With record numbers of companies entering administration, unseen since the 2008 financial crisis, coupled with government intervention in the form of furlough schemes and business support grants, how and why did some companies experience record levels of growth during Covid-19? And what can we expect to see next?
As many business leaders can attest, the key to a successful and sustainable model is a solid set of foundations; with recent events testing one such foundation above all else…the ability to adapt to change.
When the global pandemic first surfaced, very few could have predicted the scale, duration, and lasting impact it would leave on us. Many lost livelihoods, businesses we’re starved of cash, and new health & safety procedures we’re being designed around the clock.
Now, three years on, some could argue the economy is beginning to settle into the ‘new normal’. Brands are once again evolving to accommodate the latest wave of consumer expectations, confidence is on the up, and the dust is beginning to settle in the battle between e-tail and retail.
But what exactly are consumers expecting from brands? Why did some thrive during the pandemic? And what does the ‘new normal’ even look like?
MacGregor Black takes a closer look at how companies have successfully adapted their business models and are continuing to do so in a post-pandemic economy.
From Surviving to Thriving
At the height of the pandemic, communities worldwide rallied together, key workers we’re celebrated as national heroes, and in true wartime fashion, companies in all corners of the globe rapidly converted their operations in a bid to cover us head to toe in PPE.
Today, although the dust may well have settled and we no longer find ourselves staring down the barrel of a global epidemic, the value of acting with an increased level of consciousness has not been lost on the every-day consumer…
Studies show that one such pre-pandemic trend is once again blossoming. Consumers are once again favouring brands that are conscious of their social, environmental, and economic impact. Research conducted by global professional services company, Accenture, found that a whopping 72% of shoppers are focusing more on limiting food waste, 68% are shopping more health-consciously and 66% of people are actively making more sustainable choices when purchasing, and will continue to do so.
Looking to stay ahead of this sudden moral shift in consumer behaviour, many brands have re-assed how their products are made, packaged, marketed, distributed, and discarded of. With the aim of reducing any negative impacts at each stage of the process. Such change has directly led to organisations making wholesale changes such as, sourcing more energy efficient suppliers, reducing non-recyclable materials throughout their product lifestyle, investing in renewable energy sources, partnering with charitable causes, and setting ambitious sustainability targets that will no doubt, pave the way for numerous additional changes in the future.
MacGregor Black’s Specialist Operations Consultant, Rob Blackburn, comments:
“The negative impact that brands have on the planet has been a priority for most businesses since covid, particularly in the food industry, and I’d say there’s definitely been an organisational shift in many companies to accommodate that.
‘In the past, Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) was often grouped together into the same job function, but now, with there being such a huge focus on sustainability, I’m supporting more and more businesses with splitting ‘Environmental’ into its own separate function; and I’m souring more specialist talent, with specific knowledge into environmentally focused practices.”
“The same can be said for the Beauty industry,” Comments, Kriisti Atherton, MacGregor Black’s Health & Beauty Specialist.
“As consumers demand more from the brands they love, we see more campaigns like the ‘Clean Label Movement’ pop up. In response, companies are looking to make major environmental, sustainable, and ethical changes to their products, and they need the skills to back it up! Right now, I’m working with various beauty clients to source passionate well-networked candidates who have experience sourcing clean ingredients, working within B Corp Certified businesses, and who have experience building relationships with global ethical partners.”
Health & Safety
Executing health and safety measures has long been a priority in the workplace. Yet, the pandemic unarguably forced companies to act with a level of urgency unlike any other. For some businesses, the pandemic unmasked a number of underlying flaws in their existing practices; acting as a catalyst for change and forcing companies to re-think their future business models.
Important topics around mental health & wellbeing, hybrid working, the need for effective childcare, sufficient sick pay, and reasonable adjustments have all been widely spotlighted by employees since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jack Dennerlein, PhD, adjunct professor of Ergonomics and Safety at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health commented, “The pandemic has brought topics like well-being to the forefront of the conversation. Now, all of a sudden, people realise the impact work has on mental health, and other aspects of well-being, through impacts like reliance on childcare and disparities in work. The conversation has changed.”
