Thought Leadership


Liz Reese
Creative Director

February 24, 2021

Firstly, if you are reading this article I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well. We are truly navigating new surroundings as Covid-19 transforms and reshapes chores, hobbies, and social activities like shopping for groceries or nipping to see family and friends. In light of these changes, there are rich opportunities for both brands we are not so familiar with and our go-to love brands alike, which I explore through my personal perspective.

As the threat of the novel coronavirus swiftly turned into a pandemic in early February 2020, I tried shopping for groceries online for the first time. I pulled up a few websites of my local stores and found myself liking the interactive aspect of Instacart. You can choose a preferred retailer, edit your items, and chat with your personal shopper. Easy, right? This was truly a much different experience than a physical retailer. My biggest relief was no longer needing to navigate a parking lot or the monotony of waiting in line. However, there was a downside to online retailing because the total price was much higher due to fees from third-party services and delivery. As the prices of groceries escalate, I doubt this method of shopping will be sustainable for those watching their purse strings and struggling to make ends meet. In response, I believe we will see an increase in private label sales and many will gradually migrate back to the stores in person if they haven’t already done so.

Wherever consumers do end up ultimately shopping, the internet has become the ‘first moment of truth’ when it comes to finding and trialing brands. The shopping experience for consumers no longer begins and ends with the grocery store doors. Instead, consumers stretch shopping tasks across several days as they explore websites, reviews, and social media; compare competitors; and become distracted online before making a purchase decision or abandoning their carts. Moreover, algorithms are continuously being developed to drive purchase decisions and those last-minute impulse buys at checkout. We are all too familiar with ‘Because you bought this last time you may be interested in this’ or ‘Did you know that people who bought this also bought,’ and of course the popup ads on Facebook. With this shift in shopping behavior, brands must invest in their online image so that they are disruptive and memorable to consumers. More importantly, these assets must also be consistently expressed at shelf to attract consumers’ attention both on- and off-line.

E-Commerce Gaining Traction
“As of December 2019, online shopping has been on the rise, with one third of shoppers reporting they do at least some shopping online. Trial of online grocery shopping has spiked since April 2020, with 37% of consumers increasing online shopping as they looked to avoid trips to the store. In the long run, the incidence of online grocery shopping is certain to continue to rise as grocery retailers further enhance their e-commerce capabilities and capacity.”

Mintel, Grocery Retailing – US April 2020

Because so many products were out of stock during those initial weeks of the outbreak, I was surprised with how my brand loyalty was tested and redefined. In some instances, my favorite brands weren’t available for purchase so I had to specify substitutions. I had to substitute at least four of my usual “favorite” brands and I liked three of them so much that I have considered buying them again. Tide’s plant-based detergent Purclean, Palmolive OXY Power Degreaser, and Hershey’s Cocoa Powder have all become new and unexpected favorites. However, no other brand could persuade me to replace my Method Grapefruit All Surface Cleaner. It will be interesting to see if brand loyalists revert back to their favorites or if the ‘substitutions’ become the new go-to products when store inventories return to normal. 

“Because so many products were out of stock during those initial weeks of outbreak, I was surprised with how my brand loyalty was tested and redefined.”

Along with changes in shopping behavior, the pandemic has also ushered in new ways of connecting with family and friends. For example, as family units become more centralized in one space, many people are turning to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and similar retailers to help them create sanctuaries in their homes or gardens. Longing for the outdoors has also grown, as evidenced by a spike in sales for bikes, trampolines, and other recreational goods. For me, staying in touch with loved ones is challenging because my parents, siblings and friends all live across different time zones, interspersed from Europe to Australia. Video conferencing apps such as Skype, Zoom, Messenger, Marco Polo and Facetime have become especially invaluable to help us stay connected. While we are literally on the opposite corners of the globe, these apps have allowed me to be a part of their lives as much as they are mine – regardless of distance.

Exercising with my Fitbit app has also allowed me to stay connected with friends in the US and UK. We do workweek and weekend challenges together. I also support my local Zumba class by participating in online Zoom classes with 15 other people. While the energy isn’t quite the same when you are exercising by yourself in front of a computer screen, I am in awe with how small and large businesses have adapted to remote work. Whether it’s a gym class or the workplace, I think humans long for connection and platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have successfully united many across a multitude of industries. It will be interesting to see how we use technology and connectivity going forward as a strategy for innovating workplaces.

As habits and behaviors continue to change, the technology sector as well as CPG brands need to take this opportunity to learn how the pandemic has impacted their brand, and be adaptable and responsive to what they learn. That may mean for some that they have lost market share to their competitors or most likely private label. As a result, brands need to focus on product quality, positioning, and marketing strategies to respond to the shift in consumers’ habits and needs. There is no time to wait for things to get back to any sense of normalcy or they potentially face the prospect of being left behind on the shelf, literally.