Back to Blog

The times they are a changin'

Published under Covi19 , Fieldwork , Face-to-face , consumer trends
Written by Jon Ham

Easter is usually the time of year where the fieldwork side of our agency sees an explosion in demand for conducting face to face surveys at shopping centres, retail parks, high streets etc. around the country.  We are usually then busy talking to people throughout the summer and into the autumn, with survey numbers peaking just before Christmas.

This year, however, is obviously very different to any other I can remember in my lifetime. The Covid-19 crisis has affected our business like so many other businesses around the world. All of our face to face fieldwork was immediately halted as lockdown approached, and a return to ‘normality’ remains unknown.

But when this is over, what do we think the impact will be on face-to-face fieldwork? There’s a myriad of ways of speaking to people and the recent lockdown has been a testament to that, but our view is that F2F is, and always will be, a hugely valuable resource for gathering ‘in the moment’ feedback.  Our hope is that landowners will be keen to commission surveys to quickly assess how the crisis has affected their shopping centres so they can project how they’re going to move forward.

Rather than looking at purely functional ratings of centres we also need to find out about visitors’ emotional ties to locations blending System 1 with System 2 feedback.   A whole host of questions and hypotheses exist that need to be understood...

  • Has the enforced break made people realise how much they appreciate their local shops and being able to spend time browsing/purchasing, or has it made them realise that they would rather be spending time doing something other than shopping? Or indeed, that they simply don’t need or want as many belongings in the first place? 
  • Our Covid-19 tracker (email for info: [email protected]) has revealed that half of UK households have experienced a drop in income as a direct result of the virus. So, when the shops do re-open, will there really be a mad rush after being cooped up for months, or a more cautious approach?  And might the current social distancing measures we’ve been adhering to have an impact on shopping centre footfall in the longer term, with people choosing to avoid anywhere where crowds might be likely to gather? 
  • Having being deprived of the normal levels of human/social interaction, do our shopping centres need to adapt to a deliver a different offer e.g. more local, community or experiential - to tap into this basic human need?

So, there are plenty of questions we’re going to need to ask shoppers, visitors and customers but will the enforced break have made respondents more willing to give up their time to talk to strangers or will there be a suspicion about being careful who people talk to/get close to?

Looking at it through another lens, we may see the workforce has changed during this time with interviewer numbers having dwindled as they sought alternative employment during the crisis and have decided not to return to Market Research. More positively we may find that the crisis sees an influx of new interviewers as people reassess their lives and are looking for more flexible jobs where they can work around the needs of their family.

With so many uncertainties, any agency supplying face-to-face fieldwork has plenty to think about. What is certain however, is that once life returns to ‘normal’ at Market Measures, we will be more than ready to take up our tools again, and continue to provide the deep understanding and rich insight our clients both need and expect from talking to people face-to-face once more.