Having noted the appreciation from staff and in some cases, an uplift in productivity, many businesses have chosen to stick with their ‘pandemic’ benefits; opting to continue offering additional support such as, hybrid working, free 1-2-1 counselling sessions, regular manager well-being calls, revised sick pay policies and regular occupational health training. Chevron, one of the world’s leading energy companies, has continued to run what they refer to as, The Employee Assistance and WorkLife Services Program, which offers their employees free sessions with licensed counsellors to help cope with any challenges they may face in the workplace, or at home. This is something Chevron will continue to offer staff now, and in the future.
Some businesses hoped to reduce stress and anxiety by offering their employees benefits such as, mental health webinars or free subscriptions to health and wellness apps. Whilst this may be useful and even greatly appreciated by some, it could also come across as slightly dismissive. If employees’ workloads are too excessive, management is lacking in compassion, or they’re unable to support a work-life balance, how effective will a mandatory mental health webinar really be? Perhaps an opportunity has been missed here to really address the underlying issues? More than just raising awareness and promoting an understanding culture, the organisations that are flourishing in today’s post-pandemic world are those that are ensuring line managers are fully trained, are listening to their employees, and have a thorough understanding of what good mental health support looks like, on a case-by-case basis.
“According to a survey of 1,001 Americans, when asked ‘Have you ever bought a product or service online that you found out about from an influencer?’, over a whopping 52% said yes! “– Digital Marketing Specialists, Fractl and BuzzStream,
Diving Deep into Digital
Without a doubt, the post-pandemic world is a digital one.
As retailers closed their doors and physical interaction was kept to a ‘Castaway like’ minimum, the digital world proved to be not just a lifeline for many businesses, but a license to succeed. Brands that not only embraced but adapted and invested in this digital transformation thrived. Even after retailers opened their doors, mass vaccinations were introduced and the world began to re-settle into a somewhat ‘normal’ existence, the digital boom has showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s estimated that digital media accounted for 59% of all global ad spend in 2020.
Similar to the Health and Safety sector, the push towards digital transformation forced many organisations to pay closer attention to their digital and technology investments. In a pre-pandemic world, digital campaigns were often mere brand marketing tools, used simply to bolster impressions and raise overall awareness. Whereas today, after a period of relying solely on tech to engage with customers, many digital campaigns now feed customers directly into specially designed sales and ecommerce mechanisms; through an integrated and cohesive sales funnel that allows companies to closely measure their ROI. For example, in 2021, Shopify began using QR codes dubbed, ‘Shopcodes’ that when scanned with their phones, directed customers to specific products, tracked conversions, and allowed them to retarget customers for future sales in an entirely digital environment.
MacGregor Black’s Specialist Ecommerce Consultant, Qasim Khan, comments:
“With digital campaigns now driving an increased share of sales since the pandemic, the need to track, measure and tailor these campaigns has become an absolute necessity. In my market, I’m seeing more of my Fashion & Luxury clients invest in UX/UI and Performance Marketing roles as a result.
There’s also been a large increase in the number of brands launching and developing their marketplace presence. Which is another accelerant for the need to hire experienced, analytically minded, and results orientated professionals, with specific skillsets such as Zalando or Amazon.”
Another digital strategy that many businesses saw exponential growth through is affiliate marketing. With millions confined to their homes, unable to work, travel, or socialise. Many turned to, you guessed it… social media. The undisputed home of affiliate marketing. And an environment that provided both brands and affiliates with the perfect recipe for growth.
Many brands recognised this increase in social media activity, and when coupled with an eCommerce boom, developed purpose-built strategies to capitalise, financially rewarding customer to customer interactions, UGC production, web traffic, and sales. When we add to that the emergence of ‘at home’ products such as high-end coffee machines, air fryers, and pizza ovens, customers are continually searching for an elevated experience without ever leaving the house. And who better to influence them, than… the influencers.
Brands have now not only fine-tuned the quality of their social campaigns, but have also increased their partnerships with influencers, and micro-influencers, that are able to offer them a direct route to their target audience. According to a survey of 1,001 Americans, conducted by digital marketing specialists, Fractl and BuzzStream, when asked ‘Have you ever bought a product or service online that you found out about from an influencer?’, over a whopping 52% said yes! Companies can work with influencers to promote all sorts of products, from clothes & makeup, to cleaning products & home organisation accessories. By simply clicking a link on their favourite influencer’s page, customers are sent straight to the product purchase page, where they can often buy it using a discount code from the influencer, who usually receives a small sponsorship payment each time someone purchases the product using their link.
