Beer kegs collect dust, abandoned and untapped. Gym ellipticals sit silent without their usual sheen of sweat. Pots and pans hang on hooks in dark restaurants. The past year has seen businesses across numerous industries shutter, open with restrictions, then sometimes close again for good as nations navigate the global health crisis.
A central question on marketers’ minds throughout it all is this: How many changes in consumer behavior will turn into habit, and how many will subside as soon as Covid-19 does? Knowing what will last helps determine where to allocate advertising dollars.
While the answer, like any prediction, might be elusive, a good place to start is the household. Since the virus outbreak, governments have closed everything from offices to schools to restaurants, forcing people to restructure their lives within the home. The result has shifted not just what shoppers buy, but also when, where, how and why they buy it.
A newfound willingness to buy consumer staples via digital channels has accelerated change for retailers and manufacturers. In April, U.S. adults spent 235% more on online groceries compared to the same time in 2019, according to data analytics firm Earnest Research. Purchase activity has remained elevated ever since.
“We can expect online grocery shopping to continue at rates above pre-pandemic levels with many pandemic adopters now savoring its convenience, even in a post-vaccine world,” said Corey Chafin, principal of consumer industries and retail practice at consulting firm Kearney.
CPG giant General Mills has seen its ecommerce business climb from 5% of total sales 18 months ago to 10% last quarter. In response, the Minnesota-based company’s marketing spend is following shoppers online.
“Our actions will lean heavily on how the needs of consumers are evolving and how the role food plays around those needs is being transformed,” said Jeanine Bassett, vp of consumer and market intelligence at General Mills.
The rise in home cooking, for instance, has presented CPG companies with a void to fill. General Mills has been busy publishing recipes for home bakers—who are home with their ovens all the time now—on websites for brands like Pillsbury and Betty Crocker. Together, the two sites receive 7 million unique visitors per month and have seen a 91% increase in 18- to 24-year-olds since the pandemic began.
“No matter where you’re at on the spectrum, somebody needs help on something,” Bassett said.
The pandemic has disrupted more than just the food industry. With limited activities happening outside the home, athleisure is now always in season. In its latest quarterly earnings release, Lululemon reported year-over-year revenue increased 22% to $1.1 billion. Its direct-to-consumer (DTC) unit also leapt 94% compared to the same time in 2019.
Nikki Neuburger, chief brand officer at Lululemon, said she expects the shift toward at-home exercise, along with a deeper emphasis on physical, mental and social well-being, to put the athletic apparel brand in a better position for the future. It’s also building up its capabilities, following an acquisition of home fitness startup Mirror for $500 million.
“We’re confident in the expanded portfolio of experiences we are now providing, from our digital educator service to Instagram Live meditations to Mirror’s in-home workouts,” Neuburger said.
The absence of live concerts and movie theaters during lockdown has amplified the opportunity for brands to act more like publishers than pushers of a particular product, according to Richard Oppy, vp of global brands at Anheuser-Busch InBev. Oppy said brands “need to entertain more so than interrupt.”