Companies Are Offering Incentives to Vaccinated Consumers, But More Important: Why?

President Joe Biden says he wants to get 70 percent of America’s adults vaccinated by July 4. Booze and burgers just may do the trick.

To juice America’s vaccination rate–just 52 percent of the adult population is now fully vaccinated–an increasing number of businesses have joined state and local governments in using incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Brewer Anheuser-Busch announced on Wednesday it will partner with the White House to give a free beer to any adult who receives a vaccine before America’s birthday. On Thursday, the pharmacy division of Kroger, America’s largest supermarket chain, announced it would provide vaccinated customers the chance to win $1 million every week for five weeks, and award 10 shoppers “groceries for a year.”

Other popular campaigns include: one free doughnut a day from Krispy Kreme, free flights for a year on United Airlines, and a burger from Shake Shack, plus complimentary crinkle fries. If you prefer to catch or shoot your own food, the state of Maine is handing out free fishing licenses to vaccinated outdoor types, while West Virginia is giving away hunting rifles. 

More conventionally, states such as Ohio and California will enter newly vaccinated citizens into lotteries that pay out as much as $1.5 million. And the state of New York is tempting teens with a chance to win a full scholarship to any state university.

So what’s in it for businesses?

It’s maybe the right thing to do, but also it might speed the end of the pandemic. Reaching the administration’s goal would mean 160 million adults would be fully vaccinated. That is the level experts have said will keep the virus under control, allow restrictions to be lifted, ease pressure on health care workers, and get the country and economy fully reopen.

Businesses are also using vaccination incentives to stimulate sales and attract new customers. GG’s Barbacoa Café, a Kansas City smokehouse, rolled out a 25 percent vaccination discount last month. Owner Gabriel Gonzalez says the promotion will run through the end of June to any customer who shows their vaccine card. Gonzalez says the promo has prompted customers to add more items to their orders, which has offset the discount.

Like many restaurants, this family-owned business has focused on saving money over the past year, but Gonzalez says the increase in revenue and number of new customers from the vaccine campaign is now contributing to GG’s expansion. The café is moving to a bigger location in the coming months. More important, Gonzalez says the vaccine promotion “is a great opportunity to help the community.”

And it’s “fun” to win

Although business owners can require employees to be vaccinated, the government can’t. So, with the help of businesses, states are using behavioral economics to get hesitant or vaccine-resistant people to act in their own best interest. That’s what Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein explored in their 2008 book Nudge. A year and a half ago, Thaler, professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, proposed an experiment to offer lottery tickets to people who got a flu shot.  (The flu killed an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to CDC.)

The pandemic has prompted states to run Thaler’s experiment in real time, the latest being Washington, where four residents could win $250,000, with one cashing a $1 million jackpot, an enticement that Thaler says “may well work.”

The pandemic prompted Thaler to revisit the decade-old theories he and Sunstein first explored. In their revision, Nudge: The Final Edition, they raise the notion of fun as an incentive. Even in the midst of a lethal outbreak, offering amusement-incentives makes sense. “Lottery tickets are kind of fun, right?” says Thaler. “It’s the same with a free beer.”

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