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As the UK’s retail sector attempts to get back on its feet following months of lockdown, nearly 80 farm shops across the country have joined in the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Just one week into the campaign, it seems that the initiative is proving to be beneficial for smaller, independent retailers, whilst overall, the scheme is providing a sense of optimism for companies trying to bounce back post-lockdown.
Participating farm shops include Farmers Fayre in Warwickshire, Old Hall Farm in Norfolk, Dorset’s Symondsbury Store and Tre, Pol & Pen in Cornwall. They’re just a handful of the 73,000 participating establishments – which includes restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, work and school canteens, and food halls. So far, the scheme, which is valid on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3rd to 31st August, seems to be driving more traffic to key retail destinations, with an uplift in figures after just one week.
New data by retail experts Springboard has shown that footfall to UK retail destinations rose by 3.8% last week (2nd-8th August) compared to the week before. It’s said that the rise is a direct result of the scheme, which offers customers a 50% discount at participating food outlets. The uplift was seen across three key destination types: high streets witnessed a 4.5% increase; shopping centres a 3% increase and retail parks a 3.3% increase.
The biggest uplift seemed to be post-6pm, and smaller towns have been benefiting more than city centres, a positive sign for independents.
Speaking about the results, Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “The jury is still out regarding the benefit of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which launched last week, although there were rises in footfall on each day between Monday and Wednesday from the week before. It is clear that it was the post-6pm period that yielded the greatest rise in footfall, and also that smaller towns benefited more than large city centres. As the scheme continues throughout August and more Brits enjoy staycations across the UK, time will tell if the government scheme provides the boost that retail destinations across the country require for business survival.”
While the figures provide optimism for retailers, the long-term impact of the campaign remains to be seen, and there are growing concerns as the scheme enters its second week.
With 73,000 dining outlets taking part, and 10.5m meals claimed in the first week alone, many are concerned about the impact the scheme will have on health and safety measures that have been implemented to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, fearing it could result in a spike in cases that would lead to a ‘second wave’.
What’s more, many consumers still remain wary of dining out, and feel they need to be confident in an outlet’s hygiene measures before they consider returning. As consumer confidence remains low overall, innovation and investment could be key for retailers and hospitality outlets moving forward, as the safety of customers, and a comfortable, convenient customer experience become priority.
Tsewang Wangkang, founder and CEO of Embargo said: “The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is great news for the hospitality sector. Yes it has its limitations, but any move to stimulate activity within the industry is very important.
“However, the scheme only lasts for one month. So, restaurants, bars and coffee shops must still ready themselves for the challenges ahead. As well as implementing new health and safety measures, they must focus on how they will attract customers and keep them coming back time and time again. As people remain within their local area more, hospitality businesses must ensure they are tapping into their loyal, nearby customers – they must be incentivised to return, and this must extend beyond the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
“The scheme is a golden opportunity to turn as many customers as possible, visiting during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, into returning customers. This is only possible if the venues prepare themselves accordingly by making sure they get to know these customers and communicate with them even after the scheme has ended. Staying in touch with and rewarding loyal customers is a ‘must-have’ for every hospitality business now.
“The pandemic has obviously dealt a huge blow to the sector, but we should not pretend the crisis has passed. It is really important that businesses take a smarter approach in the way they nurture their regulars to ensure steady revenue.”
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