What can be done to prevent stockpiling in the future?

Stockpiling, panic buying, stocking up – is this what to expect from your customers? We’ve seen the empty shelves and the pleas to shop responsibly and the concerns over the availability of food, but retailers are likely wondering if this is exclusive to coronavirus, or if the panic pandemic will strike again. Our founder and CEO Martin Schofield believes retailers can prevent this stockpiling culture from happening again if they learn valuable lessons from what has happened during the pandemic.

The stats on stockpiling

Panic buying serves to the psychological need for a control mechanism during these trying times, along with the contagious crowd mentality – but despite the infamous 60% increase in toilet roll purchases, the majority of customers were not intentionally stockpiling items.

Grocery shopping truly peaked between the 16th March to the 19th March with 42 million extra shopping trips occurring across 4 days, and the rate of growth of supermarket sales reaching 20.6%. Yet the change in customer habits leading to increasing grocery bills and more frequent shopping trips is likely a result of their changing lifestyles. People started working from home, eating at home and socialising at home. The £4bn spent each month on food and drink out of the home has been redistributed to supermarket spend and the 22% increase in alcohol sales – meals and socialising have all converged under the same roof, so the increased spend is hardly surprising. The number of mouths to feed increased too, with children’s schools closing and university students returning home.

“No touching” still needs touch points

Even though customers took note of efforts to allocate resources fairly, accommodate vulnerable people and key workers, retailers telling people not to panic just wasn’t enough. Most retailers also responded to those who did buy more than they should with limits on specific items per customer – but the reiteration that “if you buy sensibly there will be no supply issues” still seemed to be dismissed by customers. So why didn’t consumers believe the retailers?

Firstly, the perception of scarcity was exaggerated, from the newspaper articles, to social media but then these reports of others panic buying lead to more and more of them to follow suit. This lead to a reality where 76% of customers did experience product shortages and grocery deliveries were backed up more than 3 weeks in advance. 

Besides fear of the unknown and scaremongering, the lack of trust between consumer and retailer in this time is likely due to poor customer engagement. Shoppers interact with retailers across multiple touchpoints during their product journey. Like any relationship, the one between customer and retailer needs to be maintained. It begins with a first impression where the shopper then decides whether to continue their relationship with a brand.

A touchpoint is any time a potential customer or customer comes in contact with your brand–before, during, or after they purchase something from you. The one-way relationship where retailers talk to consumers is one of the past, a degree of personalisation is necessary to establish a long-term two-way emotional connection. A time of high emotion such as this crisis, needed retailers to go a step further in reassuring their customers not to overbuy and that they would have the stock they needed throughout the lockdown.

Create something meaningful

Coming up with touchpoints is never a one-size-fits-all approach, it can involve many channels and needs to be considered from the customer’s point of view. Customer touchpoints are always crucial to maintaining their loyalty, but in times of crisis, retailers need to do more to build trust with their customers. Retailers need to be able to create something meaningful even if the circumstances aren’t what they are used to.

If retailers involved their customers from the initial planning stages, likely customers feel more control over the situation, that their voices are being heard and they don’t need to panic. If customers were more directly involved in the product journey, their expectations of the retailer could be managed better. If customers have the freedom to carve their own journey, they will trust and value it more.

“The pandemic has inspired enormous changes in the customer journey — from the products purchased to the very way they are purchased,” said Paula Hansen, SAP Customer Experience chief revenue officer. “A quick trip to the grocery store for a gallon of milk may have morphed into a subscription-based, contactless milk delivery.”

When brands utilise their touchpoints, from reassuring consumers they are safe to going the extra mile to create a community of customers – such as American Eagle’s virtual prom – they build the trust and relationship with their customers. Burberry trialled inviting customers over video to participate in range review fashion shows, gauging early customer reactions. It engaged customers early on and built demand, helping the buying process.

Managed shared expectation

Retailers need to be able to manage shared expectation, mapping their way past the challenges, with touchpoints that build trust long-term, that can accelerate retailers’ day-to-day strategy to how they manage their customer experiences in a crisis. Consultancy can help them use technology in a way to maintain and improve the customer touchpoints in whatever the new retail landscape throws at them. The pandemic is presenting a unique opportunity to improve how thoughtful the consumer journey is and to improve the customer relationship. Communicating how retailers are mitigating these challenges is so important so the consumer is kept in the loop.

Retailers need to have the full attribution of their product catalogue to meet customer expectations and manage their product journey in this time. Our Product Information Management platform, Origin, delivers a robust and scalable single view of product data to enable retailers to enhance their touchpoints to get ahead in the industry during these challenging times.

Retail247 can help you engage your customers more effectively during their product buying process. Expert consultancy and our Origin product can transform the experience you offer to your customers, ensuring their relationship with your brand continues to flourish. Retailers need to be ready for the redefined customer experience and prepared to learn the lessons of the pandemic in case of another crisis.