MARCO, the international communications agency based in Spain, continues its programme of sectorial webinars to analyse the challenges facing communication in the era of COVID-19. In its latest edition, focused on the retail sector and moderated by Diana Vall, Managing Director of MARCO, representatives of Idealo, Conforama and DIA discussed the present situation and future plans of their businesses. In the session, participants analysed the new realities established as a consequence of the pandemic, including the rise of e-commerce, the increase in the use of social networks, health and safety constraints, and the change in consumer profile. All this has also impacted each company’s objectives and communication and marketing plans for this year, and most likely well into 2021.
The retail sector and the rise of online commerce
The retail industry has been one of the most affected by the coronavirus crisis and, depending on the sector, the pandemic has had a surprising or unprecedented impact.
In the case of the home decoration and equipment sector, given that their shops have been closed for weeks and their sales have been limited to the digital environment, they have had to reinforce their e-business model. “Those who were not digitised had it, have it and will have it a little harder than those who were already digitised,” says Lucía Gugliotta, Head of Communication and Media at Conforama. She adds: “We must take it as an opportunity: with this situation, we have been able to reset. For us, the customer is always at the centre, and in these times and with online business, we have to be able to prove this customer-centricity more than ever.”
On the other hand, the food and supermarket sector, as an essential service, represents the other side of the coin and has established itself as a hero during the pandemic. Open during the entire state of emergency, they have had to constantly reinvent themselves in order to comply with all the new requirements and security standards.
Lara Vadillo, Director of Communications and External Relations at Grupo DIA, explains: “Every day was a challenge. We have had to overcome many tests, each day something new, and so we have had to be very efficient, very fast and, above all, from the very first moment, we have had a clear objective that has allowed us to respond in the way that we have: to become a public service.”
Adapting to a never-before-seen situation has meant an immediate change in the consumer, whose confidence in the digital environment has not stopped growing since the beginning of the crisis. In fact, 6 out of 10 Spaniards have made purchases online more often than prior to confinement, and 40% say they will buy more online from now on.
Adrian Amorín, Idealo’s Country Manager in Spain, a company with a purely digital business model, explains: “We are seeing that people have been forced to compare prices and buy online. In fact, we have detected something that we did not imagine 20 years ago, users over 65 have increased traffic on our platform,” and adds: “We see that consumers have noticed that the online marketplace is really interesting, that it can help us a lot and that it minimises certain risks that we might find on the street.” Speaking about the future of consumption, Amorín adds that there is no doubt that the use of e-commerce “will continue, it has come to stay.”
With regard to e-commerce in the food and supermarket sector, Lara Vadillo adds: “Many clichés or fears have been disproven. In the food sector, we had been seeing that what was bought online was dry and that there was a certain amount of concern about buying fresh food online. This has changed completely; fresh food is being bought fresh and we perceive that the customer is satisfied. It is true that the profile of the online buyer has expanded, and we now have a mixed profile of consumers between physical and online stores.”
Spaniards and brands: the change in perception
The COVID-19 crisis has also led to a change in consumer perception of brands. Society has shown more support than ever for essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies as well as greater concern for health and safety in the workplace and the treatment of employees (70%).
The new perception does not apply only to physical stores. Amorín explains that one of the current objectives is to represent the brand through new communication channels, “Before we did not consider working with TV and radio, and now we have seen that they can be very interesting channels and, in fact, we want to continue using them to reinforce the brand message, to generate that feeling with the brand.” He adds: “We are not simply there to compare offers, we are something else that the consumer now values” as digital businesses also have a duty to meet renewed consumer expectations.
This new debate has been added to the actions that MARCO designs for its clients. “This webinar has helped us understand from within the industry the influence that the coronavirus has had on the retail world and has shown that there are several common denominators in the future of brands, such as e-commerce, the ‘new normal’ in stores and the experience gained by the consumer in the online environment,” says Diana Vall, Partner and Managing Director of MARCO. She adds that “In the near future, digitalisation will no longer be an obstacle but an opportunity, and human values will continue to be one of the consumer’s top priorities.”
There is no doubt that the retail sector is facing a new era in times of COVID-19 after confinement, a new reality full of challenges, but also full of opportunities. Trends such as e-commerce will be consolidated, while security at the point of sale will have to coexist with a new perception of brand values, as well as with new consumer habits and experience in the physical and digital environment.