Blog Series

Keeping Up With the Times

Peter Breen
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If there is a single image that, for me, aptly illustrates the seismic changes currently taking place in our industry, it’s the one you see here on this page. It’s a shelf talker I noticed at Stop & Shop in early September, during a store check that otherwise had me pleasantly surprised about what seemed to be a return to some level of normalcy in seasonal merchandising after a spring and summer when in-store marketing had gotten pretty scarce.

It’s no surprise to find Stop & Shop actively promoting the click-and-collect services that parent company Ahold Delhaize is rolling out across all of its U.S. chains in a major strategic initiative. But touting curbside pickup as a more convenient option for shoppers who are already in the aisles? That struck me as a clear sign – figuratively and literally – of the industry’s intensified  embrace of e-commerce. It’s one thing to give brick-and-mortar shoppers the alternative of online ordering; it’s another thing entirely to suggest that it’s the better alternative.

The changing nature of in-store marketing was a dominant topic of conversation this year as we worked our way through the annual Design of the Times awards program, which par for the course in 2020 involved more than a few postponements, a switch to all-virtual activity, and a schedule that ironically had us judging in-store activation at a time when many retailers were halting promotions – and when many others were just starting to reopen stores after experiencing mandatory shutdowns.

It seemed a little surreal to be assessing activations that had been planned and executed well before the pandemic arrived. In fact, it became common for judges to discuss what adjustments the entries would require to address pandemic-driven changes to shopper expectations and behavior. (That’s a topic we’ll continue to examine this month at the Path to Purchase Expo. Visit for more information.)

Fortunately, shopper marketing activation can be timeless when it’s guided by fundamental insights – a fact that this year’s “Best of the Times” winner exemplifies quite well. So while it took a lot longer than usual to make it through this year’s DOT program, the end result is the same: a group of winners that are worthy of being recognized as best-in-class shopper marketing. We are proud to showcase our nine winners (as well as all 26 finalists) this month.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to the judges and sponsors (Great Northern Instore and SellCheck) who not only stuck with us through all the changes, but who often helped us determine how best to proceed along the way. Their support has always been important to the success of the DOTs, but this year we literally could not have done it without them. (I’d also be remiss for not thanking Institute event director Peggy Milbrandt for her tireless efforts in getting us to the finish line.)

I think I can say with certainty that next year’s DOT program will be significantly different than this year’s – and probably different than any other prior year as well. Everything that our industry has encountered this year dictates that changes be made. And changing with the times certainly should be required for an awards program that has always tried to be of the times

But we’re hoping, of course, that the times ahead will be far less troubling.

More Blog Posts In This Series

  • History in the Remaking

    I remember my path to purchase history fairly well, so I don’t have to worry about repeating it. But, because I remember, I do have to worry about being the eternally grumpy cynic in the room, the one trying hard not to rain on the parade of all the optimistic folks talking excitedly about the newest industry game-changer.
  • Empowered Women Empower Women

    2020 was a strange year: frightening, chaotic and full of disruption, both professionally and personally. At times, just making it through the day felt like a tremendous victory. Yet the industry did more than just make it through.
  • Flattening the Funnel

    I am writing this Editor’s Note just after concluding the all-new, all-virtual Path to Purchase Digital Expo. When you participate in a three-day marketing conference as both a speaker and attendee and you wear sweatpants the entire time (even when dressed in formal attire from the waist up), your thoughts can tend toward the surreal.