Politicians and business leaders might hope that, with due caution, citizens – employees and consumers – might soon be ready to return to something like normal, pre-pandemic behaviour. However, although some may feel ready to resume their former lifestyles, the evidence from consumers in both the UK and the Netherlands suggests that the “new normal” could be some way off, as long as high levels of concern about Covid-19 persist.
In mid-August we surveyed around 1,000 consumers in both the UK and Netherlands, where we have offices, and found some common concerns in both countries, as well as one or two marked differences.
Many are still taking care to protect themselves against the risk of infection. In the UK, consumers appear to be taking a more cautious approach. Wearing a face mask is the most common precaution taken against Covid-19, with around two thirds of UK respondents always using a face mask when shopping or while traveling on public transport. 39% wash their hands on entering a building and 27% wear a mask outside in general. In the Netherlands however, while 58% of respondents always wear a mask on public transport, only 16% always wear a mask while shopping, only 26% wash their hands when entering a building, and only 6% wear a face mask outside.
Concern about the risk of Covid-19 while traveling and participating in leisure activities remains high in both countries. When it comes to how they spend their leisure time, respondents in both countries are most concerned about the risk at large gatherings and indoor activities, but the nervousness is greater in the UK. Over 80% of British respondents have some concern about using a gym or going to the cinema or theatre, and nearly 80% are concerned about eating inside a restaurant. In the Netherlands, for example, 75% have concerns about using a gym.
Anxiety about travel is also high in both countries. In the UK, 34% of respondents are very concerned about flying or using the underground and 85% have some concern. While the Dutch share similar concerns about flying, their cyclists remain defiantly confident. 77% of Dutch cyclists have no worries at all (from a Covid perspective) about going for a bike ride, compared with 61% of UK cyclists.
The risks do not end there. International travel is viewed as being significantly riskier from a Covid-19 perspective than domestic travel in both countries, and yet the British are much more concerned (35% are very concerned about both international business trips and holidays) than the Dutch (21% are very concerned about going on business abroad and 19% about a holiday abroad). The Dutch have almost no fear about a domestic holiday, with only 5% very concerned compared to 14% of Brits.
In both countries, hybrid working employees appear to be enjoying their “new normal”, with over three quarters of employees stating they prefer a model that mixes home and remote working. But as far as the experience of working from home is concerned, Dutch and British respondents tell a very different story. 44% of UK respondents say they work longer hours from home, with 32% also spending longer on domestic chores. But in the Netherlands, most hybrid workers say they work the same hours and spend the same time on domestic tasks whether they work at home or in the office, with only 18% saying they work longer hours and do more chores when working from home.
Sara Ghazi-Tabatabai, Associate Partner at Eden McCallum, says the data reveals that lingering nervousness characterises consumers in both the UK and the Netherlands. “While we are all looking forward to getting back to a more ‘normal’ way of living, it is clear that not everybody is confident that it is safe to do so,” she says. “The lesson for business is that consumers are coming back, but slowly, and rather warily.”