The state of flux in FMCG

FMCG brand managers are facing an unprecedented and almost overwhelming combination of challenges, which are coming at them faster than ever. We have labelled this phenomenon the age of progressive FMCG – political and social tensions, culture wars, gender wars, warnings of impending environmental disasters, the obesity crisis and the collapse of trust in traditional media and other forms of authority. It makes for a darkly dystopian mix.‘ according to a report by FINN, a communications agency.

Despite all this change, FMCG companies continue to homogenise shopper characteristics by generational cohorts for different markets. While this worked well 30 years ago, when each generation had its own signature characteristics, today, this has changed.

Patterns across generations

These days, due to technological advances, there are similarities in shopper behaviour across generations that could be used to categorise shoppers rather than relying on generational similarities.

For example, each generation has people who adopt technology early. Not only that, but Baby boomers needed to undergo a ‘crash course’ in ecommerce and social media during the pandemic for everyday shopping and to keep in touch with their family.

As a result they found that e-commerce is a far more convenient channel for their shopping needs than travelling to stores. This is especially so for baby boomers who maybe mobility constrained & for those baby boomers living in emerging markets, where proximity to stores and traffic are deterrents to shopping at stores.

Another commonality across generations is the impact of price. While only 73% of Baby Boomers considered price a key factor influencing their purchasing decision vs 78% of Gen Z, the delta between the two is not significant.

Consumers across generations love a bargain, with 75% of both millennials and baby boomers agreeing that they’re more likely to purchase if they have a coupon or loyalty discount. For more information on multi generational retail strategies, read this report.

Pre pandemic studies on FMCG now out of touch with consumers

Most studies on shopping preferences and styles of the different generations were done pre-pandemic. These are now of out of sync with the consumers of today, and that includes baby boomers and Gen Xers.

A recent 2022 study by Hubspot on how each generation shops shows more similarities that differences between many of the generations. While 50% of Gen Z shoppers said that a brand’s ESG initiatives are important to them, 35% of Baby Boomers also said the same, with Millennials at 41%.

Millennials & ESG initiatives
Gen Z & ESG initiatives

While only 25% of Baby Boomers say that ESG initiatives by brands influence their choices, 71% of those who agree want companies to take action on Climate change.

The key takeaway is that consumers across generations are concerned about similar things. The only difference is the percentage of each generational cohort.

Leveraging similarities

Today, we live with spiralling inflation, geopolitical conflicts and the ever present threat of another pandemic. These uncertainties are impacting consumption choices yet again.

Perhaps it is time to regroup consumers by how they discover products & shop and what features/benefits influence their choices rather than relying on generational similarities to target consumers.

Retail & customer experience

Customer experience in retail, is the overall journey of the consumer from the moment he or she sees your store to the moment he/she leaves. Due to the prevalence of social media and e-commerce, this journey now includes your website, reviews left on the internet by your previous consumers and online customer service experience.

According to a recent Price Waterhouse Cooper study, 73% of shoppers said retail customer experience is more important to them than price, or quality. Not only did they value positive customer experience, but they found that it influenced their decision on where and what to shop more than advertising did. More than 40% were even willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

No wonder retailers are paying attention to customer experience and there are several start-ups in this space.

Historically retail execution in FMCG (which we’ve covered in previous blogs starting with retail execution, continuing to the first and most important P, Product and ending with Proposition) ensured great customer experience in store. These days, while this still generally holds true, there are more elements that influence customer experience.

So how can you improve customer experience?

Your customer experience strategy should be based on your customer’s journey from when they arrive at one of your stores all the way through to post-purchase. Are there opportunities to interact with your products and services? Is your store inclusive and accessible? How customer friendly is your customer service team and the customer service process? What is the online experience of your store/e-commerce site like for your consumer?

Contactless as well as range customisation for location are key aspects for retail customer experience these days. Ever noticed that the range in each Zara store you step into is different from the rest? By analysing the products most relevant for each store location and stocking products that customers seemingly want at a local level, you can dramatically optimise operational efficiency, reduce returns and increase sales. Now, more retailers are following the trend Zara has set including Sephora and H & M. By customising assortment for each location, retailers can boost brand loyalty and provide a streamlined & relevant customer experience.

