The Path to Purchase Institute has assembled its most impressive collection of thought leaders ever to reflect on the impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on shopper engagement. The following series of articles presents their insightful perspectives on four questions about the current status and future potential for the shopper commerce industry.

  1. What is the most beneficial lesson you’ve learned about shoppers during the crisis?
  2. What new business practice, strategy, process or marketing tool/tactic have you adopted that you will continue to use post-pandemic?
  3. What recent change in shopper behavior or retail operations do you most hope will continue after the crisis ends?
  4. Moving forward, what do you see as the greatest opportunity for achieving success with shoppers? (See answers below.)

Moving forward, what do you see as the greatest opportunity for achieving success with shoppers?

Neil Ackerman
Head of Advanced Technologies, Global Supply Chain, Middle East and Africa
Johnson & Johnson

The greatest opportunity to connect with shoppers as we move forward is going to be centered on a brand’s innovation and relevance to the changing expectations of society. Marketing matters. Enablement of these programs in the most innovative methods by a supply chain matters. Of course, human resources is the driver and ensuring you hire the best and let them grow will be the most important investment a company can make. Believe in the people and the magic comes naturally.

Keith Anderson
SVP Strategy & Insights

In volatile times, it’s essential to question every assumption and pay very close attention to recent or real-time data and forward-looking indicators of demand and purchase intent, like keywords trending in product searches and growth in traffic to product pages. Pay very close attention to replacement cycles, attachment rates, accessory or part sales — anything that gives you an early indication of how relationships to the category or your brand may be evolving. 

Shaun Brown
SVP–Managing Director & Shopper Marketing Discipline Lead

Agility to meet shopper needs. We have witnessed brands succeed by changing nearly weekly to meet the new needs of the market. The idea of everything having longer-term planning is dead — brands will need to have a significant portion of their plans for responsive, shorter-term activation. Brands that were not able to respond or were out of stock created opportunities for other brands to get trial and purchase — and many of those shoppers won’t come back.

Vanessa Bueno
Marketing Director

Shoppers are looking for differentiation in products and brands. Products that can deliver on specific consumers needs with a story and functional benefits will rise to the top. Premium and value products are winning.  If you do not have a product that drives a price premium, shoppers will be seeking a value proposition with your product or service. Shoppers are also looking for authenticity and an emotional connection to brands and products. Those that deliver will win with shoppers. I also believe with the increase in unemployment that providing affordable food options is key for a large portion of the consumer base.

Rich Butwinick

Truly providing shoppers a frictionless opportunity to buy your brand how they want to. To get there, we need to understand that the point of decision is not necessarily the point of transaction. And that shoppers decide how they will transact based on what is convenient to them to meet their needs now. Shopper marketers need to have a deep understanding of the shopper journey. They must identify the key moments where brands offer action steps to allow the shopper to buy now, later or learn more.

April Carlisle
Vice President NRS, Shopper Marketing
Coca-Cola Co.

Ready for it? AGILITY! Shoppers are agile and retailers and brands can be, too. Now, how can we best work together to meet those shopper needs, remove purchase barriers, and build equities for brands and retailers at the same time (which of course is the true definition of shopper marketing)?

Marta Cyhan
Chief Marketing Officer

In times of crisis, cementing loyalty is not a slow, long-term process. It’s about speed and real-time responsiveness. Winning or losing shopper loyalty comes down to a matter of days and months, not years.

Sandeep Dadlani
Chief Digital Officer
Mars, Incorporated

The biggest opportunity remains our ability to listen deeply and empathize with consumers, to understand their unmet needs and to leverage digital capabilities in response to those needs. We continue to hope that such creative new routes to market — and our resourcefulness  and speed in pivoting to them  — will continue so we can meet consumer needs, wherever they arise. That’s what will help evolve Mars into a truly digital-first and a consumer-centric organization.

Kelly Downey

Think about how to strengthen and even reset your customer relationships by showing flexibility and compassion. Use the opportunity to revise your customer plans, build your customer-facing skills, review your customer-facing organization, and learn new virtual-selling techniques.

