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The entire US market is going through a routine-shifting life event due to COVID-19, creating space for smart marketers to meet new consumer needs in unexpected industries. Research has long told us that old habits die hard. This is an evolutionary benefit - when we internalize actions into habit we go on auto-pilot, saving valuable brain space for greater cognitive tasks. Doing the same daily routines, buying the same brands over and over frees us from constant analysis paralysis. It’s also a huge challenge for marketers trying to nudge people towards new behaviors like, say, buying their product. But there are some circumstances in a person’s life when a confluence of events rock old routines so radically that, for a short window, they’re susceptible to change. These moments are rare, and require major shifts in circumstances or environment usually driven by the upheaval of a major life event. Think: Moving. Marriage. Having a baby. A pandemic with widespread national quarantine. Over the last 70+ days, Americans have been plunged into this kind of major life event all at once. The majority of us have had to drastically shift our routines as we’ve sheltered in place, no longer commuting, doing school pick-up, going to social gatherings. As the country begins to loosen restrictions, some will revert back into old comfortable routines. But after over 66 days in quarantine - the average time it takes to form a new habit - some of these new routines will have stuck. This mass habit shift has huge cultural implications as many of our societal norms are morphing at warp speed. And while the economy has been hit hard, it also opens up a unique window for some brands and businesses to thrive. We’ve already seen this with streaming services, online gaming, grocery delivery, telehealth, and personal protective equipment - industries that have seen growth and will be poised for more post-pandemic. But there are some less obvious behavior shifts taking place that brands can act on now. MORNING ROUTINES The habit: At-Home Coffee and Breakfast Before the pandemic, 41% of consumers bought coffee at least once a week at a coffee shop, with 15% going daily, according to Statista. On-the-go breakfast options reigned supreme as people rushed out of the house in the morning - according to the NPD Group, Consumer spending on QSR breakfast items in 2019 was up 31% from five years previously, driven largely by convenience, with a third of consumers ages 18-34 eating weekday breakfasts en route to another location. But with stay-at-home orders in place across the country, these habits are being completely re-written. Just one look at Instagram or TikTok will show how many are experimenting with new at-home coffee routines - posts featuring #QuarantineCoffee and #CoffeeAtHome have gained traction, along with users trying new recipes and formats (Raise your hand if you tried #WhippedCoffee, the trend driving over 1.9B - yes, billion - views on TikTok.) While elaborate recipes like Dalgona may not become everyone’s long-term routine, as more people settle in to working remotely the daily coffee shop run may be a habit of the past.Brands that can meet the need: Coffee and breakfast CPG brands that reach consumers now can become part of long term morning routines. QSR brands that lean into at-home product innovation and promotion now will be ahead of the game post-pandemic. WORK ROUTINES The Habit: Working from a home office According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic about 7% of people worked from home some or all of the time. Now, everyone who can work remotely is - an estimated 56% of the population according to Global Workplace Analytics. Of course, “working from home” is not just one habit - routines ranging from your morning commute, wake-up time, and what you’re eating for lunch are all dictated by where you work. Work location in general is a major routine driver, but let’s think about it through the lens of the small physical place you inhabit while working. At first consumers were experimenting with working from different places around the house, but as time goes on workers are finding their go-to spot and looking to optimize their space - a place they spend 8+ hours sitting while trying to concentrate and collaborate each day. Businesses that can meet the need: Brands that can help people support new work habits and create productive, comfortable work spaces will win. Yes, Staples should be excited right now. But brands with products like noise-cancelling headsets, home office furniture, video conferencing hardware, or even architects and contracting services can find opportunity in this new consumer behavior. By leaning into advertising and targeting those with remote-friendly jobs, these brands can build momentum as people settle into their new home offices. EXERCISING + SOCIAL ROUTINES The Habit: Daily Outdoor Recreation In the market for a bicycle this summer? Good luck! If you thought the toilet paper shortage was bad, just try to buy a bike. In March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year, according to the NPD Group, with big spikes in leisure, fitness, and children’s bikes. But this isn’t just about biking - cities across the country have seen a surge in the number of people out walking and running, too. With gyms closed, some people have turned to online workouts - a new habit shift in itself. But many have rediscovered outdoor activities as both a fitness and social ritual. Each evening at 5:30pm in my own town, the once deserted streets are now packed with families on their nightly loop around the block. Businesses that can meet the need: The outdoor industry, which was already seeing growth heading into the pandemic, has a huge opportunity to encourage and shape these new outdoor habits. Bike brands have already seen boosts, but smart outdoor travel operators and outdoor gear and apparel brands across the board can reap the benefits too. Positioning products as ideal for social distancing activities and leveraging tactics like influencers can help put products to the test, generate creative without studio shoots, and gain traction during the pandemic and beyond. Check out the article on Little Black Book Online here: https://www.lbbonline.com/news/the-habit-opportunity-how-brands-can-adapt-to-consumers-shifting-routines
