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COVID-19 surcharges unpopular, but it depends on who’s charging them: poll
VANCOUVER -- A new poll has found though most people aren’t happy about the idea of paying a COVID-19 surcharge, they’re more willing to accept the extra fee depending on the type of business involved.
Insights West conducted the online survey of a sample of 875 B.C. residents from May 27 to May 31.
Sixty-two per cent of respondents were opposed to businesses charging a COVID-19 related surcharge, with 37 per cent strongly opposed, and 25 per cent somewhat opposed.
However, the poll found opposition to a surcharge lessened depending on the sector. When it comes to hair salons, 51 per cent were in support of a surcharge, followed by restaurants at 47 per cent, and other small businesses at 46 per cent. A large majority of respondents, 75 per cent, were opposed to the idea of a COVID-19 surcharge at a large chain retail store.
Executive director of the Beauty Council of Western Canada Greg Robins said their own recent survey of members found most plan on raising prices by an average of three to five dollars, while others aren’t making any changes. The smallest percentage intend to introduce a specific surcharge.
“Salons are really concerned to add any burden onto a cost for a service for people,” Robins said. “So there’s a certain amount of let's say reluctance to just add more charges onto a bill.”
Robins said the new reality is there are new expenses, especially when it comes to personal protective equipment and increased sanitation.
“The people in the industry have had a triple whammy. First of all, everybody had to close for two months. Then all salons, personal service establishments had to retrofit their entire operation to be ready for their clients,” Robins said, and added many are not operating at their former capacity. “So there's a huge financial burden that has to be accounted for moving forward.”
How people feel about a surcharge also varied by age group. Respondents aged 18 to 34 were less opposed at 52 per cent, compared to 63 per cent opposition among people aged 35 to 54, and 65 per cent opposition among those aged 55 and up.
Senior policy analyst for B.C. and the North with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business Muriel Protzer said small business operate on "razor-thin" margins, and now they’re facing a variety of new costs just to be able to reopen, following months of losses.
“No one likes paying more for things, but (these are) unprecedented times,” Protzer said. “The pandemic is not a permanent thing, COVID surcharges issued at small businesses, these will not be permanent. This is just to help us all through this transitionary period, as we turn to what will be the new normal.”
The poll also found 75 per cent expect the pandemic will lead to higher inflation and prices. Sixty-four per cent agreed that “we will have to accept that we will have to pay more in the future for many products and services”.
Protzer said though people may not like surcharges, whether or not customers actually stop frequenting those businesses is something to keep an eye on.
“If we do find that is deterring customers from visiting local businesses, this is a wonderful opportunity for the provincial government to really step up,” Protzer said, and added the province could introduce financing to absorb some of the additional costs for things like protective equipment or installing Plexiglas barriers.
The survey also revealed a strong desire to buy local. A majority of respondents, 79 per cent said they would actively try to shop in their local neighbourhood. Eighty-one per cent said they would buy from BC businesses, and 82 per cent said Canadian businesses.
Protzer said that’s part of the silver lining: that people have come together to support their local communities.
“It’s very optimistic to see British Columbians understand the need to support small business. I think they always have, and if anything it’s more so reinforced now,” she said.
Sixty-three per cent of respondents agreed they would avoid supporting businesses who have reportedly been unfair to their workers during the pandemic.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.