Craig Elston
Global Chief Strategy Officer

The greatest opportunity is to understand human needs first. To listen and to keep listening to those needs. Real-time data collection and the ability to interpret signals, gain insight and act swiftly matters now more than ever. We need to be more intentional and less opportunistic with shoppers. We also need to adopt more agile planning, to be able to adapt to new risks as they arise. That agility is a key to success now and in the future.

Kerry Farrell
SVP Sales & Customer Success

Invest in actively understanding shoppers on an ongoing basis. The disruption resulting from COVID-19 should challenge every existing assumption about shopper behavior, patterns, habits, preferences, and priorities. It should fundamentally challenge the notion that making and operating on assumptions about shopper behavior is a sustainable way to do business. Shoppers are real people — they are dynamic, diverse, complicated individual consumers who are subject to change. But this industry has long treated consumers as predictable segmented groups. To achieve success with shoppers moving forward, approach them on an individual basis, actively engage in understanding them today, and then do it again tomorrow.

At Eversight, we believe that continuous experimentation is critical to quickly and accurately uncovering the strategies that are relevant to current consumer behavior. There isn’t going to be a steady-state, predictable, "new normal" at the end of this crisis — and if your organization is sitting around waiting for it so that you can examine what shopper behavior is in that "new normal" to then create a stable, repeatable business plan to reflect it … you’ve missed the opportunity put in front of you by this disruption. The "new normal" is going be a state of constant change, and so the greatest opportunity for achieving success with shoppers is to invest in tools/technologies/processes/structures/people etc. that enable agility and control in a dynamic environment — that enable you to understand the behavior of individual shoppers and quickly adapt your business models, prices, promotions, product assortment, etc. to what those individual consumers are telling you.

Michael Forhez
Global Managing Director, Consumer Markets

Now that is THE question! The simple answer, in an increasingly technology-enabled world, is not to lose sight of what our industry is in the business of — namely, that we are here to serve consumers better by creating the products and services they need, when they need them [and] sometimes even before they know this!

Carlos Garcia
Industry Manager, CPG-Retail

Meeting customers everywhere they are and every way they want to shop will be more crucial than ever — we have to continue to remove friction in the shopper's journey to make shopping easier across all channels. After the crisis ends, most people will still go into stores and put your brands into physical shopping carts, but the number of people that will want to continue to order online and pick up curbside, or from a locker in the store, or have it delivered straight to their home has dramatically increased. It has increased to a number that is big enough that it cannot be ignored and it cannot be something we focus on tomorrow — we need to focus on it now. This change is requiring both CPGs and retailers to rethink things like in-store marketing, traditional shopper marketing, the role of the circular and how to connect with consumers across digital channels. Frankly, if you aren’t serving people in an omnichannel way that reduces friction, and your competitors are, you will lose share. On the contrary, if you can do this faster and better than the other players in your category, you will gain share, and we are already starting to see this with the CPGs and retailers that are leading the pack. This isn’t a future proofing problem anymore. This is a today-proofing opportunity. 

Jason Goldberg
Chief Commerce Strategy Officer
Publicis Communications

We've spent a century growing retail sales by increasing store traffic. Now we'll need to seek growth while limiting store traffic. This will be a major shift in emphasis from traffic generation to focus on conversion and basket size. We're going to need new digital experiences to facilitate product discovery and impulse purchases.

Elizabeth Harris
Chief Strategy Officer

People want the same thing in their shopping lives that they want in the rest of their lives: help. Now that new e-commerce tools have been so widely adopted, how do we lean into these new behaviors to make the experience even better, simpler and more delightful? What enhanced content would be valuable? What surprises can we bring people at curbside or with delivery? Is there a market for a more personal or premium experience? We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible now that we’ve overcome the hurdle of adoption. If we can continue to creatively solve problems for shoppers, meeting them where they are with irresistible solutions to make their lives easier — everyone wins. 

Nick Jones
Chief Growth Officer

The answer is right in front of us: the shopper. It’s no longer about shelf-back, not about the category, not the channel, not the technology … it’s all about the shopper. We want to know the shopper better than anyone — using data, research and observation. And then bring creativity to the party.  Commerce is the next frontier of marketing and the intersection of creativity and commerce is where the action will be.

