We are all living in unprecedented times and the pandemic has radically impacted our everyday life. Each one of us has seen the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the consumer psyche and businesses alike. During the lockdown, consumers stockpiled essential goods such as groceries, dry foods, and other household products, in wake of the impending crisis. This spike in demand for essentials disrupted the supply chains for most of the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies. On the other hand, non-essential (good-to-have-goods) product companies, such as apparel and luxury products, witnessed a sharp decline in sales. Other factors familiar to many included restricted travel, remote working and growing economic concerns.
Some of these changes in customer behavior seem to be an irreversible trend, forcing consumer goods companies, more than others, to realign themselves to the new normal. Consumer Products and Goods (CPG) companies can gain a competitive advantage by embracing this new reality and adopting emerging trends would help consumer businesses thrive in the new normal.
1. eCommerce acceleration
Online presence is no longer optional for CPG companies. Many small and medium companies did not invest in eCommerce until recently. With consumer shift to online channels, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a growing demand for eCommerce platforms. Leading grocery retailers prefer to reduce online friction by simplifying the buying experience for essentials with the use of apps. Curbside pickup has proved to be one of the most conducive frictionless solutions for both retailers and customers. A leading sports retailer converted some of its stores into fulfilment centers to manage online orders. Food and beverage players identified the shift in consumer behavior and launched online D2C channels during this period. In addition, there was growing disintermediation using B2B eCommerce portals by CPG companies for their sales representatives, especially during the pandemic.
Business buyers seek simple, flexible, on-demand ordering experiences – a process that works best for them, at the time they desire. Back in 2015, Forrester found that nearly 75% of B2B buyers said that buying from a website was more convenient and efficient than buying from a sales representative.1 It would seem very likely that, were the same research conducted in 2021, the percentage would be even higher. In the future, digital adoption is expected to grow further and would be a key driver for growth for many consumer businesses.
2. Digital In-store experience
With a growing affinity for online shopping, CPG companies need to reinvent the in-store experience to reduce friction and ensure customers see value in coming back to stores. Digital engagement has accelerated tremendously, and leading companies have innovated quickly to replace traditional, in-store experiences. As the economy has begun opening, physical stores have seen a slight uptick in consumer traffic. This indicates that physical outlets will have to test modified in-store layouts to prevent customers from being in crowded situations and enable contactless shopping solutions to address health concerns.
Leading retail chains have been testing store traffic control using advanced queue management techniques, one-path shopping designs, and queueless buying options for popular products. Frictionless solutions (e.g., scan-and-go, click-and-collect, drive-through checkouts), buying/try-out kiosks are also some formats that are being used to reduce physical touchpoints for customers. Athletic footwear (A&F) players have seen store shutdowns but have also benefited from continued technology investments. Some A&F organizations have ramped up content marketing and adjusted subscription prices for digital fitness programs. It’s likely stores will become more conceptual and experiential, with customers being engaged in a better way through digital athlete training regimes.
There is also a growing preference for AI store assistants to supplement the customer experience with product information and recommendations. AI can also answer questions as well as take orders for customized products that have a different color, stitching, size or accessories. Now is the time for consumer companies to invest in the data, technology and systems required to deliver exceptional consumer experiences. Organizations that can understand customers better and adapt faster are likely to be the next customer-experience leaders.