• Andrew Busby

The Penny Is About To Drop: Covid Is The Great Pretender

I'm going to let you in on something that not many people know. Sometime over the next few weeks, there's going to be another big bang. Now, don't worry, it will be harmless, but you'll know when it happens. Except that is for those in retail and hospitality. Because the sound you'll hear sometime soon, will be the sound of the penny dropping in response to the realisation that no longer can you build it and they will come.

So, what do I mean by all that?

With Covid restrictions gradually being lifted in the UK, there's a palpable sense that we've got through this together and that very soon everything will be back to normal. Bars and restaurants will be fully reopened and the tills will once again ring to the sound of money being taken. Our high streets will once again come alive to the sound of humans chattering and we'll flock to the shops, eager to experience the act of shopping once more.

Except, we won't; the Covid wary will see to that. Because over the course of the last twelve months we've become even more of a class led society, and the new classes are the Covid wary and the Covid comfortable. But don't worry, they'll both be quite easy to spot.

One will continue to wear a mask when driving alone in their car, whilst the other will be hugging and kissing anything that breathes. And this has some quite serious implications for retail, hospitality and our high streets in general.

Because the narrative for some time has been, "we're safe, we should be allowed to reopen", believing that when this happens, by some process of osmosis or witchcraft, we're all going to return to living our lives the way we did pre-March 2020. And of course, that's fanciful in the extreme.

So it follows that if the Covid wary remain wary, the grand reopening for hospitality especially is going to resemble something akin to being after the Lord Mayor's show. Or, in stark terms, there'll be insufficient numbers of us willing to return to eating, drinking and socialising to make many establishments viable, even though they will be fully open for business and allowed to trade pretty much as normal. The gnashing of teeth will become a cacophony as this particular insight sinks home.

Which is all rather a long winded way of saying, "hospitality, wake up and smell the coffee, because things are about to get a bit real". Because even the most catatonic amongst us realises that some hand sanitiser and a few screens maketh not a safe establishment. Frankly, we demand more.

Now, if I was a pub landlord or a restaurant owner, do you know what I'd be doing right now? Today. Not tomorrow, not next week but today? I'd be hiring a digitally savvy Gen Z. Someone who can come in and point me on the path to digital delight. Someone who can drag me from the backstreets of analogue to the digital sunlit uplands.

Because what the great pretender has taught us is that digital transformation wasn't just some glib tag line the tech giants trotted out at each and every opportunity, it's not only a nice to have, it's now mission critical, that is if you want to survive.

That clang will be the penny dropping, or for some it will be the sound of the bell tolling. Because in the new post-pandemic world, you're either in the game or you're out. The choice is real. And it needs to be made now.

Andrew Busby is co-founder of SafePrem Solutions, a former Forbes contributor, and author of the book, Harry Was Right All Along.

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