Along with the shift to staying at home for, well, everything, nowhere has the consumer landscape changed more than how we shop and what we buy. These new patterns will live beyond the pandemic, altering the retail category permanently. The trends here fall into three main areas of insight and I was glad to share them in the latest Buzzback webinar on consumer perspectives around shopping and e-commerce.
1. The Retail Pivot
The unfolding Retail Apocalypse was already a worrisome headline before the pandemic. It has taken on new meaning as consumers and retailers retreated indoors and moved online, drastically changing when they shop, where they shop why they shop.
Staying at home has changed so much: What we buy and why we buy it is at the center of the shift
– Fashion: The ubiquitous “Zoom Shirt” and a pair of joggers is all you need for work
– Back to School: That big shopping event now focused on laptops instead of jeans
– Grocery: 3 meals a day at home means your grocery list has changed
– Home furnishings: Those lucky enough to work from home need office furniture, school space and supplies that you relied on the office for
– Transportation: No commuting costs, but maybe it’s quiet time you now miss?
– Out-of-home meals: Missing coffee shops and lunch meetings and sandwiches you didn’t make
– School Sports: Fall sports equipment? Probably not!
Outdoor gear sales are up
Families have decided to make the backyard a fun place with all kinds of equipment, toys and stock tank pools like this cool one decorated with Plasti Dip! This quote from NPD tracks the shift in purchases. “Things like swing sets, trampolines … Things like bread makers, you have frothers that make fancy coffee … inflatable pools. 51% increase in sales of outdoor and sports toys compared to this time last year. Pool sales were up 161%, fitness equipment up 130% and adult bikes were up 121%.” And as people think about cooler months ahead, watch lots of patio heaters and fire pits get sold in the next few months.
DTC is expanding and hybrid models are appearing
MilkRun in Portland and Farm to People in New York saw their restaurant business plummet, so they banded together with other producers and tech-savvy delivery services to bring a variety of products directly to customers. Panera seized on the opportunity to fill a void in basic pantry items in short supply. People are also reviving the art of bartering for all manner of goods and services. Front Porch Forum, a hyperlocal social network in Vermont and parts of New York that has long been a hub of bartering, has seen an 83 percent increase in new-member sign-ups this year over the same period last year.
The Retail Pivot: Looking Ahead
Here’s the thing I love about human nature: People are going to innovate and discover and respond with new solutions to problems. HOWEVER, If the economic fallout gets worse, expect consumers to recede further as they look for simple pleasures and small indulgences. (Nail polish sales are up!)
2. Technology Saves Shopping
Tech was already an essential tool for any smart retail strategy, particularly when it comes to big brands. But as stay-at-home orders changed everything about shopping, a multitude of innovative tech solutions are going to save retail and change the very idea of a “store”—big or small.
BOPIS, Curbside pickup, and malls
Customers adapt! Thanks to smartphones and fast-acting retailers, many people were still able to get their favorite meals or DIY project materials. As malls continue to lose tenants, e-commerce giants are converting some of them to warehouses for even faster delivery.
Contactless and Automation
Ingenious vending machines like this butcher shop, Applestone Meat Co, will reduce contact with people. Amazon Go’s ”just walk out” solution and drones delivering medicines and other vital products will become more common. This quote from the Wall Street Journal sums it up: “A hallmark of the covid crisis and its aftermath will be the acceleration of the deployment of all kinds of automation.”
Bricks and mortar will not be left behind, and luxury is always looking for ways to be relevant. Enter social retail. Burberry has partnered with Tencent and Wechat to create a mind-bending immersive experience blending the brand’s online and offline worlds for customers when they stand in front of an interactive store window or enter the store with content, augmented reality, themed fitting rooms, livestreaming and more.
Technology Saves Shopping: Looking ahead
Frictionless journeys, personalization, and omnichannel consistency are already expectations but the bar is being raised. Customers will be looking for real-time inventory in their phones, predictive analytics based on passed interactions and current needs, and multimedia content to draw them into the store.
3. Greener Habits
As consumers settled into their work- and school-from-home routines, our choices narrowed, and we began to see more of what we may have overlooked. We took more walks, went on camping trips, cooked more dinners, watched for birds, gazed at stars, and planted a garden in the backyard. These new patterns generated new awareness, and some greener habits.
Thrifting and Resale
Fast fashion was already losing its luster to the resale market–the rental, peer to peer, and thrift market—now expected to reach $64B by 2025, with growth driven by Millennials and Gen Z. ThredUp believes that consumers, “motivated by pinched finances and a concern for the planet, the crisis accelerated what was already going to be true over the next few years.”
New brands are popping up to help us “deplasticize,” with greener packaging options and non-toxic cleaning products. The Blueland’s The Clean Essentials Kit ($39) contains reusable bottles and dissolvable cleaning tablets so you can cut down on your plastic waste. All you do is add water and a tablet to the bottles for a concentrated cleaning solution.
Concerns about healthy eating, the need to boost immunity, fears about the safety of meat workers and product availability have all drastically changed people’s food choices, particularly in plant-based meats. Nielsen reported that “In the 13 weeks ending May 30, sales of fresh meat alternatives are up almost 240% compared to last year.” Growth in plant-based milks continues, as does preparing meals at home, reducing food waste, backyard gardens and raising chickens. Cackle Hatchery owner, Nancy Smith, in Lebanon, Missouri, says that they are “swamped with orders. We can’t answer all the phone calls, and we are booked out several weeks on most breeds. We’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been here since 1964.”
Greener Habits Looking Ahead: The lifespan of this growing appreciation is yet to be seen, but the longer the pandemic plays out and the more time spent at home, the more likely it will be to build permanent changes. Nevertheless, the awareness has been ignited.