Learn From the Best: Which Retailers Weathered the Storm, and Why
Retailers, and brands in general, have had to weather several storms in the past year. And on a personal level, every one of us has had to face a revolution in our day-to-day life. Adapting to this new way of living has impacted how consumers feel and think about brands in a deep and fundamental way. Depending on how they acted, brands are emerging from this time of crisis either as heroes or villains.
Us curious people at Jigsaw Research decided to explore this shift in consumer perception and find out which brands fell into the category of hero or villain. We know that this shift isn’t going to stop when the pandemic ends, and that consumer opinions will keep being influenced by how brands respond to crises and social issues. In other words, in a world of heightened emotions, brands are fiercely judged. If retailers want to end up as winners in the aftermath of this pandemic, they need to understand exactly what’s driving this — and what to do about it.
Our research, among 2,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers, found that 86 percent in the U.S. think differently about at least one brand as a result of its response to the pandemic. And 70 percent changed their behavior towards a brand because of what it has done. That means they’re buying more (or less!) from them. Sometimes these changes are driven by practical reasons, but it’s not always that easy.
To look at the underlying motivations of consumers during 2020, we also did qualitative research, using Moral Foundations Theory as a guide. This theory, introduced by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, provides an underlying framework to understand how our moral values shape what we believe is desirable within society, and how this is changing our expectations of brands.
We found that four of the six moral foundations have been massively triggered, helping to shape people’s behavior. The foundations most affected were care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, and purity/degradation. By exploring these foundations we’ve been able to understand those changes in behavior and how brand messaging (and actions) need to evolve. We’ve also identified the retailers that have ridden the wave most successfully and which others can learn from.
We asked participants which retailers they think better or worse of as a result of their actions in response to the pandemic. Amazon.com, for example, triggered the care/harm moral foundation, relating to our human instinct to care and protect the most vulnerable. One respondent said: “Amazon has introduced a 'no-rush' delivery option which helps prioritize deliveries to vulnerable people as well as getting credit for choosing this option. This has changed my opinion of Amazon for the better."
Whole Foods and Lidl’s approach to the crisis also triggered the care/harm foundation and prompted positive reactions amongst consumers. Whole Foods provided early shopping for older customers and enforced wearing masks, while Lidl provided free healthcare for its workers and hired extra staff.
On the other hand, some retailers triggered the purity/degradation foundation and are now seen in a more negative light. We heard many reports of feelings of anxiety, triggered in a crowded store, or when employees or other customers didn't wear their masks properly. The trust breaks down, people don’t feel safe, and they avoid going back.
If retailers want to stay off the no-fly list, here’s what they should keep in mind: Now more than ever brands have got to do the right thing — and be seen while doing it. Consumers want to see you step up, not cash in; self-sacrifice in pursuit of the common good can take your reputation a long way. Retailers need to treat everyone equally; there’s no point looking after customers if you treat staff poorly. Lastly, build your communications on the Moral Foundations thinking. We're in a climate of heightened moral judgement, and this will help you navigate the emerging landscape.
Julie Knox is the CEO at Jigsaw Research USA, an international strategic insight agency.