Internet and its influence on sales

On 12 March 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web.

Sir Berners-Lee proposed a way of structuring and linking all the information (like a web) available on CERN’s computer network that made it quick and easy to access. This concept of a ‘web of information’ would ultimately become the World Wide Web.

The launch of the Mosaic browser in 1993 opened up the web to a new audience of non-academics. By 1995, the internet and the World Wide Web were established phenomena. In 1995, the Internet had less than 40 million users globally. In contrast, Facebook had 2.9billion monthly active users in January 2022.

While in its early days, the internet was structured on the basis of decentralisation (think p2p file sharing sites like Napster), these days, most use the internet for social media (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok etc), entertainment (think Netflix, Spotify) and for updates on current events, whether fake or not.

Why are we blogging about the internet today?

The internet has had an outsized impact on sales and predictability of sales since inception. While its early (negative) impact was on sales of music, books and movies, due to sites like Napster and Bittorrent, its later impact was on sales of consumer goods, both every day and luxury. This is largely due to social media.

Current events(‘news’) have always influenced our buying decisions. Prior to the advent of the internet, this was restricted to watching the news once a day or to the daily newspaper. So the influence was sporadic. These days, there are several websites (some legitimate, some not), that people can go to for their current events update. This has made the world a lot smaller and influences choices.

Influencers

Influencer marketing has been around since Roman times, when gladiators endorsed products (Source: Forbes.com). According to Forbes.com, the first well known influencer collaboration was when Thomas Wedgwood made a tea set in 1760 for the wife of King George III and marketed his brand as having ‘royal approval’.

In the early 2000s, mommy bloggers were the influencers sought out by various brands to popularise and talk about their products. But the term ‘influencer marketing’ was popularised by social media.

Social media

Of all the websites and apps on the internet, social media has the biggest impact on sales. This is not just owing to the influencers on the internet and what they post, but also due to what regular people like you and me post. With content now going ‘viral’, it is viewed not by 100s of thousands of people, but a few million or billions of people.

In June 2021, Musk tweeted a heartbreak emoji and a Linkin Park referenced meme while talking about Bitcoin. The result: The price of Bitcoin dipped 3.6%.

Another, rather infamous twitter post, was by Weetabix and Heinz. The post was polarising enough that other brands, retailers and even foreign embassies got in on it. Within just a week of posting this, Weetabix sales was up by 15% in Sainsbury’s alone (Source: The Grocer)

Increased information on brands/companies

As information has become the new currency of today, any actions taken by companies are fodder for news, which eventually makes its way to social media.

With Gen Z & Millennials now forming the bulk of shoppers and given how their views on purpose have influenced how Gen X and Baby boomers think about consumption choices as well, this increased availability of information has the power to change brand preferences, based on the information on decisions taken by these companies.

Following the start of the conflict in Ukraine, when Unilever, Pepsi & Coca Cola did not initially pause Russian operations, consumer responses influences sales enough that they then decided to pause operations in the country.

How can sales people predict changes in preferences and prepare for it?

  • Make it a point to stay updated on current events through legitimate sources.
  • Check social media sites regularly to keep an eye on what posts are trending.
  • If your view or preference has been impacted by a particular event, news or a social media post, you can be sure that there are several more whose preference has changed as well.
  • Join different social groups and ensure you regularly talk to people across different generations. Each generation reacts differently (or does not react).

People have always been influenced by the opinions of others. This has been so since times immemorial. Technology has magnified this and will continue to do so as people search for human connection on the internet instead of ‘in real life’.

Breakfast cereal revival – a pandemic boost?

2o20 has been a very interesting year for breakfast cereals.

The breakfast cereal aisle is the one aisle I skip when I do my weekly grocery shopping. Not because I don’t eat breakfast, but because this segment had too much and too little choice all at the same time. That may sound contradictory.

The choice this aisle offered was purely contained to flavour. You had the usual suspects – vanilla, strawberry & chocolate and then other flavours like coconut, banana & berry. Consumers had too much choice (a minimum of 60 options at the average large format supermarket) and the paradox of choice struck.

People started eating less cereal for breakfast. They were also eating more breakfast bars and picking up breakfast to go from cafes. This was a double whammy for the industry as consumers wanted healthier choices as well – less added (natural or otherwise) sugar in their cereals, more fibre, more proteins etc – which the industry was not prepared for and this impacted breakfast cereal perception & consumption and resultantly, sales. According to a Forbes article in Aug 2019, the average US consumer has eaten 14 fewer bowls of cereal over the last 28 years and according to an article by Kerry in October 2019, US retail sales of cereal was expected to decline by 6% between 2017 & 2022.

In February 2020, before the pandemic brought the world to its knees, CNBC ran an article on the breakfast cereal sector and General Mills’ plan to revitalise this category in the US, the current largest breakfast cereal market . The article started off with a summary of key takeaways and the first was:

‘U.S. cereal sales have gone stale in recent years as consumer tastes change.’

Sales volume was in decline for the at-home breakfast cereal sector when the pandemic hit. But then, people started working from home, children started schooling from home and breakfast at home became a regular routine. With professionals still working (albeit from home; so, no time for a hot breakfast!), cafes still under lockdowns and takeaway breakfast joints competing for who has the longest queue, breakfast cereals saved the day for all the moms, dads and working professionals out there.

So the pandemic saved the breakfast cereal industry. It was almost as if the pandemic compelled this industry to listen to what their consumers were asking for (clue: no more flavour variations!) This last year saw an almost unprecedented pace of innovation in this sector. Instead of offering a plethora of yet more flavours, brands instead focussed on creating options along the ‘health spectrum’ spanning from indulgent to healthy.

While the new normal may see a drop in at home cereal consumption compared to that in 2020/early ’21, with kids going back to school, the drop may not be as steep as working from home is here to stay… and breakfast cereal also makes a great snack!

So what prompted this blog today? Weetabix just announced indulgent variants of their fibre rich cereal with Chocolate Melts Duo.