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Natural shoppers demonstrate new short- and long-term buying habits during 2020 holiday season

covid-19 holiday shopper trends 2020 retail natural
Retailers must lead the way with a strong online presence and pay close attention to the trends that will translate to purchases.

The upcoming holiday season isn’t going to be business as usual, and not just because everyone is still dealing with the pandemic. It’s because this year shoppers are going to bring new long- and short-term buying habits to the store. Recently, SPINS hosted the webinar “Are You Ready for the Holidays?” to explore the trends retailers can expect to see this holiday season. SPINS dug into the important of using data to look ahead, and the need to have a strong online presence to keep up with today’s shoppers.

What 2020 has taught us

When shoppers loaded their pantries for extended lockdown in March 2020, they sent sales to historic heights that were exponentially greater than Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even as sales began to level off, they remained elevated and are still higher than the average nonholiday in typical years. And throughout these lockdown months, shoppers have shifted to e-commerce more quickly than pre-COVID projections suggested.

Since March, e-commerce is up 176% thanks to shoppers avoiding brick-and-mortar stores while still having most of their meals at home. Lockdown accelerated online shopping and curbside pickup, but it won’t completely reverse itself in a post-pandemic environment. A recent survey from Mercatus found that nearly 90% of shoppers intend to keep using e-commerce even after the pandemic subsides, with shoppers 65 and older being the most likely to return to their in-person routines. So, how do you stay competitive and successful in e-commerce during the busiest time of the year?

Learn from the data

As always, you can learn from last year’s holiday performance as well as summer holidays that have occurred during lockdown. Because natural and regional grocers lead in product innovation and incubation, their data is especially insightful to help predict trends that will grow this year and beyond.

Looking at 2019 holiday data from SPINS Natural Enhanced Channel, Regional Grocery Channel and MultiOutlet Channel (powered by IRI), some trends are apparent: Refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives grew exponentially, as did hard ciders. Digging into the shopper-centric attributes associated with the top items in 2019 and Labor Day earlier this year, one gets a clearer picture of how these trends translate to buying habits: Paleo positioned, plant-based positioned, grain free and allergy-friendly products showed significant growth for all holidays. This tells you that products related to specific dietary lifestyles and animal welfare were already growing last year and will remain strong this holiday season.

Shoppers are going to be at your stores and on your website looking for products that adhere to their diets, whether that means vegan, gluten-free, high-protein or flexitarian. Noting the popularity of these diet tribes or attributes can inform retailers what they should ensure is both in stock and easy to find both in-store and online.

Personalize the online experience

Personalization must be part of the retail strategy this holiday season, especially now that customers are accustomed to the personalized experiences they receive from other online experiences, whether it’s a big-box retailer or their YouTube dashboard. This is especially true now, when customers are consolidating their shopping trips, buying more at once and seeking out what they want versus casually browsing.

Give shoppers the ability to search and filter so they can easily find what they are looking for. A large online inventory is great unless it forces shoppers to waste time scrolling through pages and get so frustrated that they shop elsewhere. For example, a shopper looking for allergy-friendly products wants to quickly find those specific products and not have to sort through items that are health risks. If a shopper wants to visit your site for a quick transaction, make that possible. Remember, with regard to online shopping the next store is only a click away. Don’t give them a reason to abandon their cart.

Enable online product discovery

While shoppers are more intentional in their shopping behavior, they are still open to discovering new products. Discovery—whether on purpose or by accident—is simple in an aisle and should be just as simple via e-commerce. The secret to bringing that experience online is to leverage attributes.

With attribute data, you can see which lifestyle habits and diets are among your customers and then ensure your website highlights the associated products through filter options and search results. For example, a shopper might want to prepare a non-animal-based dish for Thanksgiving, but that still leaves space for options, such as vegan or vegetarian. A good search function and strong filters enable customers to see relevant items and make discoveries along the way.  Here at SPINS, when retailers have used our attributes data to enable filters on their grocery sites, they have seen conversion increase by nearly 15%. Just because shoppers are ordering online doesn’t mean they’re not still finding ways to browse the aisles, explore new brands, and stumble upon something different.

As can be plainly seen, the foundation for succeeding this year comes down to using data to inform to a retail strategy and meeting shoppers where they are. When retailers have the right data partner, they can prepare for the upcoming unique holiday season.

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