Confession: I am a Fitting Roomer. I read this fashion industry term recently in a swirl of shame as the article identified my exact online shopping behavior: buying multiple sizes in an item with the intent to try them on at home, keep the one that fits, and return the others. My entire spring/summer wardrobe was purchased online, with at least 50% returned. I could hear the fashion execs whispering tsk tsk in my ear, admonishing me for what some have called the ticking time bomb of costly retail returns. Apparently we Fitting Roomers are terrible for the bottom line. We’re taking advantage of the system. Amazon has even banned the most extreme habitual returners, identifying us as bad for business. Except we’re not. E-commerce fashion is a $545 billion industry and growing. This growth is fueled by convenience including the ability to return: 88% of online shoppers appreciate shopping day or night and easily finding products. And free shipping and returns are the top factors making people more likely to shop online. Without a good shipping and return policy, retailers lose a huge chunk of sales. Because here’s the thing. Shopping for clothes online isn’t like shopping for other goods. It’s not just the quality that matters, or that items are true to their online representation. You may receive a beautiful blouse in the mail that every bit lives up to its description and photo, but when you put it on you happen to look more frumpy than sophisticated. Those amazingly edgy, high quality jeans might be the epitome of your personal style, but they also just might squeeze you in all the wrong places. The top two reasons for online returns are “size too small,” and “size too large.” In other words, a key part of what drives apparel purchase is how the clothes fit on your body. It’s why every brick-and-mortar retail location has dressing rooms. With clothes, you need to try before you buy. So when considering the state of online returns, retailers are making one fatal mistake. They’re thinking of online returns as a follow-up to the buying process, when in fact they’re part of the shopping process. We Fitting Roomers don’t think of paying for multiple sizes online as akin to buying and returning. We think of it as a sort of refundable deposit to try on clothes we haven’t committed to yet. Fitting Roomers aren’t taking advantage of the system. They’re showing brands what an online shopping process looks like when you need to try before you buy. Andrew Bowden, Sr. Manager of Product Marketing at TradeGecko, an inventory management software company, understands that for brands to avoid getting gouged by growing customer return habits, they need to think of it as part of the larger experience. “The most important question to ask when assessing your reverse logistics process,” he recently told Shopify, “is whether or not you’re designing and optimizing the experience for the customer or your business — ideally it’s a mix of both. When in doubt, default to the customer.” Instead of punishing or dissuading the shopping behavior of fitting rooming, why not embrace it? What would the online retail customer experience look like if we shift the way we think of fitting rooming from a “return” to a “try-on?” Some are already doing this. Digitally native direct-to-consumer brands like ThirdLove and MM La Fleur have redefined the experience to embrace how the need to try on shapes a shopping journey. ThirdLove is so focused on fit, they incorporate an in-depth fit quiz before purchase and let customers return bras even after they’ve already been worn and put through the laundry. While I was trying on my new bra at home, I texted with a ThirdLove “Fit Stylist” for a new size recommendation. When I needed a new style, she provided the most seamless repackaging/shipping logistics I’ve encountered. Knowing this, I’m guessing they have an air-tight reverse logistics process built for efficiency and minimal cost, too. Over the last six months I’ve returned two bras. But I’ve kept five - and become a serial repeat customer. That’s a big deal when repeat purchases are the aim of a whopping 83% of shopping journeys. Digitally native DTC brands like MM La Fleur and ThirdLove build their retail customer experience to accommodate the need to find the perfect fit. It’s the more traditional retail brands that haven’t quite figured this out yet. Their struggle with the cost of returns leaves you guessing on how an item looks on a real body, receiving multiple packages that can’t be re-used, being charged extra fees, and printing labels. These brands look at Fitting Roomers as a problem to be combatted, but brands and customers both win if we shift how we perceive the role of returns in the online shopping journey. Because at the end of the day, we Fitting Roomers are not serial returners. We’re just online shoppers. Greer Pearce, VP of Strategy AMP is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. This article is a part of AMP’s Customer Experience deep-dive series, where we take a first person approach to understanding the modern shopping experience.
