The historic COVID-19 crisis has the consumer packaged goods industry reprioritizing the present and bracing for a ‘new normal’
Walgreens Lives Up to Its Tagline
Steps taken by the “Trusted Since 1901” drugstore chain illustrate the ways in which many retailers have responded to the crisis.
• Placed purchase limits on certain products to improve inventory flow and keep them available for more shoppers.
• Offered free delivery for all online orders, with no minimum purchase required. Also waived delivery fees for all eligible prescriptions.
• Dedicated temporary space outside select stores for COVID-19 testing.
• Changed store hours to 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (local times) to allow more time for restocking and cleaning. Made order pickup of select products available via pharmacy drive-thru windows.
• Created a dedicated COVID-19 landing page on Walgreens.com: “We’re in this together - Helping you and your family through COVID-19.”
• Sent emails to registered consumers communicating its COVID-19-related efforts.
• Posted supporting videos from pharmacists about various relevant topics on YouTube.
• Otherwise proceeded with standard practices: the March 22 circular invited shoppers to “Hop into Easter Savings!”
Compounding all of these challenges is the fact that CPGs are simultaneously dealing with the pandemic’s impact on their own ways of doing business. Travel bans and work-from-home mandates have forced companies to set up new communication systems and workflows even as they’re responding to the demands of the marketplace.
“What’s top of mind right now across our entire organization is ensuring that we properly service our customers while also keeping our employees safe,” said the vet.
What’s a CPG to Do?
Therefore, the to-do list for brand marketers is exceptionally daunting, especially since the pandemic’s impact continued to intensify throughout last month: on March 19, California became the first in a stream of states to issue a statewide “shelter in place” order.
“Right now, it’s a short-term scramble just to figure things out,” says Yurovski. “The trick later will be what to do with your time and your marketing dollars.”
Shopper agency MarketingLab analyzed a variety of research sources last month to help the Institute identify several key steps to consider as marketers reassess activity:
Keep a close eye on consumer sentiment and adjust communications accordingly. “Brands must be flexible, adapt to the change and attempt to add value,” says Michael La Kier, MarketingLab’s digital strategist. Rethink plans for potentially weak upcoming holidays (Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Graduation), especially since family gatherings likely won’t be part of the equation anymore.
Place a greater focus on digital and social communication. In-store options will be limited anyway, but the pandemic is driving an increase in both digital commerce and digital media consumption as consumers increasingly stay at home. “Prepare for a dramatic increase in online demand, particularly within pure-play and home delivery,” La Kier says. “This may have a lasting effect post-crisis.”
Continue helping retailers respond to changing shopper behavior. Crisis-mode conditions might last longer than anyone wants – or even worsen. The agility to respond quickly will be critical.
Maintain an active presence. While brands don’t want to come across as exploiting the crisis, they can play an important role in helping consumers adjust. “Brands can earn trust by delivering relevant value in a fluid period of heightened anxiety,” says La Kier. “We must show empathy and give comfort using tone-appropriate messages.”
Being prepared for whatever lies ahead will be the most important step to take. The (hopefully) shorter-term turmoil caused by the pandemic now seems almost certain to evolve into an economic recession that will have an even longer-term impact on shoppers, retailers and brands.
The readiness will be all.