The biggest downfall to online shopping is of course, the inability to physically interact the item. Making it difficult to get a sense of whether or not it’s the right product. This is one of the key opportunities for Augmented Reality to act as a reliable substitute for testing out and trying on items in the store. For example, social media brand Snapchat has partnered with various fashion and retail companies to offer their users AR creations that allow customers to try on products via their app. Their most recent partnership will see thousands of Amazon’s top-selling eyewear virtually don the faces of Snapchat users across the world. If looking to purchase any of the glasses, users will then be directed to the ‘Amazon Fashion’ store directly form the Snapchat app.
“More customers are turning to mobile shopping – in the past year, Amazon Fashion customers ordered more than one billion fashion items on mobile devices. The growing Snapchat community of 363M daily active users now have access to Amazon’s popular eyewear brands, including Maui Jim, Persol, Oakley, and Costa Del Mar, among others.”
However, on the flip side to the fashion coin, resale platforms like Depop, Preworn and Preloved, that sell second-hand clothes have also prospered since the Covid-19 pandemic, as a result of the spike in conscious consumerism mentioned earlier.
Bricks and Mortuary?
Despite the unarguable window of opportunity that digital devices have presented businesses with since covid-19, some of the world’s most popular global brands like Apple, Macy’s and Walmart are still continuing to advocate for Bricks & Mortar retail. But, if stores want to engage with their customers on a physical level, does shopping needs to evolve with the times?
Today, if a customer visits a store, they expect an experience that outperforms the convenience of shopping online. And so, the ‘Experiential boom’ begins.
Whilst not all concepts are brand new, shop-in-shop for example (where a brand or retailer opens its own smaller retail space inside another retailer’s store) is certainly on the rise. In many cases, with shop-in-shop partnerships, there will be a general cross over between the customer base of the two brands involved.
In February 2021, just as the pandemic was beginning to settle, and stores we’re attempting to lure us through their doors once again, US retailer Target unveiled the first ‘Apple at Target shop-in-shop’. The partnership provided the tech giant with a new route to market, as well as elevating Target’s status as a prime destination for electronics and accessories. A win-win. Target have also extended their existing shop-in-shop partnership with UltaBeauty, adding 250 of the beauty brand’s pop-up stores in national Target locations.
Another company embracing beauty concessions is, Kohl’s, who have announced a huge shop-in-shop programme with beauty retailer, Sephora, which will see 850 mini-Sephora stores in Kohl’s stores this year. Furthermore, Walmart introduced their own shop-in-shop concept, having partnered with Claire’s in 2018, which saw the retailer’s accessories and jewellery stocked in more than 250,00 Walmart stores. Not to mention, a strategic partnership ahead of the recent holiday period also saw high-end US department store, Macy’s, partner with WHP Global to bring Toy’s R Us stores to every US Macy’s location throughout the months of July- October 2022; making things much easier for exhausted parents to shop for both quality clothes and noisy toys all in one place.
In the hopes of also reinventing their customer’s retail experience, some brands have invested further in alternative experiential marketing methods. Similar to ‘shop-in-shop’ and sometimes referred to as event marketing, or engagement marketing, experiential marketing is a way for brands to physically interact with their customers through a specific experience. For example, Lululemon not only sells trendy yoga attire, but also offers customers free, drop-in yoga and fitness classes in almost every store. Luxury department store, Nordstrom even introduced a Tonal exercise machine in their stores in 2021, which customers can use for free with a full demo included.
As each example above demonstrates, the world is a multifaceted, reactive place, moulded only by the ever-evolving economy. The margin for success and failure is often razor thin, and after facing almost three years of uncertainty and the ability to conduct business as usual, brands in all corners of the globe have put their malleability to the test; making radical changes in the hopes of catering to a list of post-pandemic demands. From revised working from home policies to detailed and integrated digital campaigns, the businesses that were able to make the necessary changes not only survived… but thrived.
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