As the consumer mood in the U.S. around the COVID-19 outbreak has quickly shifted from curious to cautionary, retailers have a significant role to play in providing shoppers with a solution. U.S. exposure and response by federal and local governments continue to mount day-by-day, and therefore buying patterns are evolving rapidly as shoppers come to terms with and adapt to their new reality. Retailers that use their private brands to calm the fears that exist today will position themselves well to build connectivity with their customers and loyalty in the long term. This requires creating thoughtful messaging around how private brands can deliver an ownable and reliable solution to prevent, treat and prepare for the tangential consequences of the virus, while reinforcing the value that private brands bring in helping shoppers stretch their dollars during this difficult time.
Being agile in execution is key to ensuring your private brands can deliver on the challenge. Here are the essential actions that retailers must consider in formulating their approach:
- Curate private brand assortments to simplify the shopping experience. This is key both online and offline to help consumers quickly navigate through the complexities of what to buy and where to find it, as they're faced with building a new shopping basket during this unprecedented time. In-store, think cross-merchandising cleaning products with daily immune boosters and merchandising near the entrance for a quick trip. Online, consider a dedicated e-commerce page that features a relevant selection of products to showcase your private brand solution and make it easier to buy.
- Get ahead of the digital surge. As consumers seek to minimize physical interaction, anticipate higher-than-average online activity and establish connectivity for your private brands across all digital channels — from social to email to e-commerce — to create a seamless path to purchase. Any private brand product that's displayed in any digital channel should have an accompanying link for purchase. Furthermore, retailers that offer click-and-collect and/or home delivery fulfillment must be prepared to effectively manage a surge in demand for these services and develop a protocol to limit direct contact with shoppers.
- Have a contingency plan to mitigate supply shortages. A retailer’s ability to follow through on these actions is dependent on the reliability of its private brand supply chain. Ensure inventory management discipline beyond the basics of health and hygiene items to also consider pantry staples, while dual pathing short-term alternative options to address supply limitations. Apart from cleaning and over-the-counter products, key categories to watch include paper, canned goods, shelf-stable meal solutions, snack items, infant formula and baby food, shelf-stable beverages, refrigerated staples (e.g., butter, cheese, eggs), and frozen foods. Limiting purchase quantities will further support efficient supply management as more and more shoppers seek to stockpile.
- Proactively communicate your preventative measures. Use in-store and digital channels to communicate to customers the additional actions being taken at store level to safeguard their health, such as more frequent sanitization, particularly in high-touch and high-traffic areas, or reallocating resources to dedicate associates to maintaining key areas of the store. Furthermore, plan on regular updates to COVID-19-related messaging, as predictions are that the U.S. is still in the early stages of the spread.
Virus-related concern will increase before it decreases, so it’s critical for retailers to refine their private brand-led plan of action to help consumers navigate and manage through the uncertainty. Incorporating actions that promote goodwill are also a key component in supporting consumers at this time. Waiving delivery or click-and-collect fees, or even providing private brand sanitizing products as a courtesy to shoppers in-store, are subtle ways a retailer can further demonstrate a level of care and dependability to the consumer, which can be impactful in cultivating long-term loyalty for its banner and private brands.
Michael Taylor is president of Daymon Worldwide, a leading private brand consultant.