Transforming the Shopper Experience

a person posing for the camera
Toby Johnson

We may not realize it, but how we shop is being transformed. In fact, 75% of us are reporting shifts in our shopping behaviors over the past year. COVID-19 has highlighted a unique tension between our need for control and immediacy and our inherent desire for experience and connection.

Human beings are designed to interact through more than a computer screen, but have we ever been more reliant on our devices? After a year, we also miss people and places that hold deep meaning in our lives. Therefore, the solution isn’t one or the other for retailers and brands. The omni-world of the future will be one where digital is even more interwoven with the in-person purchase.

Control & Immediacy. Consumers love shopping online, but what they really want is control over where and how they receive their online orders. This couldn’t be more evident than it has been during the pandemic. Why make multiple stops when you can serve your needs while sitting on the couch without a mask or six feet of separation? What can be more immediate than ordering on-demand at the tip of your fingers?

In 2013, late night TV host Stephen Colbert quipped this advice to Amazon:

Locations that customers can walk into and buy things. And the inventory would be arranged not as drop-down menus but as rows of physical merchandise that the customer can actually touch … and instead of waiting 30 minutes for a drone to arrive, they can place their selections into some sort of wheeled basket conveyance … Thus, they have the products instantly. I call it, Amazon Live.”

This hilarious bit preceded Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar store in 2016 and its acquisition of retailer Whole Foods in 2017. Why would the world’s largest online merchant feel a pull to the in-person store experience?

Experience & Connection. Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the grocery store has played a critical role in meeting our daily needs. These needs have evolved, and so have retailers. A 1998 Harvard Business Review article introduced the idea of the “experience economy,” which describes how the values on which consumers base their purchases have evolved. Millennials, the generation currently with the greatest buying power, have a declared preference for travel over material things, and 86% prefer vacations where they can explore new cultures.

The right shopping experience can feel like exploration, engaging all the senses with the smell of fresh-baked bread, a delicious morsel offered up as a sample, the cheerful greeting of a store employee, a package being turned over in your hands, or rounding a corner to discover a beautiful display. Being connected is a multi-sensorial experience, and there is comfort in this connection.

Many experts suggest we are now evolving beyond experience into a “transformation economy,” where shoppers crave something authentic and meaningful: deeper connection that ultimately has the power to change their lives. That is a high standard for companies to deliver, but it also demonstrates the trust and openness that today’s shoppers are bringing to the marketplace.

During COVID-19, the online and in-person worlds have been on an accelerated collision course. The drive to reach the now always-connected shopper can be illustrated in two data points: 87% of customers start their product searches online, but 90% of actual purchases are made in-store.

Traditional retailers have witnessed this through the explosion of click-and-collect, where shoppers enjoy the speed and convenience of picking up orders from a nearby location when it suits them. Interestingly, nearly 40% of click-and-collect shoppers still run into the physical store during the pickup for an additional last-minute purchase.

When these shopping platforms seamlessly integrate, magic can happen. My Campbell Snacks team is focused on resolving shopper desire to have it all while also elevating experiences, reducing friction and, most importantly, deepening relationships. For those who obsess about shoppers and meeting their needs, our changing world holds endless opportunity for the future. 

About the Author: Toby Johnson is Senior Vice President of Sales for Campbell Snacks. Before joining the company last summer, she spent 13 years with PepsiCo in diverse roles across the Frito-Lay, Pepsi Beverages, and North America Nutrition businesses.