The new now

[16 October] The latest raft of Coronavirus restrictions are coming into force in Northern Ireland today (16th October), effectively extending the school mid-term break into a two week event. Hospitality environments have again been asked to close, with many quickly implementing takeaway options following learnings from earlier in the year.

Once again, people have been asked to work at home where possible and close contact personal services e.g. beauty salons and hairdressers will remain closed for a four-week period. Unlike the lockdowns of early March, restrictions do not impact retailers or visitor attractions which have not been advised to close.

Many businesses in retail and hospitality rely heavily on the trade in the final quarter of the year to ensure profitability, so it’s undoubtedly a blow to many. The light in an otherwise gloomy tunnel is the hope that restrictions will only last four weeks, and in the run up to the busy Christmas shopping period, retailers will still entice people to the high streets.

Understanding the impact

We understand that there may be concerns around audience levels and wanted to do what we could to alleviate these. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve tracked mobility across a number of locations, all available on our website.

The current restrictions apply mainly to household contacts and the hospitality industry. Schools are closing for an additional week at the half-term break, however we don’t believe this will have significant impacts on mobility. When we look back to the end of August, at a time when schools and many hospitality venues were still closed, mobility was at 48% above baseline. When children returned to school, we saw a slight drop closer to the ‘normal’ as people stopped taking summer holidays or trips out. As the school holidays coincide with Halloween, it’s likely that many parents will take another opportunity for family activities, and annual leave will have been booked in advance – new restrictions aren’t going to affect footfall in public areas or visitor attractions.

Grocery and Pharmacy saw little impact

Notably, also unaffected even at the peak of the restrictions were footfall in grocery and pharmacy areas, where we saw little variation in the weekly average. This demonstrates that audiences are still visiting key retail centres in significant numbers, all accessed by the key arterial routes across NI, therefore delivering significant opportunity to see OOH campaigns. Non-essential retail environments remain open, and in the weeks leading up to Christmas footfall is likely to increase.

We’ve also looked at audience sentiment and behavioural trends, all of which have shown that consumers want to see a number of things including innovative solutions to learn to live with the virus, trust from retailers (in terms of shopper safety, but also staff, community and environmental responsibility), the importance of Christmas and intention to make the festive season the same as previous years.

Out of Home remains a strong medium, capable of targeting audiences at key daily touchpoints, and our enhanced understanding of current behaviours leaves the formats well placed to deliver the flexibility, reach and frequency required by brands.