On June 16, Amazon made headlines with its shocking acquisition of Whole Foods.
In the days following, news anchors and industry experts theorized the strategy behind this decision, while shopper researchers from around the country gathered in Minneapolis and asked, “How will this affect our consumers?”
The timing of this shift in the retail landscape is just one example of how quickly the shopper experience can change. With consumer expectations rising, and brands and retail channels constantly innovating, the industry must continue to adapt to meet consumer demands. This year’s Omnishopper Conference addressed such shifts, while highlighting key thoughts and trends for manufacturers and retailers to consider.
Online continues to be the new frontier
Ripe with insights and innovations to help push companies forward, the online space continues to provide opportunities, and yet has also produced new barriers and behaviors forcing companies to pivot and respond in order to better reach consumers. Such changes include less immediate reward buys, less guilt in removing items at check-out, and loss of seamless brand blocking in the shopping experience.
A presentation featuring a Unilever study revealed that a category’s heaviest users were the first to shift their purchases to the online space, and initial online purchases established brand habits. Many presenting companies highlighted the fact that the first page of search results account for approximately 80%-90% of online sales. These uncovered behaviors, along with others, challenged traditional expectations and emphasized the need to understand key motivations that drive better actions.
Additional topics addressed the online purchase barriers that exist for some categories, such as packaging and product information not easily communicated in a clickable environment, as well as a lack of category salience in the online channel. Companies like Mars Chocolate are tackling such barriers head on by translating their success and understanding in the brick-and-mortar space to e-commerce. By utilizing their current understanding of a consumer’s purchasing hierarchy with confectionary products, they were able to streamline online navigation and create a more efficient and less overwhelming online shopping environment for shoppers. Other companies, including Unilever, Lego, and Clorox, have also embraced this new frontier with an open mind and, as a result, uncovered new insights into online behaviors that they have been able to leverage.
As companies continue to explore the online channel, how they engage with consumers in this space—as well as disrupt consumer habits and early brand relationships that emerge—will be vital to continued success.
Experience is still a driving force
No matter the channel used to purchase, experience still has a major influence on consumers. In order to enhance a customer’s experience, brands must be authentic, reflect their core values, and engage consumers on a personal level wherever and whenever possible. Experience is critical to both online and offline activities, and companies should continue to strive for a seamless brand feel—regardless of the platform. Many presentations, including one from Gap, Inc., spoke on how crucial journey mapping is in understanding the experiences that shape consumer expectations. As noted by Soon Yu, keynote speaker and author of Iconic Advantage, once companies understand their customers’ experience through journey mapping, they can then utilize such experiences to not only engage and delight consumers, but also to leverage that experience to build a brand’s “iconic value.” Uncovering this value focuses on identifying the product benefits that are truly distinctive, relevant, and recognizable to consumers and, as a result, enables brands to develop a robust differentiation strategy.
Consider the culture and how to respond
In addition to shifts in the retail environment, companies should also be cognizant of cultural shifts in the marketplace. Two keynote speakers – Peter Horst, former CEO of The Hershey Company, and Edwin Wong, VP of Research & Insights at Buzzfeed—challenged companies to embrace cultural shifts, instead of fearing them. According to Horst, brands have become an “outlet for consumers who feel powerless for their voice to be heard.” Because of this new shift, brands should re-familiarize themselves with their core DNA and be transparent about who they are and what they stand for as a brand. Along with this shift in the consumer-to-brand relationship, demographic norms are also beginning to change. Wong and his team at Buzzfeed claim that in the near future, 30% of all new minorities will be a combination of other ethnicities, not to mention many other emerging demographic and psychographic norms. Companies should consider how to better engage and understand their consumers as these cultural demographic norms begin to shift.
Kill the company
In order to address trends like these properly, companies and brands need to re-visit their foundational identity. By having a firm understanding of its core values, a brand can then look to the future and begin to innovate. According to Adam Grant, Wharton School of Business Professor, New York Times bestselling author, and keynote speaker, groupthink can stifle innovation and prevent great ideas from emerging. By “killing the company” and thinking through the eyes of a competitor, employees take on an offensive mindset instead of a defensive one and, as a result, the freedom to innovate without risk. Companies should also embrace feedback and criticism, because “if you live in a world where you only want solutions, you’ll never hear your biggest problems.” By encouraging innovation through an eye of competitive criticism, companies can strengthen developing areas and better adapt and innovate to meet market demands.