Buying and preparing food is a huge part of most of our lives and routines. Almost everybody grocery shops – but not everyone shops the same. Strategists Jen Herbert and Greer Pearce recorded grocery diaries for a month and sat down to compare notes on the modern grocery experience. LIFE STAGES SHIFT FOOD ROUTINES Greer: Jen and I are in different life stages, and one of our big takeaways was not just that our shopping routines are different, but that changes in our lives have acted as triggers for a whole new food routine. Marketers have known for a long time that there are some brief periods in a person’s life when routines are disrupted and shopping patterns are open to change, and we saw that play out clearly in our own lives. When Jen moved in with her partner, Jason, grocery shopping became a team effort. She had to start coordinating weeknight schedules and planning differently. They shop together, so the actual shopping experience became more fun: they make funny faces at each other in the produce section and gamify splitting up the items in their cart at checkout to try and get as close to possible to a perfectly split bill. When I had a baby last year, I also got a new shopping partner – my son, Teddy. Pre-shopping trip, that meant planning more carefully so I could get in and out of the store faster, and new items on our list as he started to eat solid foods. In-store, it meant less time looking at labels or new products, and more time solving the puzzle of how to physically shop with him, a tiny human either taking up most of the cart in his car seat, strapped to my body, or trying to escape from the child seat. These new routines are markedly different from how both Jen and I shopped as single young professionals, when we made more, smaller trips to the store and only bought food for one. Brand Takeaway: Consumers need different things at different life stages, and there are multiple phases when they’re actively adjusting their routine. Meet them in the moment to offer them solutions specific to their needs. Life stage shapes how people shop. Jen and her partner shop together and gamify their routine to make it more fun. Greer looks for items that will distract her toddler. GROCERY SHOPPING STARTS BEFORE THE GROCERY STORE Jen: What Greer and I came to appreciate as we traded our grocery stories was just how much effort we both spend on “pre-work” before ever stepping foot in-store. Before a list can be constructed, we both meal plan our future dinners, but our sources for drawing meal inspiration are very different. Greer knows that her family will be home and in need of dinners every night of the week. She sits down and plans each of those seven meals, surrounded by her go-to resources: three favorite cookbooks, the New York Times, and Bon Appetit’s online recipes. Meanwhile, Jason and I start meal planning by assessing when we’ll both be home – these are nights when it feels “worth it” to invest time in a homemade dinner. Then, we’ll scan the fridge to see if anything is in need of repurposing, which will often spark a meal idea. In the warmer months, we’ll also check the weather – if there are sunny days ahead, we’ll grill. If we’re still stuck, I’ll head to my Saved posts on Instagram. (When I see an easy meal idea, I proactively flag it for times like these.) Finally, I’ll do a scan of the house for staples – everything from vitamins to eggs to Kleenex – that we are running low on and should also be added to the list. When we finally arrive in-store, our routines don’t stop. Greer follows the same pattern around her store each time, while I go so far as to “code” my list by the section of the store I’ll find each item in. Brand Takeaway: Going in-store with a clear plan of attack helps the shopping experience run on autopilot, guaranteeing the trip is relatively efficient and even free of in-the-moment decision-making. With that insight, we both agree that well over half of our “grocery experience” actually takes place within our own homes. Consider ways that your brand can build relationships with customers outside of the physical store, when they’re more likely to be in an open, “inspirational” mindset rather than cruising on autopilot. The grocery experience starts with inspiration and preparation. Jen and Jason make a detailed list before heading to the store. SURPRISES MAKE A SHOPPING TRIP BEAUTIFUL Jen: With all that prep-work, what’s in our basket is often dictated by what’s on our lists. But Greer and I also found we welcome pleasant surprises and unplanned ways to treat ourselves. Greer sometimes treats herself to a pretty bouquet of flowers if they catch her eye, or spontaneously grabs swordfish if it looks particularly good. She distinctly remembers being excited one spring when her store’s typically uninspiring produce section had fiddlehead ferns. Jason and I typically “allow” ourselves one or two surprises when we do our weekly shopping. This could be, like Greer, a spontaneous bouquet of flowers, a fancy candy bar or pastry, or a new flavor of protein bar or ice cream (usually one with eye-catching packaging!). Another welcome surprise is when large grocery chains begin carrying beloved brands from the Northeast. Just the other day, we happily discovered coffee from our favorite roastery in Maine, which we typically had to purchase on-vacation or online! It’s moments like this that infuse a trip that could feel