What the UK Pingdemic Means for Retail and the British Economy, Plus 3 Tips to Pull Through

Have you heard about the UK’s “pingdemic”? Earlier this month, it reached a new peak—and businesses have felt the pain. 

Here’s what’s happening: The National Health Service (NHS) app alerts, or pings, people to tell them they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and must isolate for up to 10 days. As the number of cases—and pings—has risen, UK residents and businesses have had to adapt.

Even as the UK reopens, the need to quickly solve unexpected COVID-related obstacles isn’t going away. If you have a UK-based business or customers in the UK, read on to understand how the pingdemic is affecting the retail industry at large, plus tips to pull through.

How is the pingdemic affecting businesses in the UK?

TL;DR: The pingdemic’s delaying the true reopening that people expected after “Freedom Day,” plus the bounce back of the British economy at large. 

There are a few contributing factors to this false start.

Rising COVID cases: Freedom Day (July 19th) marked the planned end of COVID-19-related restrictions, but the Delta variant and rising cases prevented a true end to them.

Self-isolating led to staff shortages: As cases continued to rise, so did the number of people who got a ping from the NHS app. On July 20th, nearly 2M people in the UK were self-isolating.

Because of pings, workers in all industries, but particularly food and logistics, have had to cancel shifts with little or no notice. Combined with the exodus of overseas retail workers in the UK due to Brexit and COVID-19, many retailers are short-staffed.

Unfortunately, it’s not just staff shortages businesses have to worry about right now, either. 

Supply chain issues: With the recent lorry drivers and fuel shortages, UK businesses have experienced supply chain issues that led them to make statements asking customers to not panic purchase food and other goods.

These supply chain shortages beg the question of what businesses can expect in the coming months, and whether there might be further shortages leading into the holidays.

What you can expect in coming months

Ready for some happier news? The future of the pingdemic looks less grim than previous weeks.

As of August 16th, double vaccinated individuals no longer need to self-isolate following COVID-19 exposure. Since over three-quarters of adults in the UK are fully vaccinated, it’s likely we’ll see a decline in the effect of the pingdemic in the coming weeks.

But even with this change, business as usual isn’t necessarily on the immediate horizon.

With cases still on the rise and a portion of the population who will need to isolate following COVID exposure, the pingdemic’s likely to be part of life in the UK in the future—though in an increasingly limited capacity if all goes well.

Hoping for the best while preparing your business for the worst is the best course of action you can take given the current uncertainty.

Especially because UK vaccination rates for younger generations are lower than for older generations, if much of your workforce is young, it’ll be especially important to have a pingdemic plan.

So, what can you do?

These days, no one’s a stranger to how quickly unexpected challenges can arise. Fortunately, you’re not alone.

Here are three tips to help you serve your customers as best as possible during the pingdemic, plus what you can learn from another UK brand’s approach to unpredictable times.

1. Keep your customers updated during any supply chain shortages or retail closures

If you experience any staff or supply chain shortages or store closures, the most important thing to do is to be up front with your customers to keep them happy.

Last year, UK-based pizza oven business Ooni encountered supply chain shortages. It was an obstacle that brands across the world faced, but how Ooni managed the problem set them apart.

Greg Muir, the brand’s chief operating officer, explained that upfront and honest customer communication was crucial to keep people happy—even during shipping delays.

This played out even before Ooni’s customers made a purchase. At checkout, they told customers about shipping delays and gave estimated delivery dates so customers could decide for themselves whether they’d be willing to wait this extra time or not.

“As long as customers know they’re making that choice, they’re generally very understanding,” Greg shared.

Ooni also took an omnichannel approach and shared the note on their organic social channels:

Ooni Apology Facebook Video

If you experience supply chain shortages or retail closures because of the pingdemic, explain your situation to your customers and show them you care about them. 

Even if you can’t give shipping delay estimates before someone makes a purchase like Ooni did, you can actively communicate with your customers. This can be as simple as sending a message to give them a heads up on what to expect in the next hour, day, or week.

Say you need to shorten your hours or even close a storefront for a limited time, for example. Send your customers an email or a text—and don’t forget a call-to-action (CTA) to drive foot traffic into online traffic.

2. Get ahead of key shopping holidays

If the pingdemic or supply chain shortages last into the holiday season, it will be crucial to plan ahead so you can fulfill orders in time for Christmas and other key shopping days.

So how can you prepare for the upcoming busy shopping season?

  • Diversify your supply chain. Use a distributed network of fulfillment centers to lower the consequence of any single facility shutting down. This might even help your customers get their orders earlier, depending on how close they live to a center.
  • Know—and adjust, if needed—your shipping options. Before you launch your holiday promotions, ensure your shipping options, rates, and terms are in place. Having options and flexibility will help if you need to make quick decisions.

3. Be sensitive with your marketing messages

Finally, as you navigate your business through whatever the coming months bring, always take your customer’s feelings into account. The pandemic may be part of life, but it doesn’t have to be part of your marketing messages.

A well-meaning tagline about getting back to normal life might sound encouraging, but it could offend someone who feels life is still far from normal.

When in doubt, take the cues from your customers by talking to them and observing them on other channels, like social media. If they seem overwhelmed by any mention of COVID, consider keeping it out of your messaging altogether.

A hopeful future starts with better customer relationships

While things overall are looking up in the UK, businesses are feeling the effects of the pingdemic. And though there’s still uncertainty, you can still show your customers the purpose and the people behind your brand and create meaningful connections with them.

Creating a human connection, rather than just a transactional one, will help you better handle storms that come your way, like supply chain or staff shortages, and more.

And providing them with valuable products, services, and information, will increase the likelihood that they’ll stick with you through tough times.

Learn how Ooni managed supply chain issues, plus how they turned something as scary as grocery shortages into a positive brand experience.

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