Social distancing will continue to contribute to the sharp increase in online grocery buying."

As the coronavirus pandemic causes dramatic changes in shopper behavior, consumer goods makers and retailers are hurrying to find solutions to sudden out-of-stock positions and marketing strategies that are now ineffective, inappropriate or both.

Even as shoppers rush to brick-and-mortar stores to fill their pantries, social distancing will continue to contribute to the sharp increase in online grocery buying, resulting in out-of-stocks both in-store and online. At the same time, once-relevant marketing content may seem trivial or tone-deaf.

And these challenges will likely worsen as Americans are urged to stay home except for local trips to buy necessities and as restaurants move to takeout or for-delivery orders only. In an effort to respond to changing customer needs, Walmart recently reminded customers they could get what they need by ordering online for pick up or delivery, while Albertsons and Stop & Shop, among other retailers, now offer “contact-free” or unattended delivery. Little wonder, then, that  grocery delivery apps are seeing a record number of downloads.

Helping Your Customers

But while grocery retailers put in place policies to keep their in-store employees and customers safe and products on the shelves and available online in the short term, the rapid change in shopping behavior presents a risk to long-term brand and retail e-commerce platform loyalty and sales. Brands that are out of stock or not visible on the digital shelf could permanently miss out on consumers’ future shopping trips when shopping behavior returns to pre-coronavirus norms. Why? New online shoppers typically leverage the search function to create their initial basket, then reorder from there. If a preferred brand is not easily found or is out of stock, either a competing product will be purchased or a shopper will search elsewhere, triggering search algorithms based on those decisions.

Meanwhile, marketing campaigns that are unseen, out of step with in-stock positions or deliver irrelevant content are now ineffective and have the potential to harm a brand or retail platform.

A real-time response to changing behavior and sentiment is needed to avoid lasting damage. Done effectively, a solution that combines real-time monitoring of in-store and online sales and out-of-stocks with targeted, digital marketing strategies can help brands and retailers better react to shopper behavior and sentiment and reduce the risk of long-term loss of sales and brand integrity.

An example: A brand manager monitors the availability of her pasta brand and competing brands across major U.S. retailers in-store and online. She leverages tools to identify out-of-stocks and shifts in keywords used by shoppers searching for items. This reveals a competitor’s brand is currently out of stock in several stores operated by a retailer that is promoting the product on its e-commerce site. She alerts the retailer’s category buyer who can adjust the website accordingly. At the same time, she offers the retailer branded digital ad units aimed at stressed-out, isolated shoppers who are worried about their families. The ads feature 15-second informational videos showcasing easy-to-make recipes using in-stock products and a click-through directly into a cart on the retailer’s website.

The consumer goods and retail industry will continue to be on the front line of the fight against the pandemic, challenged by social distancing and the uncertainty driving consumers to react with panic buying. As the nearby store and online shopping options become even more central to Americans’ lives, brands must partner with retailers to provide information, products — and comfort and care.

Advantage Solutions

Chris Butler
President, Advantage Digital Technology
Advantage Solutions

Chris Butler sets the strategy for the Advantage Digital Technology division of Advantage Solutions, which includes e-commerce agencies Sage Tree, Beekeeper Marketing, Quiverr and Quantum Networks and the e-commerce content and analytics technology platforms Atlas, Canopy and The Data Council.

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