The Pub’s Open, Now What? A Look into Digital Experiences in 2021

At one point it seemed like I’d never say that phrase again, and as the world still battles with Covid-19 and its mutations, it still feels a little early to celebrate a return to the pub. But I think it’s important that we keep looking forward wherever we can.

A lot has changed since we first saw Covid-19 in the news, for better and for worse. Many of us thought we’d be working from home for two weeks… at most. Over a year later, in the UK and many offices still stand empty or they’re only just seeing staff start to return one or two days a week. Distributed and flexible working has become far more widely accepted and this has opened up the working world to far more parents (frequently mothers) who need flexibility to be able to raise their children and hold down a job. It of course hasn’t all been roses, with furlough and unemployment levels skyrocketing as our modern world plunged into lockdown… repeatedly. The NHS and its staff have moved mountains for the sake of the public and we owe them a bigger debt of thanks than just clapping. There has been uncertainty, and mental health crises and so much loss, but we’re still here and that’s a beautiful thing to remember. In fact, I’ve just realised that it’s been exactly 13 months since I was furloughed and later made redundant (don’t worry, my story has a happy ending of being hired at one of Yorkshire’s Tech 50 companies).

Looking back some things still seem very strange. Apocalyptic toilet paper hoarding, Tiger King, the national banana bread obsession and flour shortages… and whatever happened to the murder hornets that were in the US? Probably best not to dwell on that one. There were of course stores that did well in the pandemic, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride for them either. Supermarket chains faced their own challenges as the demand for home delivery for those shielding or isolating vastly outstripped their supply of delivery slots and vans as well as overwhelmed their apps and websites. Head Office teams that were only previously allowed to work from the office were thrown into turmoil when the stay-at-home order came into effect. Of the big four, Tesco was noted as the most resilient to this change and this has been attributed to its Doomsday preparations run almost 4 years ago! In financial terms, for high volume sites such as these, even an hour of a broken basket process can mean hundreds of potential customers lost to competitors and thousands of pounds lost. Worse, if the baskets are compromised and card skimming code added to the checkout process then customers’ card details can be stolen and leading to millions of pounds in fines for the retailers.

Looking forward, I think there are things that we’ll never fully go back to. With clothing shops changing rooms still closed, the last advantages of highstreet shopping are falling away. It’s just as easy to get a range of sizes from their website and return the ones that don’t fit in person or by post. The lockdowns have accelerated the death of the high street, with Debenhams and Topshop shutting up their physical stores and the brands bought out so that they might continue online. Other monoliths such as John Lewis have also been hit, and they announced that not all of their stores would be reopening once we emerged from January’s lockdown, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Before lockdown Nasdaq estimated that 95% of retail purchases would be made online by 2040, Covid-19 can only have bumped up that timeline, and because of this website experiences are more important than ever.

Did you know that 88% of consumers leave sites after bad website experiences? That number shocked me when I first read it, but when I considered my own shopping habits, I realised that it’s probably right! My Asos addiction is in large part due to how seamless their app and website experiences are. This also explains why I haven’t shopped at Zara or TK Maxx in the last 12 months — they’re harder to use and like a lot of consumers, I’m lazy. If my online basket crashes, most of the time I can’t be bothered to reload it. My bank balance loves this, but my favourite brands probably don’t.

If the high street retail world is on the decline, are hospitality and the beauty industry safe from the threats of bad website experiences? The short answer is no. With restrictions on gatherings and distancing to think of pubs, bars and restaurants are now inundated with online booking attempts. One of our favourite bars near our Leeds office was swamped with over 700 bookings when the government announced the easing of restrictions, just for a day their website went down and the frustration was palpable. This doesn’t show any signs of letting up as we flock to the world we’d lost. If you’ve ever wondered why the roaring twenties happened, look up the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and suddenly it makes a lot of sense. Right now I have pending booking requests for the end of May that I’m not sure will be approved and this has its own challenges. Now, rather than booking 1 table for a night out, I book 3 and hope at least 1 will come back with an available time, if 2 come back I’ll cancel 1 and so on. The easier the online booking experience, the more likely I am to return. I’m still waiting to hear back from my hairdresser, and the longer the wait for a response goes on the more likely I am to go somewhere else, which is a sad realisation when I remember I’ve been going there for over 4 years now.

Of course, certain brands and restaurants will have my loyalty and get my money no matter how bad their online experience is, but I can count those places on one hand. The rest is in the air. The winners and losers are dictated by the quality of their website experience or how easy it is to find them on Google.

All of this is why I’m glad to have joined a company that helps businesses of all sizes with digital experiences, protecting online baskets and notifying tech teams whenever they have performance, uptime or user journey issues. We also help defend against web skimming and magecart attacks. For now, I’m forward again and loving that our teams are busy developing new features and upgrades to our next generation customer-focused website monitoring and marvelling that despite all odds we’ve made it through (hopefully) the worst of things. I’m also counting down the days until I can book a table for lunch that’s large enough to fit us at.