People are getting anxious to leave their homes as shelter-in-place orders continue into May. Not only are people missing those they hold dear, they’re also yearning for the consumer rituals of normal life. More than two-thirds (68%) of Americans report that they long for their old routines, in a fresh Ipsos poll on the commercial impact of COVID-19. This lockdown fatigue adds a layer of frustration on top of the fear, uncertainty and sadness people are already feeling. Until businesses can fully re-open, brands are finding creative ways to simulate the joys people are missing to help them endure this disruption.
What activities are people missing most? Going to bars and restaurants, shopping, entertainment venues and church top the list. People miss dining and drinking out nearly twice as much as they miss other activities. Even for a country that has become obsessed with ride sharing, 15% of people say they miss driving their own car.
This sense of loss is a common psychological phenomenon, according to Jesse Itzkowitz, a senior vice president in Ipsos’ U.S. Behavioral Science Center, which has been tracking behavioral changes in regard to COVID-19. “We have so many things built into our habitual behaviors and those rituals have meaning,” he says. “So when that part of our life is missing and when we’ve attached meaning to it, there is less positivity in our day-to-day life.”
People are also weighing the risks of restarting their normal activities. Outside of going to grocery stores and driving their cars, for most activities a plurality of Americans plan to wait until they’re sure it’s safe. That includes going to restaurants and bars (42%) shopping malls (42%) and entertainment centers (40%).
Brands can simulate what’s missing for consumers
Until then, restaurants can build on the way customers are already coping. Southeastern U.S. barbecue chain Sonny’s BBQ did this by posting Zoom backgrounds of its dining rooms online. It also shared links for its Spotify playlist and printouts of kids’ games. One Armenian restaurant interrupts people’s takeout meals with a pre-arranged video chat to say, “Hi – is it going good?” while pouring more wine into a glass to simulate service. It’s a cheeky idea that reinforces the real restaurant experience.
Meanwhile, Drift and Casino Beach Bar in Pensacola, Fla., are hosting the World’s Largest Virtual Happy Hour via Zoom on Apr. 17 at 5 p.m. The only rules are to mix a cocktail and wear your best hat. Restaurants and bars can take these ideas to another level with virtual dining and drinking menus and coupons for couples or groups packaged with delivery or pickup.
One idea that retailers are trying: virtual shopping nights. Appleton Downtown, the economic development organization for the city of Appleton, Wis., hosted its first such event on Apr. 16. More than a dozen stores merchandised their wares on live videos from the stores with one-night only specials and giveaways.
“Just as people sought little luxuries during the recession, people today are seeking refuge from lockdowns and isolation,” says Brad Shaw, an Ipsos senior vice president and consumer business expert. “Brands are masters at crafting customer experiences and they should use these skills to help people find those familiar moments of respite.”
Engage consumers to come back after lockdown
They also need to keep people interested in coming back when lockdowns are lifted. Shaw says that brands can offer coupons and promotions to build a sense of anticipatory excitement to replace the feeling of longing when they re-open their doors. No matter the approach, brands still need to keep safety for the customers and employees as the top priority.
“When the time is right, every restaurant, bar and retail outlet should look at their re-entry as an opportunity to drive trial all over again,” says Shaw. “Maybe they could run special preview grand openings for loyalty customers and offer big discounts. Then they could tie the discounts to the brick and mortar location to draw consumers back from e-commerce.” Then we can all go back to our garden-variety Fear Of Missing Out.