like a chore with a sense of fun. Brand Takeaway: Basket-building moments center around beauty and reward. While the idea of grocery shopping is quite beautiful – fresh, colorful produce, nurturing loved ones, etc. – grocery shopping in practice is often anything but. Finding small opportunities to encourage customers to treat themselves to something beautiful is a reward for an accomplished store trip. PROXIMITY ISN’T THE ONLY FACTOR Greer: It seems obvious that where we grocery shop is dictated by where we live, and to some extent this is true. But within a person’s grocery options, several factors might trigger them to buy at one store over another: The List: Jen’s list dictates where she’ll shop that week, and she doesn’t decide where to shop until it’s complete. If the recipe’s she’s making calls for hard-to-find produce, or she’s craving the fancy yogurt she likes, she’ll drive a little farther to get to a store where she knows she can find what she needs. Physical size of items: Greer gets all her bulky items like diapers, paper towels, dog food, and toilet paper via Amazon so she can avoid carrying heavy items home from a physical store. Price: Both Jen and Greer have price compared the stores in their area, and make the less expensive store their go-to for staples. In-store experience: Both Jen and Greer sometimes go out of their way to find an experience that offers elements of fun, beauty, and excitement. “Type” of grocery visit: Different grocery occasions call for different stores. Greer does her weekly, well planned trips to one store, but goes to a smaller, closer store for an unplanned mid-week trip. Season: In the summer, both Jen and Greer completely switch up their routines to incorporate farmers markets and CSAs where they can get fresh local produce. This means less trips to the grocery store overall, and meal planning driven by in-season items. Brand Takeaway: The need for food drives a grocery visit, but many factors go into where and how you shop. While shoppers may have a default routine, they are open to deviating from it – or redefining it when it will make their lives easier or more enjoyable. Brands should consider how to meet the needs of multiple types of grocery occasions. AMP is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. This article is a part of AMP’s Customer Experience Deep Dive Blog Series, where we take a first person approach to understanding the modern shopping experience.
There’s a running joke at our agency about the famed industry “ecosystem slide.” You know what I’m talking about - that one presentation slide that attempts to visualize how every single consumer touchpoint plays a unique role, yet connects with every other touchpoint to form a cohesive customer experience. Maybe it’s a Venn diagram. Maybe it’s a table. Or, my personal nightmare, the “Beautiful Mind” approach– a bunch of floating platform icons with a web of lines connecting them all in one tangled ball of confusion. “Look!” we say. “This is your brand ecosystem! See how beautifully and simply it depicts the total customer experience?” “OK, John Nash,” our clients say, before dropping it into a desktop folder to gather digital dust. As marketers, it’s important to consider ecosystems, journeys, and the end-to-end customer experience. But these concepts can be hard to truly grasp when talking about them in the abstract, or out of the context of how an individual person experiences a brand and its products. The reality is that in the digital age, our avenues of information are so diverse, our digital and physical spaces so entwined, that a customer journey is no longer linear or simple. At any given stage in the marketing funnel, a person might bounce around from Instagram, to billboard, to blog post, to text exchange and back in mere minutes. Even when this journey is simplified and beautifully designed to look at in aggregate, there’s a lack of realness to it– and a lack of true comprehension. So how do we start to truly understand what the modern customer experience looks like without making our heads explode? Let’s get out of the abstract. The AMP Strategy team is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. Over the next several months, we’ll be doing first-person deep dives into the experience of shopping, purchasing, and returning across industries. We’ll map out real paths to purchase, identifying pain points and emotions along the way, to surface real industry insights and areas of opportunity– and share them right here on AMP’s blog. Because at the end of the day consumers are human, and we need to understand them as humans. The true customer experience cannot be captured on a slide. - Greer Pearce, VP of Strategy Meet Our Humans Greer Pearce, VP of Strategy Outdoorswoman, jazz singer, tween culture obsessive Ben Seldin, Strategy Director Nike addict, political junkie, wanna-be foodie. Elle Elderd, Associate Strategist Savory over sweet, mixer of drinks and vinyls, runs on espresso Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist Literary fiction addict, almond croissant enthusiast, frequently-disappointed Chicago Bears fan DJ Weidner, Strategy Director Backyard grilling fanatic, year-round iced latte connoisseur, occasional salmon and halibut fisherman James Herrera, Director, Experience Strategy Life-long LA Dodgers fan, believer in the beginner’s mind, finds reading science non-fiction oddly satisfying