Don’t count on customers returning once COVID-19 lockdown eases

Chris CurtisPolitical Research Manager
April 22, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC

Many Brits say they will feel uncomfortable going to newly reopened stores and services once the lockdown is lifted

It looks increasingly likely that COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will begin to ease in the coming weeks, allowing certain businesses to reopen. There is a hope, among business owners and Government ministers, that this will help kickstart the economy.

However, new YouGov research shows that the public still feel wary about returning to public places, even if the rules permit them to do so.

The places that are rumoured to be reopening first, such as garden centres or clothing stores, are also the places that people would feel most comfortable returning to. Although in both cases there are substantial minorities who would still feel uncomfortable.

All of the following numbers exclude people who wouldn’t visit each type of place in normal situations.

In the case of garden centres, one in four (25%) say they would feel uncomfortable, compared to 70% who would feel comfortable. For clothing stores that rises to 46% saying they would feel uncomfortable, with 48% saying comfortable.

Generally speaking, the public are more concerned about visiting places where they would likely end up in closer contact with others. For example, just 32% said they would feel comfortable going back to pubs and bars, 32% for beauty and nail salons and 30% for gyms. In each case around twice as many said they would feel uncomfortable going back (63%, 60% and 62% retrospectively).

The number saying they would feel comfortable were a bit higher for coffee shops (36%) and restaurants (37%) although a majority in both cases say they would feel uncomfortable.

The picture looks a bit more optimistic for hairdressers and barbers which, despite the close contact required, the public did feel more comfortable with. Perhaps driven by the fear of the DIY haircut, 48% said they would be comfortable going back, with 46% saying they would feel uncomfortable.

There is a noticeable gender difference across most of the areas we tested. For example, looking specifically at clothing stores, 54% of men saying they would feel comfortable going back, compared to 42% of women.

There is a similar age divide, with 64% of 18 to 24 year olds saying they would feel comfortable returning to clothing stores, compared to just 46% of those aged from 50 to 64. The numbers are even lower for those aged over 65, although most of that age group will likely still be in isolation after the lockdown has eased.

Both of these are in line with the overall coronavirus trends we have seen, with men and younger people being far less scared of the virus.

It may be that by the time each of the above does reopen, public fear will have decreased so people do feel more comfortable returning. Or it could be that pent-up demand in the economy is powerful enough to overcome concerns.  

But for some businesses, particularly those that involve closer contact, or whose clientele lean towards women or the old, simply opening the doors again may not be enough to see customers flood back.

See the full results here