Pub customers are empathetic but they’re not stupid

Blake Gladman, Research & Strategy Director at KAM give his opinion of the recent focus on the rising price of a pint in pubs.

You may have seen a recent article from The Daily Mail, published 21st April 2020, that claims breweries are telling struggling pubs to ‘sneak prices up by 40P-A-PINT’ in pubs to claw back losses after lockdown ‘because people who pay by cards won’t notice the price hike’. In this article, they reference a stat by KAM Media that ‘almost two-thirds of pub-goers expect price increases in pubs when they return’.

We feel it’s only right for us to share the data in full and to offer our own interpretation of the research, after all, we’re not journalists, so we’re happy to leave the sensationalism at the door.

The stat in question is taken from a report published by KAM Media, in association with The BII, in April 2020, titled ‘Return of the Pub. The report was designed to understand the future behaviours and attitudes of pub customers when the first lockdown measures began to ease, in a bid to define what would have then been the ‘new normal’ for pub experiences in the UK. The research was based upon 1,113 interviews with UK adults (+18) who visited pubs at least once every 6 weeks, prior to lockdown (we refer to these as ‘pub-goers’.) It was nationally representative of the UK and was conducted in May 2020. Although this research was specifically in relation to pubs re-opening after the first lockdown, it would be fair to say that the research can still be classed as relevant to the situation we currently find ourselves in, almost one year on.

Within this research, as cited in the article, 63% of UK pub-goers said they expected pub prices to increase once pubs re-open. Our own interpretation of these results at the time was that pub-goers are aware of the challenges that pubs have been through and will have their own financial issues too, so many will be empathetic towards price increases that may be inevitable due to the situation and the additional costs that operators will face in order to keep people safe (additional staff, PPE, new tech, improved outside seating, heating, etc.). Furthermore, simply by choosing to visit a pub, rather than stay at home or buying some drinks to take to the local park, these customers have already shown a willingness to support their local establishments and therefore there is already a desire to ensure that these pubs and bars can survive and flourish in the future.

63% of UK pub-goers who ‘expect’ pub prices to increase. That’s not to say that they are actually happy to ‘accept’ it.

The key point here, however, is that it’s 63% of UK pub-goers who ‘expect’ pub prices to increase. That’s not to say that they are actually happy to ‘accept’ it. Luckily, we asked them that too! Within this same study, 50% of UK pub customers said that it was ‘acceptable’ for pubs to increase their prices for the 1st month after they re-open from lockdown. With 1-in-4 saying they were happy to accept the price increase indefinitely.

Whilst we can agree that there is certainly a level of encouragement for publicans to see that a large proportion of pub customers are understanding and empathetic of any potential immediate price increases, it also won’t be long until the period of grace from customers will slowly fade. Pubs need to double down on their customer service, atmosphere, experience, quality of food, quality of service, etc., in order to counterbalance any price increases and continue to offer the level of ‘value-add’ that will get people out of their homes and into the pubs.

Otherwise, the only ‘hike’ that customers will accept, will be the one to their local supermarket for a beer run.

There doesn’t need to be anything ‘sneaky’ about price increases, it is happening across so many retail environments at the moment for a variety of reasons (hello Brexit!) The beauty of British pubs is that most have a strong and honest relationship with their customers. The research suggests that a fair price increase is likely to be accepted by many, at least in the short term. If questioned, pubs need to be ready to have a clear and honest reason why. 

Pub customers aren’t stupid, they will, and have, noticed price increases. The key here is that, in the short term, most are aware and understanding of the reasons and are happy to support pubs as they find their feet. However, in the long term, if pubs are keen to retain the increase, they need to ensure that their ‘value-add’ rises too. Customer empathy isn’t infinite.

For more information on the “Return of the Pub’ insight report, in association with The BII, please visit our website.

Blake Gladman Strategy & Insight Director, KAM Media

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