23 April, 2020
Amid the frantic buying, stock depletion and iPhone-captured shopping aisle arguments, COVID-19 looks set to add another feather to its cap – reshaping consumer behaviour around how we buy supermarket goods.
The origins of panic buying reside deep in our psychology, extending from a need to exercise control in a rapidly changing and anxiety-providing environment. Nicking off with mountains of loo roll soothed the discomfort of a few, while establishing and driving the fear of many others.
Over past weeks, we’ve seen unorthodox behaviour from shoppers. Consumer behaviour models and purchasing trend analyses developed by brand managers have become irrelevant as behaviour took a strange side-step that nobody could have predicted.
This erratic consumer behaviour is not confined to the bathroom. Now that we’re on lockdown, baking seems to be a new pastime for many. The surplus of time has meant people are getting around to undertaking those complicated recipes they’ve been putting off for years. Additionally, a longing for happier, more simple times, combined with the memories of baking with mum, has resulted in an unprecedented demand for bread flour, yeast and golden syrup.
Social media is full of inspirational quotes about taking this time to re-evaluate which parts of our lives we’ll want to return to once our freedom is handed back. Whilst we spend more time with our families, execute painful yoga moves in front of our televisions and bake mountains of bread, our principles will change. Our habits in the kitchen, the food that we consume and our concerns for health and the environment will evolve. We would be wrong to think that post-COVID-19 life will be the same as we knew it before.
As people begin to make new choices in life, they’ll also re-evaluate the brands they purchase while shopping. Some previously favoured products may feel less relevant to our lives than they used to. Some products or raw ingredients may become difficult to import from overseas, whilst others will have to be reformulated and released in a new guise.
Consumers will be forced to buy products and brands they wouldn’t have otherwise considered. They may develop attachments for new types of goods, leaving behind the brands to which they were loyal for so long. The supermarket will be viewed with fresh eyes and, like so many businesses in the world, brands will need to pivot, flex and re-shape to suit the new consumer.
Online grocery shopping has soared in recent weeks. COVID-19 has undoubtedly introduced many consumers to a new way of purchasing that they may have previously resisted. More will follow the digital shift in coming weeks and months.
This shopping culture transformation will have profound impacts on how supermarkets sell their goods. Will consumers browse new products online as they do while scanning the shelves? Will packaging need to evolve to calm the jittery nerves of anxious online shoppers? How will viewing a supermarket on a screen impact on the dollars we all spend?
Product packaging will be reduced to a thumbnail on our screens. Has there been a time in which clever design has ever been so important?
These are very real considerations for all supermarket brands going forward. However, there are strategic and product design approaches that may gently usher us towards this new way of buying.
Heritage inspired packaging reminds us of fonder, simpler days. Such products can prompt warm childhood memories or link us to more comfortable times. Think Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup, Keens Curry powder, Foster Clark’s custard and Bickford’s cordial. Iconic designs like these can be tweaked to create modern day versions that still provide a connection to the past.
Simplicity and value will catch the eye of many, particularly as employment spikes and people grow tired of the games of companies that for so long have emptied their wallets. Consumers will want a better deal. A fair deal. Products that deliver a clean, honest and simple aesthetic without compromising on quality will win. Frankie & Friends pet care, Emma & Tom’s juices and Pic’s Peanut Butter are all headed in this direction.
Off the back of a brutal summer bushfire season that led to a flood of private sector support, the global pandemic is cementing community expectations that big business no longer only focuses on its bottom line. Products that offer community support, environmental credentials, or contribute to a broader cause will stand out. Think Thankyou, Lush and the continued rise of plant-based meat substitutes like Coco & Lucas.
The huge consumer shift to the digital world that has been boosted by COVID-19 means that supermarket shelves will change and online retailing will take a larger slice of the shopping pie. Like many changes, this one brings significant threat. But for smart brand managers, it will also bring opportunity.
By Gwen Blake