Brian Kittelson
SVP, Managing Director of Commercialization and Shopper Services
Match Marketing Group

No one knows what the "new normal" will be post pandemic in how we approach daily life and interact as a society.  Regardless of where this nets out, the greatest opportunity for achieving success with shoppers pre-pandemic remains the same post-pandemic: understanding shopper motivations, appropriately sizing them and determining how best to capitalize upon them to amplify the growth of our brands and the categories we operate in. 

Wendy Liebmann
CEO & Chief Shopper
WSL Strategic Retail

The greatest opportunity — and challenge — will be recognizing that this crisis, the repercussions from it and the fast emerging #BlackLivesMatter movement, has created what we call a new breed of “shopper activists” who are taking control of their lives in new and dramatic ways, impacting how they spend, on what, and who they trust to do business with. Understanding this growing population in deep and meaningful ways is the key to success. 

Sheila Lukaszewski
Senior Director, Shopper Engagement

Continuing to optimize their shopping experiences. Offering them simple options for shopping that span their need states, and delighting them with experiential retail and convenient service are essential to achieving success. 

Tina Manikas

Moving forward, the greatest opportunity for achieving success with shoppers is in value reframing. We know that shoppers have been moving from non-essential purchases to more solution-based purchases. Consider that the more essential purchases now have an increased emotional value that represents an opportunity for brands to get out of the price game and get back to shopper resonance and relevance.

Laura Moser
Director, Business Leadership & Client Development
HMT Associates

Developing new approaches to creating and delivering brand value that are integrated into the expanded way that shoppers are approaching trips (Shipt, Instacart, emerging services), lists, stock-up/immediate needs — and helping retailers evolve their shopper offerings. Building transformed and virtual experiences for shoppers that will replace many of the one-on-one experiences in stores with solutions that are equally as informative and engaging — i.e., digital sampling and/or newly created sample sizes as part of click-and-collect service.

Brady Noon
Director of Omnichannel Marketing
SC Johnson

Digital shelf management and optimization.

Chris Perry

Commercial innovation is always new, shiny and exciting. But often the “simple” and much less sexy removal of friction from shopper-journey pain points to offer multiple ways to shop and fulfill orders is more effective to winning in-market. Amazon is one of the best role models here. They are innovative and disruptive, but much of their true innovation comes from a focus on friction-free experiences. For example, online returns have always been a challenge ecommerce retailers face. But Amazon not only partnered with its own stores, UPS locations and Kohl’s stores to provide easy locations for drop-offs, but also implemented no-box returns to make it even more convenient.

In another example of Amazon’s expansion into physical grocery via its Whole Foods acquisition, Amazon Go and the recent planned Amazon-branded nationwide grocery stores launching in 2020, Amazon isn’t totally reinventing the physical grocery store experience. While Amazon Go is the most advanced of the three physical store efforts with its Just Walk Out technology, Amazon isn’t reinventing the entire brick-and-mortar experience, but instead removes some of the friction from the physical store experience such as payment/checkout, Prime membership benefits, special promotions and discounts, and more. This is the natural result of a truly customer-centric strategy. My hope is that more retailers and brands will find their own relevant ways to embrace such a customer-centric approach and look for more low-hanging ways to remove friction in the day-to-day experience. 

Matt Rader
VP, Brand Commercialization and Shopper Services
Match Marketing Group

With the variables that have been affecting this shopper — which have semblances of the 2009 downturn, but far greater — I believe we have somewhat of a roadmap to leverage which is the “value equation” of a brand. This value equation is the intersection of equity, price and contextual solution. If brands can fundamentally get all three right within their specific segments that will achieve differential success over other brands. An important catalyst for this success is going to be ensuring a true omnichannel marketing umbrella that covers however and whenever they are shopping. So doing ensures an approach that applies constant pressure for the brand in engaging with the consumers. Constant market pressure from brands keeps them top of mind providing the best chance for relevance as long as the contextual part of the value equation is on point.  

