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Pubs embrace digital: catching up with consumer tastes

Author: Miya Knights, Head of Industry Insight at Eagle Eye Solutions Ltd.

The food and beverage sector has had to evolve to meet changing consumer demands, where pubs have perhaps felt the biggest impact. But those that have been able to adapt are turning the tide.

That was the message at The Pub Show, held in London’s Olympia last week, attracting thousands of pub owners, operators and decision makers, who were keen to find the best ways of engaging with consumers.

Despite record closures denting sector growth in past years, as consumers diversify discretionary spending to delivery and staying at home, mindful drinking, coffee and food to go, the Show highlighted good news too.

Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures found the number of UK pubs and bars increased for the first time in a decade during 2019. The key Show takeaways confirmed improving fortunes by keeping up with demand:

Following customer trends

Many operators and suppliers highlighted the importance of diversifying to keep up with the increasingly rapid pace of changing consumer demand as a central factor in the recent uptick in the fortunes of the pub trade.

Mark Robson, British Institute of Innkeeping Chairman, said: “With pub numbers on the rise, we need to tell that good news story and focus on the positive things pubs contribute to people’s lives and communities.”
Market researcher KAM Media revealed that 95% of pubgoers think pubs are good for their mental health, for instance. Chris Chapman, Hall & Woodhouse Partnerships Head, also cited health and wellbeing as a key trend.

“When you consider that more than a third of Generation Z [born between 1997 and 2012] don’t drink alcohol, we have to consider what they will want to drink in 5-10 years’ time and adapt or die,” said Chapman.

In response, KAM Media’s research found over half (54%) of pubs plan to expand the range of healthy food options they offer, while two in three have also increased their low and no-alcohol range.

Growing importance of digital

A number of operator-representative speakers also suggested the sector was benefitting from the impact of changes on the High Street and in businesses, including store closures and the rise of remote working.

Robson pointed to the number of rural post offices co-locating inside pubs, while Chapman said following the low and no-alcohol trend meant pubs could compete with coffee shops for local working-from-home trade.

The role technology has to play in supporting business diversification and differentiation also emerged as central to both brand and operator strategies, where digital connectivity emerged as a core requirement.

The PUB Trends report, released at the Show, revealed Wi-Fi was the most popular technology consumers would like pubs to install, followed by wireless charging tables in second and loyalty apps coming third.

As a result, interest in off-the-shelf white label apps to drive added returns from wireless network investments – particularly in rural areas where mobile coverage is patchy – was high on the agenda of operators.

Building customer connections

Pub operator, ETM Group, was on hand to explain how it was using Wi-Fi and apps to collect more opted-in guest data. It uses this data to refine customer engagement and activate brand campaign promotions.

For brands, the goal of ‘first drink’ is a significant driver behind their willingness to invest in giveaway promotions. Like the operators, they also want to know more about customers who redeem their promotions.

Julian Ross, CEO of Wireless Social, which is ETM’s Wi-Fi provider and an Eagle Eye partner, stressed how such data can be used to make sure campaign delivery is tailored by interest to drive footfall and increase value.

The Group has used Wireless Social’s Hedgehog service, integrated via its Zonal point-of-sale connection maintained by Eagle Eye, to trial new promotional delivery capabilities, resulting in high redemption and repeat visit rates.

Using Eagle Eye’s partner and client network, ETM with Heineken to deliver a campaign where customers could claim free pints in return for logging into the Wi-Fi opt into marketing communications via email or SMS.
 
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ETM and Heineken promotional campaign creative on table talkers and Wi-Fi landing pages.

Open loop digital promotions

Heineken and ETM used Eagle Eye’s AIR platform to configure, manage and track the issuance and redemption of the free pints, which delivered 32.4% and 15.% redemption rates from SMS and email respectively.

Both the brand and operator gained sales and footfall as well as further, ongoing engagement opportunities with customers. Wi-Fi and promotions data also confirmed 26% repeat visit uplift among voucher recipients.

Learnings from the trial endorse the value of establishing ongoing digital connections with customers via Wi-Fi and promotions. But Ross such successful initiatives depend on making the process being easy for customers.

“Make it simple and seamless to access the guest Wi-Fi, where there is no complicated login process to go through every visit,” he added “Services like Hedgehog lower the cost of entry for on-trade promotions.”

Sam Bourke, ETM Group Marketing Director, added: “Hedgehog allows us to reward the customers within seconds.” Meanwhile, the customer data provides valuable insight to help exceed their expectations.

“It’s almost like having a focus group in the room – using the data. We can find out how many of our guests are plant-based consumers, support Manchester United, etc.,” Bourke concluded.