The resurgence of COVID-19 due to the delta variant has taken some of the wind out of the sails of consumers in the last half of 2021. In August, customer sentiment dropped to its lowest level in a decade. The silver lining is customer traffic making a huge return—in many industries finally meeting or exceeding levels last seen in January 2020—as vaccines have become available and people have grown accustomed to masking.
But meeting customer expectations for health + safety precautions will be an important hurdle for brands to clear if they want to capitalize on this renewed market activity.
We recently surveyed 13,000 consumers to understand how expectations have evolved this year. Here are 3 takeaways to help inform what brands can do to meet changing consumer expectations:
Safety sentiment hasn’t changed much from last year—just about 1 in 4 panelists indicated feeling “more safe” in public now than the same time last year.
But, regardless of sentiment, traffic since January 2020 is up 15–62% across nearly all segments.
Consumers are returning to engaging in economic activity in a big way, but brands will need to raise awareness about health + safety measures to keep guests feeling comfortable and coming back.
Traffic has increased, but customers are less satisfied with steps being taken to protect their health and safety. Across retail segments, only 46% of respondents—at most—indicated they were “highly satisfied” with measures brands are taking.
All respondents expect brands to have some level of enhanced health + safety protocols in place, and at least 47% expect additional sanitation measures, contactless options, social distancing, and required customer masking. This also represents an almost across-the-board increase in the number of consumers expecting these measures compared to last February.
All this means consumers have an expectation of at least a similar level of health + safety measures compared to what was in place last year—an expectation that is being met with reduced satisfaction. While a reduced focus on health + safety measures certainly isn’t impacting traffic at the macro level, we know consumers won’t shop where they’re not comfortable. Brands should renew efforts to meet these consumer expectations wherever possible to help promote traffic and overall satisfaction.
Masking still receives a positive or at least impartial response from most respondents. 50% of panelists indicate they choose to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors when it’s not required, and only 10% indicated they avoid places that require masks. When it comes specifically to mask requirements set by businesses, most respondents indicate support or impartiality, with only 25% indicating they’d be less likely to visit a location with a customer mask requirement.
Sentiment data seems to indicate a greater benefit in the total likelihood to visit with required masking over not doing so. Opinions and perceptions of health + safety vary by consumer, but throughout the pandemic, consumers have remained loyal to brands that demonstrate a commitment to safety and cleanliness.
Traffic is returning, but many safety expectations are not being met
The COVID-19 delta resurgence means the pandemic isn’t over yet, but traffic has largely increased to above pre-pandemic levels despite no year-over-year change in consumers’ overall feeling of safety. People are still skittish about safety, and satisfaction is flagging on execution of health + safety measures, so brands need to stay diligent on these. Though there are varying opinions on required masking, data and historical trends in consumer sentiment for health measures support continuing at least partial mask requirements. It should be noted that the CDC currently suggests masking for all public indoor activities, particularly in areas of substantial or high transmission, to maximize protection from the delta variant—even among the fully vaccinated.
For actionable ways to deliver safe experiences that meet customer and employee expectations, check out our industry playbooks.
Kalli Hannam | Director, Research