Rob Rivenburgh
Chief Executive Officer, North America
The Mars Agency

Understanding and meeting the needs and behaviors brought on by a recession and a fear of the unknown. Shoppers will be looking for the best deals. They will shop new retailers, prioritize needs versus wants, and see new solutions and services. We need to revisit and adjust our strategies, from our channel strategy to retailer investment and product offerings, to revisiting coupon strategies, ensuring we are mobile ready, assessing our product mix and pack sizes, and exploring new partners.

Bryant Ross
VP, Brand Commercialization and Shopper Services
IN Connected Marketing

Driving purchase within the context of shoppers' lives. Empathy, branding and engagement have never been more important. Marketers must interrogate all messages to ensure they are sensitive to consumers’ rapidly changing lives. But, as millions more are now at home, retailers and brands have an opportunity to seamlessly implement purchase opportunities into the behaviors the crisis has forced us all to adopt. Recognizing different need groups, like college students and workers with children at home, can help determine what to prioritize in promotions, where to deploy marketing messages, and how to merchandise products online at retailers.

Dan Sabanosh
Director, Shopper Marketing
Great Northern InStore

These events have reiterated the need to understand the state of the shopper. Connecting with shoppers, on their terms to meet their needs, is what is going to drive success. These times have required extra agility to meet a very dynamic situation, and future success will continue to require close assessment of shopper needs, down to the local and personal levels. 

Jonathan Schultz
Managing Director
TPN Retail

Online shopping is an obvious answer, but not necessarily the way it exists right now. The need for it during this pandemic is out of necessity, and it hasn’t always been a smooth experience for shoppers, especially in the grocery space. I think there is an opportunity to create more of an “experience” within a BOPIS shop, for instance, where it is much more about discovery and solution-finding, going beyond just fulfilling functional needs. For instance, shoppers using BOPIS to purchase gifts and/or items for a special occasion, vacation needs, or their back-to-school shop — we can further enhance the online experience for them around these occasions. Our research has found there was an openness to this idea from shoppers before the pandemic, and we believe it will continue in the future.

Marlene Sidhu
Marketing Director, Shopper Marketing
Grupo Bimbo

Truly listening to them.

Steve Sigrist
VP Customer Service & Customer Supply Chain, North America
Newell Brands

Timely product availability across multiple business channels (omnichannel). Meet the customer in the manner in which they want.

Eric Szegda
EVP Consumer Media
Bauer USA

The opportunity is that retail shopping will be different and historical market shares will potentially be up for grabs. Because of the pandemic and corresponding recession, two concerns will be facing shoppers that were not present 12 months ago: safety/sanitation and value. These concerns, in addition to the accelerated adoption of e-commerce, are signaling dynamic shifts in consumer shopping habits. For example, a few things to keep in mind as habits change: price/value proposition; omni-channel shopping; social distancing/sheltering lifestyles. With significant change, comes significant opportunity for shopper marketers. Those most able to identify the evolving habits and pivot corresponding engagement tactics towards tomorrow’s shopper will be able to entrench themselves and/or tap into previously unidentified consumer priorities.

Ted Utoft
Vice President
BVA Nudge

To me, it’s really about understanding shopper behavior and defining your objectives in terms of behavior — what do you want shoppers to do. Not think, not feel. But do. Once you know that, you can observe their current behavior — uncovering the levers and barriers to what you want them to do. Then, think of interventions or nudges that affect that behavior.

Rodney Waights
Vice President, Shopper & Customer Marketing

I see a few opportunities: 1) Remaining relevant and sensitive to the external environment. Tone deaf communication will not be received well and likely will result in lost shoppers to your brand (lasting well beyond the immediate transaction); on the other hand, communication that is sensitive to the current context and provides a relevant solution in an authentic way is likely to create an opportunity for growth. 2) Understanding the shift in pack/price purchasing behavior that is currently occurring and preparing for the likely, if not certain, recession. Relevancy and value will be incredibly important.   

Andy Walter
AJW Advisory

More agile supply chain and fulfillment management.  Retailers and brand owners missed an incredible opportunity to build deep loyalty with shoppers.  

Mark Williamson
Vice President
Peapod Digital Labs

Simply put: anticipating and meeting their needs. This has always been the key to winning with shoppers, but more than ever doing so requires speed, agility and a willingness to keep up with rapid changes in customer expectations and external factors.