Brands Must Think Outside the (Brick-and-Mortar Store) Box

Credit: Unsplash by Kelli McClintock

To state the patently obvious, COVID-19 has had a massive effect on all retail, including grocery/CPG — and the consumer habits driving these changes are likely to stick around for a long time, if not forever.

To succeed (and grow) in this new reality, brands and retailers must find ways to effectively drive consumer action while their usual in-person touchpoints are being missed by consumers. While this may be frustrating for many marketers used to their in-store tools, digital marketers now have an unprecedented opportunity to make a real difference for their brands.

To boost purchases in times of COVID, successful brands and retailers will create new ways to touch the consumers, by meeting them where they are, both physically and mentally.

Consumers Are at Home — and Online

Consumers are buying less in stores, but far, far more online. US online sales surged 42% YoY in August, and COVID is credited with adding a whopping $107 billion in online sales since March. This has impacted all categories, but there have been major shifts in CPG — more than 70% of consumers have now bought groceries online.

While at home, consumers are taking on new hobbies and interests, many of which require new products. We have seen tremendous sales growth from social media like Pinterest for cooking and baking projects, recipes, etc. This makes sense, as (1) consumers report spending more time on social media during the pandemic, and (2) these “passive shopping” sites can quite naturally bridge to a purchase (provided there is an easy path to purchase).

What would a brand pay for a billboard inside a shopper’s house? Packaging is the most overlooked form of owned media that every brand has, and very few brands are using it at all to drive repurchase. With the simple addition of a cart-enabled QR code on packaging and samples, brands can help shoppers skip the real or virtual aisle (and all of the competition on the aisle) and drop products directly in carts.

Consumers Are Bored (Really, Really Bored)

Being home with the same group of people for literally months is trying for everyone. This is a golden opportunity for brands to provide more than just products and product information. Bring FUN in the house! Use fun to inspire trial and loyalty among consumers. Nearly 75% of consumers have tried a new product or brand in the last two months purely because it seemed fun or entertaining, according to our consumer research at SmartCommerce. And this wasn’t just among cosmetic or alcohol brands — consumers reported trying new laundry detergents, paper towels, and other similar products just for the novelty of “something new.”

Consumers Are Looking for Ease

These are trying times for everyone. When things are hard, simple things that make life a little easier are doubly appreciated.

It’s remarkable how many brands will place an ad — which is, of course, intended to drive purchase — without providing a clear path to make a purchase. Since it makes sense to assume that every ad is good enough to make some consumers want to act (if not, get a new agency!), it makes sense to make it easy for them to do so. Be sure to provide a link directly to a retailer cart or choice of carts, or worst case, at least to a page on your site where it is easy to choose a retailer.

Also, make it easy for consumers to buy multiple products at once — yours or your products bundled with others. We see click-through rates of 1.2-2x on ads and social media posts that let consumers cart multiple products (i.e., cleaning bundles, skincare regimens, or recipes). When you do the thinking for the consumer, they reward you with bigger orders!

In times of great change, it can be tempting to “play it safe,” to hold back and “wait and see” how things shake out. But in a revolution, it’s always the ones who see and seize the opportunities while others are playing it safe, who wind up with the prizes. In this retail revolution, it will be the brands and retailers who meet consumers where they are with fun, simple solutions, that will seize market share they’ll own and grow for years.