Social responsibility & Convenience

These days, supermarkets (ASDA, ALDI, Morrisons, M & S Food, Waitrose) and convenience chains (notably, SPAR with their Eat 17 collaboration) with stores that have packaging free aisles, have also seen an increase in new customers. And now with the increase in prices of day to day groceries, packaging free options may prove to be more affordable than packaged versions due to lower price increases and so may appeal to larger groups of people than just eco-conscious consumers.

Location (for quick impromptu visits), fast delivery and timing of delivery slots have been key drivers of convenience, which has emerged as a very important element of customer experience post pandemic.

Timing of delivery and availability of delivery slots is one of the key reasons Walmart is partnering with Drone Up to deliver grocery orders to parts of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Social & live sales in e-commerce and in store

Another emerging trend is live shopping. An increasing number of retailers are looking at implementing live shopping solutions on their e-commerce sites. We have now come full circle from door to door salespeople selling FMCG brands to self serve supermarkets and now back to sales people presenting their brands and SKUs online for sales. Not only are several retailers developing homegrown solutions for this, but they are also partnering with start-ups like Shoply and Vurdere.

There are several FMCG companies that have partnered with retailers to display their marketing/sales content on screens below/next to the shelves with their SKUs taking online sales/marketing content to its logical conclusion. For example, Muller partnered with ASDA to display their marketing content on screens close by/below the shelves displaying their products.

There are several CX initiatives by supermarkets that we haven’t covered in this blog. These are simply a few that stood out. If there are any supermarkets or convenience stores in particular that have grabbed your attention with their CX initiatives, please email me with details at veena@salesbeat.co so we can include them in another blog or cover them in our podcast.

12+ months after Covid fuelled panic buying

More than a year after Covid fuelled stockpiling of necessities and grocery staples, we still see empty supermarket shelves.

Many assume this is because of an increased focus on online sales by the large grocers, especially in the US, as evidenced by this article in Insight Grocery Business in March 2021. We’ve also seen similar instances in the UK, but in the UK, we’ve blamed these stock-outs on Brexit. There have been recent articles on similar instances in the Middle East & in several EU countries too.

An increased focus on online shouldn’t lead to empty shelves in store. Especially as those who pick stock for online orders through external providers pick products off the shelf currently. This is especially so if orders are placed on Instacart (US), Uber eats or Deliveroo (UK). And Brexit shouldn’t cause stock outs of brands made in the UK using materials sourced in the UK.

So what is really going on?

As we mentioned in our previous article on the 2021 Easter egg shortage in the UK, supermarkets, and brands that sell into supermarkets, typically use last year’s sales volumes as baseline for current year orders.

Buyers have exercised some judgement this year by not ordering sanitisers, cleaning products, kitchen cupboard products (pasta, rice, flour, canned vegetables etc), cleaning products & toilet paper in line with last year’s sales, when consumers were stockpiling in anticipation of supermarkets running out of these staples due to lockdowns. However, they did not exercise the same judgement when they ordered other brands/products (confectionery, small format beverages etc). Even less so when it came to the beer, wine & spirits inventory in store.

Despite increased sales across confectionery and beverages during the later stages of the pandemic, supermarket orders were placed for similar sales volumes as last year during the same time.

So now you see stock-outs across categories and markets.

The only thing in common across categories and markets is the impact of covid on consumer behaviour and choices.

As supermarkets still order on the basis of previous year volumes, they’ve had to exercise their judgement when placing these orders. This is difficult when everything the buyer knows about consumption habits has changed, after more than a year of living under pandemic conditions/lockdowns.

A google search on habits and how long it takes to form a habit runs the gamut from 14 days to 54 days, with the most cited number being 21 days. A study by the University College of London found that it takes 66 days for a habit to form. If the new behaviours were easy, it took 20 days (the example they cite is drinking a glass of water after breakfast every day) and, based on how disruptive the new habits were, ranged to 254 days.

Many of us have lived in lockdowns/pandemic conditions for more than 254 days. Depending on where we live, this has ranged between 75 days and 270 days. Enough time for new habits to form.

Add in significant variations in weather due to climate change, and (almost permanent) changes to how and where we work and/or study. No wonder retailers/FMCG companies are struggling!

If you’d like to understand how best to leverage data to arrive at optimal order volumes for your supermarkets/brands, email me on veena@salesbeat.co