Practising in tier three: “We saw an immediate drop off in customer numbers”

Mark Blankstone, owner of Blankstone Opticians in Liverpool, shared his observations on the city moving into tier three of local area restrictions

As England moves forward under the Government’s new three-tier system of local coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, one practice has told OT that it has begun to see some knock-on effects.

“When we went into tier three, we saw an immediate drop off in customer numbers because they became very nervous,” explained Mark Blankstone, owner of Blankstone Opticians in Liverpool – the first area of the country to be put into the “high” tier three level of restrictions.

“Up to that point, as in many opticians, we had had a good summer, well above our norms,” Mr Blankstone explained. He outlined that in recent weeks, the city centre had begun to see a trickle of people returning and footfall improving.

“Then, tier three comes into place and people are told to stay at home. That obviously has a knock-on effect in terms of a drop in footfall again,” Mr Blankstone added.

Despite the challenges of the new restrictions, Mr Blankstone felt that the practice won’t need to alter the way it operates. The practice has been working in a COVID-compliant way since it reopened in June, working on an appointment basis for all eye examinations, contact lens aftercare, and collections.

As time passed and the situation seemed to calm over the summer, the practice had begun to market itself and its available products more.

“Now I feel it has to be optically-based. Our marketing has to send a message to customers that it is okay to come in for your eye examination,” Mr Blankstone explained. “We’re having to pare back a little bit and talk more about what we’re offering as a business and that it is safe to come in.”

Patient numbers have been quiet, Mr Blankstone confirmed, but noted that, “It is difficult to judge, because we are coming to the end of October and towards Christmas, and it tends to be quieter in this quarter.”

Confidence will be key, Mr Blankstone suggested, adding that once people begin to feel used to the restrictions and confident to travel into the city again and feel safe, it will have a ripple effect across the rest of the city.

Having been in practice for nearly 30 years, Mr Blankstone remembers several “major bumps in the road,” from the financial crisis, to the dotcom boom, which he suggested created turmoil.

He explained: “This is unfortunately one of those kinds of scenarios, a different type, but based on the same principles in that it affects people’s confidence.”

“It is challenging, and you don’t know which is the best route to go down,” Mr Blankstone added. “So, you go back to the fundamentals. Talk about optics, what we do as a business, and tell patients we’re here for them.

“And hopefully we’ll see a bit of sunshine when it comes to spring.”

OT  poll

If you own or work in a practice in an area with tier three restrictions, how does patient footfall compare to levels before the tier system was announced?
  • 25% or less footfall than before entering tier three

    8 26%
  • 51% - 75%

    2 6%
  • 26% - 50%

    3 10%
  • 76% - 90%

    7 23%
  • No change

    7 23%
  • Higher levels of footfall than before entering tier three

    3 10%

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OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving.