandemic will definitely help maintain customer interest in and loyalty to your businesses. With the cancellation of social gatherings over the last year my local Pub continued its quiz night and then grew it via zoom calls. It now has an additional loyal following of customers who were vulnerable and isolated throughout the lockdown. The Pub has won the heart of many new local residents and since reopening is trading really well. Brexit has also created the opportunity to “Buy / Support British” We are seeing reports of a huge rise in the “staycation” currently driven by factors beyond consumers control, but if holiday experiences are good and hospitality and leisure providers enhance their experience and services then UK holiday destinations and businesses should flourish once again.

ii. Essentials – customers do not have an unlimited budget and the pandemic has helped focus customers on necessity, affordability and convenience. With cashless technology firmly in place consumers will naturally cut down on non-essentials so making your product, or service a part of their normal activity is key to repeat business. Premiumisation is also a concept that we have seen grow in recent years and UK customers are now familiar and embrace it. This has been demonstrated really successfully with fitness brands that have successfully delivered online group exercise or 1:1 PT sessions for members in their homes to maintain and keep subscription fees going throughout the lockdown. This trend will no doubt continue with a “virtual membership” for premium customers who have invested in exercise equipment at home, but need the motivation of a group class to use it.

iii. Mental Health & Wellbeing – The balance between feeling healthier with a positive mental attitude has never been more high profile than now. Many people on furlough schemes, or those who have lost income through the pandemic have experienced and, (in many cases with the use of technology), self-diagnosed a mental health disorder. Customers seem to be making more decisions based upon “escapism” rather than just eating healthy and exercising. Customers seem to treat activity or evenings out as a “rest from daily life” event. So as an operator reimagining your space with both comfort and activity in mind will help achieve what consumers are looking for. The experience you give has to be a positive one that contributes to the escape from normal life thus adding to a customer’s positive mental attitude.

Business leaders that take the time to review their early performance and realign their strategy based on their own critical analyses will be better prepared for the “POST furlough world” which I hope won’t morph into the business Pandemic…. But if it does, then possibly some of these thoughts will help you administer your own vaccine and stay healthy!

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