Our chart today looks like a rollercoaster and that’s what it must feel like for high street retailers negotiating government advice and public opinion.
After initial confusion as to which businesses were “essential” following Boris Johnson’s initial COVID-19 lockdown announcement, Government clarified that hardware stores could remain open. But B&Q reacted to criticism from employees and customers about its plans to keep doors open by shutting all stores on March 25th.
YouGov data shows that the public supported that decision, despite Government advice to the contrary. The public impression of B&Q increased from a dip of +42.1 at the end of March to +51.2 four days later.
In the second week of April B&Q re-opened its website and offered a click-and-collect service, but the system was immediately overwhelmed by demand and customers faced waits of two to three weeks. Consequently Buzz scores dropped by 7.8 points (a net measure of whether consumers have heard anything positive or negative about the brand in the last fortnight).
B&Q began opening some stores as usual during the fifth week of lockdown, and enjoyed a large 13.0 point increase in Buzz scores and an 8.9 point increase in Reputation scores (whether someone is proud or embarrassed to work for a brand).
As the lockdown continues to keep Britons indoors, many have turned to home improvements to fill their free time. As a result of this increased demand, B&Q saw significant year-on-year improvements in positive Buzz with scores 12.9 points higher for the week commencing April 27th in 2020 than in 2019.
Consideration for B&Q has been steadily increasing since the start of lockdown from +49.4 to +56.2 (April 30th). This growing appetite for home and DIY products, likely brought on by the improving weather, led to long queues on the first weekend of May as hundreds tried to stock up on homeware goods. Buzz scores swiftly dropped 6.1 points and Reputation scores plummeted 10.2 points.
B&Q has since asked customers to limit shopping groups to two people and not to bring under 16-year-olds in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. A snap YouGov poll last week showed over two fifths of Britons believe this strategy will be effective (43%) while three in ten thought it wouldn’t be (30%).
B&Q’s experience during these difficult times goes to show that easing out of lockdown will not be simple for any retailer. The government’s response has changed often over the past 7 weeks and all brands would be wise to monitor public opinion while facilitating their own COVID-response.