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Hybrid shopping is the new normal - here’s what it means for marketers



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September 23, 2022 | 9 min read

People are starting to adapt and settle into post-pandemic life. But when it comes to shopping, is the old way really 'normal', or is there now a ‘new normal’? As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into E-commerce, Meta’s Shekhar Deshpande (head of strategy, global clients) and Talitha Rutten (regional client partner for global clients) shine a light on what they have learnt from their new ethnographic study on the subject.

A woman shops on her mobile phone in a supermarket

We’re nearly at the end of the year 2022, where people are now adapting to, or getting used to, a post-pandemic life. Several aspects of everyday life are now up for a ‘reset’, including work or work from home, continuing our Zoom yoga lessons, reconsidering buying that vehicle, and so on. However, one of the most conspicuous changes that we’re dealing with is a lot more about everyday life - and about everyday goods.

So what does this ‘new normal’ look like for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and grocery shopping? How are people reacting to the changes? What are their mindsets and behaviors evolving into?

Understanding the hearts and minds of shoppers

We at Meta wanted to understand this deeply - because it has significant implications for marketers. So we invested in qualitative, ethnographic research with a company called The Nursery, with respondents from the UK, France and Germany. We included in- depth interviews, accompanied shopping visits, and diaries and conversations on a private online platform. The insights that emerged were a mix of the familiar and the unexpected.

The highlights from our research

For starters, we found that there is no such thing as online or offline shopping. People shop for everyday goods with different mindsets, and choose whichever form of shopping suits each. Just like music or entertainment, people choose the channels and avenues that work best for them. Importantly, they’re now accustomed to using several avenues at once.

Secondly, we were surprised to find that online shopping wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. People found it effortful, inefficient and time consuming. For instance, even the large aisle in a supermarket pales in comparison to the results from searching for ‘cheese’ online. The ‘aisle’ that unfolds is nigh endless, and relentless. Far from giving you confidence, it drains it. Furthermore, online shopping comes with its own peculiarities. For instance, you may be left scrambling to find items worth £/€4 to reach the minimum threshold. That vanilla essence may not arrive on the day you were planning to bake the cake, leaving you helpless. While it’s great that the goods come to you, the ‘will they come at all’ question always carries a bit of anxiety.

Most importantly, perhaps, our research identified four different mindsets that are influencing shopping behavior today. These were:

Shopping lovers: mainly interested in offline or in-store shopping. They love a bit of ‘me time’, are often found to slow down in their favorite aisle (whether it is hand soap or cheese), and thoroughly enjoy the experience with all of their senses. Their online journeys are there to help them get interested in what they might pick up next, on their weekly shop.

Efficiency seekers: the clue is in the name. When people are in this mindset, they want to get in and get out. It’s likely that they have established the brands and pack sizes of what they’re looking for, and so getting these is just a chore. It doesn’t mean they don’t love the product. It just means they want the minimum fuss in buying it, and they’re not looking to experiment.

Unconfident beginners: people with this mindset surprised us the most. They tended to be younger, just starting out living independently, and ill at ease with some basic categories. For instance, which floor or bathroom cleaner should they use? They tended to gravitate to brands and products that gave them a bit of education in their messages, which online, smaller businesses tended to do more.

Discount hunters: these shoppers could be from large families, or they knew they regularly bought large quantities of certain goods. They are happy to go online or offline, as long as they get the best deals on their favorite products.

Why do these findings matter?

These findings have both creative and media implications for marketers on how they can leverage and use the online environment more effectively, but also create delight opportunities for consumers.

One critical implication of this study is to recognize that we’re now living in an era of multiplicity. One big idea or execution, whether it’s in creative, media or commerce, is unlikely to be enough. People are now getting used to leveraging multiple ways of getting pretty much anything - whether it’s searching for something, or shopping, or finding music, entertainment, and so on.

Multiplicity also means that with different mindsets for different occasions, sub-categories etc, a marketer needs to be able to appeal to all of these. For example, to make shopping more pleasurable for the shopping lovers, things like branded content ads, creator partnerships, polling and VR ads, and content partnerships are likely to create a ‘crave appeal’ for what they might find in store.

For efficiency seekers, where the job is to make it seamless and smooth, solutions like collaborative ads, ads to basket and others are relevant. For Unconfident Beginners, typically tending to be younger, things that may seem basic for seasoned household shoppers feel challenging. For people still undecided about the best detergent, for instance, conversational commerce, leads ads, recipe bots, click to message ads and so on are the right things to add to a marketer’s arsenal. Offering them help wherever possible, in as discretionary a way as possible, is likely to address their anxieties. Finally, for discount hunters, things like digital circulars, coupon ads, price comparisons, providing visibility for deals, etc are things to embrace for a marketer.

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Executing these may be easier than it feels. Even existing assets can be put to good use to leverage the different mindsets. The critical thing is to recognise that there aren’t just one or two types anymore.

Key takeaways for all marketers: what we should be doing

Online shopping isn’t all easy. It is often seen as effortful and inefficient. Shoppers emerging out of the pandemic lockdowns are following a ‘hybrid’ model, leveraging whatever suits them best. Marketers should recognise that we now live in an era of multiplicity. Different mindsets, different avenues, different needs, and different types of messages and approaches are necessary to appeal to the shoppers out there today.

Simple things to keep in mind:

  • Cater to multiple shopper mindsets, not just one
  • Recognize that online shopping may not be more efficient - make it smoother and easier, wherever possible
  • Create a basket of advertising and commerce solutions to attract multiple mindsets in shopping
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