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In late 2020, Principals conducted qualitative research with Australian and New Zealand consumers exploring brand resilience and the dimensions that keep brands, including retail brands, strong during tough times.
In this research, supermarkets shone. Consumers consistently reported them as our brand heroes of 2020. This was true across Australia and New Zealand with brands such as Woolworths, Coles, Countdown, New World and Pak’nSave all receiving high praise for their performance during a challenging time.
Here’s what consumers thought they did well:
Supermarkets knew their social importance
In 2020, supermarkets understood their importance in society and rose to provide much-needed services such as home delivery, click-and-collect and special opening hours.
Supermarkets quickly realised that it was not just business as usual; it was a time where society had to pull together.
In the words of one of our survey participants: “Woolworths stepped up. The way that they helped others really makes me feel that they’re getting more into giving back to the community, and that’s going to be what gives them the advantage in future.”
Inclusion and access
In our research, consumers expressed gratitude and admiration for supermarkets that made special opening hours for the elderly and people with disabilities.
One of our research participants put it beautifully when they said: “Early during Australia’s COVID experience, Coles and Woolies stepped up by having special hours for the elderly. It was an incredible show of goodwill and left me feeling warm and fuzzy towards them.”
Across the ditch in New Zealand, consumers were equally effusive about Woolworth’s sister brand Countdown with one noting: “Countdown supermarket, particularly, stood out to me as they provided priority slots for home deliveries. I saw this advertised on their website when I was desperately trying to book a delivery slot to get food to my unwell elderly parents.”
And Kiwi supermarket New World also rose to the challenge: “New World supported community organisations who were supporting vulnerable communities by doing their supermarket shopping. They allowed community shoppers to do multiple trips a day to help meet community needs and protect vulnerable people.”
In 2020, social distancing became a phenomenon for the first time. Participants in our research admired efforts to provide safe stores.
A research participant said: “During the lockdown, Pak’nSave worked quickly to set out systems to ensure the safety of the public and of the workers. They put tents up outside so that people could line up while being sheltered and encouraged distancing and good safety practices in store.”
Seeing staff through a new lens
During COVID, supermarket workers became national heroes at the frontline of risk, similar to our healthcare workers. Research participants noted: “The pressure shoppers put on workers was huge during COVID-19. Not only were they stocking the shelves as fast as they could — and no doubt working throughout the night — the staff were working so hard. One checkout operator showed me her hands, how sore they were from scanning so many products for shoppers.”
Innovation was praised during the past year, and supermarkets again won praise for innovating around social needs such as making it easy to order online and providing ‘basic boxes’ with essentials to streamline purchases.
One of our research participants noted: “Woolworths is a brand that stood out for me. The introduction of their basic boxes was a brilliant idea and made life a little bit easier for a lot of people … I think this made them seem a lot more caring and personable.”
Staying calm and confident
Despite the fear that gripped people during the early stages of the pandemic with panic buying and hoarding, the supermarkets kept their cool. As a research particpant noted: “Woolworths remained calm in their approach to help customers.”
While other businesses “dropped their bundle” and acted as if they were victims of the pandemic, supermarkets demonstrated true leadership, which clearly resonated with consumers.
The lesson for other retail brands is clear. Take note of how supermarkets demonstrated social responsibility, innovating around customers’ needs and embracing social values to serve the community.
With the pandemic not yet over, there’s time for retail brands that haven’t yet done so to step up and win the hearts of consumers.