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Tackling the cancellation culture crisis in Britain

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By Tom Griswood, CEO and Founder of Late Space 

Britain’s cancellation culture has hit the headlines in recent weeks as politicians warn of introducing new measures to tackle the issue of missed appointments in the UK. Rishi Sunak commented that he would be introducing a policy to fine NHS patients £10 for missed appointments, as part of a crackdown on last minute cancellations which cost the NHS around £216 million annually. Still, it’s not just public services feeling the brunt of Britain’s cancellation culture, startups and small businesses lose as much as £637m in revenue every year due to this very same issue. So how can we confront the issue?  Are we as customers perhaps guilty of taking advantage of the ‘customers ‘always right’ mentality? 

As a country we got an insight into just how prolific our ‘no-show’ problem is with the creation of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme during the pandemic. Restaurants hopeful of recuperating the losses from multiple lockdowns found themselves quickly having to impose hefty fines for ‘no-shows’ in the face of hundreds of covers left unfilled. 

And today, the issue prevails, with most small businesses continuing to pay the price for it. A report by Treatwell in early 2021 showed that the ‘no show’ problem is growing in retail and hospitality, with over a third (33.7%) of people having admitted to “no-showing” to an appointment at some point in time. 

There are a lot of issues at play here which are feeding into the problem of businesses having increased no-shows or last-minute cancellations. Only recently, with the introduction of more widespread cancellation deadlines, have customers been incentivised to not cancel within 24 hours but the impacts to businesses have been ongoing irrespective of COVID-19.

So what more can businesses do to protect themselves and what technology is available to help both consumer and business owners evolve the way they manage and secure their appointments going forward?

A lot of the issues with the growing “cancellation culture” is that it rarely leaves time for businesses to find a replacement for that slot and so employers end up paying for the resources with zero income to come from it. The result is a loss for both the business as well as any prospective ‘would be’ customers. 

Building alliances – Greater education and consideration

The pandemic saw a shift in attitudes, as Brits rose to the occasion and came together in support of local businesses. As the economy recovered, Brits did their part, heading back to their favourite restaurants, cafes, bars and hairdressers to enjoy the atmosphere, and help inject some financial stability back into their local area and businesses that had been devastatingly impacted by the lockdowns. 

However, since then, we seem to have lost that level of compassion for those businesses when it comes to holding up our side of the bargain and fulfilling our appointments.  

Simply put, consumers are often oblivious to the impacts their no shows and last minute cancellations have on businesses, and fail to understand the cost of that cancellation. This isn’t to suggest that it’s a UK-only problem, an article from Australia this month demonstrates that ‘cancellation culture’ is very much a real thing globally. 

What customers need is a real life example of the cost of their cancellation to help lend perspective, so let’s look at the beauty sector. From our research at Late Space, we know that an estimated five cancellations happen per week for businesses operating within the UK beauty industry. Calculating a rough estimate for the revenue loss of these cancellations is relative. The average cost of a gel manicure is around £23, according to NAILS’ 2020 Annual Report and there are roughly 288,000 beauticians and hair & beauty shops in the UK as of 2020 (Policy Bee). This means that those five missed gel nails appointments each week equates to an unbelievable £637m revenue loss to the industry annually. 

Reframing the conversation – Turning cancellations into new opportunities 

I’ve personally seen and spoken to retailers and consumers about the impact  ‘cancellation culture’ is having on their finances, alongside customers unable to book in for last-minute appointments at their local favourites. This problem goes both ways, with businesses losing out on the money from constant no-shows, as well as a sea of ‘would-be’ customers unable to find appointments that aren’t a month or so away. 

This wave of cancellations, no-shows and the subsequent impact to local business was for me, the driving factor behind making Late Space. SMEs have been calling out for a new way to publicise their last-minute availability and keep the money rolling in, likewise, customers have been left with too few options when it comes to securing local appointments. 

Combating cancellation culture will require a joint effort from both customers and businesses. Customers need to know the impact that their last-minute cancellations or no-shows are having on businesses, but most importantly, both businesses and customers alike need new ways of securing and publicising last-minute appointments. Thankfully, modern technology has made it possible for hospitality and retail businesses to be more fluid in the face of an ever-changing customer, offering more opportunities for their consumers and subsequently providing more chances for businesses to secure appointments. 

 

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