You don’t need to be a marketeer to understand the impact Covid-19 has had on consumer behaviour. As the effect of Covid-19 unfolded, our initial role was to understand what the specific drivers of these changing consumer behaviours were, and to provide a solution that would negate any concerns to restore consumer confidence With lockdown restrictions effecting operating procedures, the solution also had to work to a tight labour structure that adhered to social distancing guidelines, all the while flexing to an unpredictable footfall pattern in our client accounts.
There certainly wasn’t an off the shelf solution to hand for this scenario, but from here we could be clear on the business challenges we had to solve and the new consumer we were faced with.
Leveraging insight from our global colleagues was critical in those early days. By understanding the early consumer behaviour trends emerging from China, South Korea, then moving west to Germany and Spain, combined with the extensive research carried out by our Global Insights hub in the U.S, we were confident that our regional strategy would be successful, drawing from tried and tested initiatives from our Aramark Global Footprint.
At the heart of our response was a solution tailored for the needs and demands of each client that focuses on 4 core principles:
1. Customer confidence
2. Limiting touchpoints
3. Providing Value
4. Speedy service
Strategy, like most things, is great on paper – but we quickly had to understand how this renewed focus on safety, familiarity, value and confidence played with our clients and consumers. By paying attention to till sales, footfall patterns and key motivators we understood in greater detail what the reality of the changing consumer looked like. Initial findings proved positive and our consumers were fast adopters of this altered style of service.
Now the sales and marketing department need to ascertain whether the ‘old’ consumer will return in weeks or even months or is this ‘new’ consumer here to stay. We again looked at our findings to understand the future viability of the new consumer offer.
The future consumer taking shape
The consumer of today and the ‘near-future’ is undoubtedly one that needs reassurance and comfort – physically, emotionally and financially – rather than being challenged by marketing and brand campaigns. It’s been a long time since ‘familiarity’ was to the fore of innovation, but COVID-19 has challenged this concept in a new and interesting way.
From the Aramark perspective, the cornerstone of all this confidence-building work is EverSafe, a multi-dimensional operational safety platform which supports the safe reopening and sustainable management of our client locations around the world. It incorporates practices, procedures, and protocols in accordance with Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and is supported by our US-partners in Jefferson Health.
With the solid foundation of Eversafe we now need to look forward and build marketing strategies for 2021 First we have to reflect on the factors that motivated consumer spend before and during COVID-19. Looking at the analytics from our business units that were unscathed by Covid-19, such as pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and manufacturing, and by observing customer spend in decreased footfall locations including Business and Industry, we can build our strategies with the mindset that these trends, may be here to stay. We believe three themes will frame the consumer landscape in the months ahead.
Taking early adopters of office return as one important indicator of confidence in ‘new normal’, key behavioural trends began to emerge quite quickly. When lockdown restrictions eased for the first time, the return to office pattern was slow with 10%-15% of workforces returning within the financial sector. Interestingly, however, engagement of this consumer group was greater than pre -lockdown, with an average of 16% increase in spend per head. There was an unwillingness to go out for lunch and eating in the convenience of the office even seemed a novelty.
Looking forward, we anticipate a changed pattern of workplace footfall. We need to ascertain what this drip feed will look like; will it go back to a 5 day working week or will an unpredictable footfall be the new way of working? We saw the rising trend of flexible working pre Covid-19. Now we see an opportunity to position food as a workplace culture driver. Communication of our food story including health and wellness, new coffee offers and our continuous drive for sustainability will all assist in creating a workplace culture, whether you are sitting in your office desk or in your home office.
2. The role of coffee
No matter what the working pattern looks like in the year ahead, the workplace coffee shop shows no signs of abating. Based on our onsite uptake, the coffee bar can be said to have replaced the ‘water cooler’, synonymous with reconnection. While footfall patterns declined the spend per head in coffee increased – the coffee bar, became that haven of ‘normality’ that was missed by the working from home employee. A friendly greeting from a barista, the familiar large Americano and a knowing socially distanced nod to a colleague was all the welcome back one needed. As HR departments everywhere make their necessary plans to restore a workplace culture, we would humbly propose to not underestimate the importance of a coffee culture and the intangible benefits the coffee shop can bring. We envisage the coffee bar becoming a big growth area for the year ahead. It’s all-day part offer responds to the flexible working pattern we see emerging and its convenient, value minded food offer responds to many of the consumer needs we see forming.
Consumer purchasing habits shifted significantly during Covid-19 and we envisage this trend continuing. Online ordering and click and collect solutions contributed to sales over the last few months. With a heightened importance on speed of service and a shift to more grab & go pre-packaged items, consumers extended their online ordering from traditional upholstery and grocery means to now once off meals. The transition was seamless as the territory was so familiar. As Aramark extend their online platform solutions, we anticipate this to be a growth area in the months ahead. As workplaces reconfigure spaces we see pre-order being a strong recommendation from clients. With push notifications and creative online pushed through apps, it will be become a great communication tool to speak to both the on-site and at home employee.
The Confidence-Building Consumer
Covid-19 changed our lives overnight and with that consumer behaviour. But we must remind ourselves that consumers are always reshaping and reimagining their needs, sometimes before we even recognise it. After years of innovation, learning and progression were condensed into days and weeks, Covid-19 presented the opportunity to identify, adapt and solve the needs of a COVID sensitive consumer, and to embed these lessons into our DNA.
Safety-first, Innovation led and Future proofed for whatever lies ahead.