November’s disappointing retail sales follow a month’s worth of Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions that brands hoped would boost consumer spending as 2020 comes to a close. Despite attractive deals, consumer uncertainty continues due to the dual concerns of illness and financial instability (see Gartner’s Consumer COVID-19 Concerns Tracker). With a COVID-19 vaccine and the potential for another round of stimulus checks on the horizon consumers may have a brighter outlook in the New Year, but for now sales are stymied by consumers’ lack of certainty.
This desire for certainty is evident in the findings from Gartner’s annual Consumer Values and Lifestyle survey, which offers insight into how consumer values and behaviors change over time. Compared to 2019, U.S. consumers are increasingly prioritizing control, simplicity, and security — a direct impact of the events of this year. These value shifts help to explain the underlying drivers of the behaviors vexing consumer brands.
With fluctuating guidelines for nonessential businesses, employment is unstable for many and as a result, discretionary spend is limited. The extended discounting we’re seeing this year may be attractive, but it carries the risk of promotions becoming the norm for consumers. Retail marketing leaders should indicate that discounts are short-term, offering both clarity and urgency for consumers to take advantage of promotions (see How to Discount Strategically, subscription required).
The shift to online shopping, while insufficient to replace lost brick and mortar traffic in November, reflects consumers’ desire for a safe and reliable shopping experience. Online shopping increasingly gives consumers insight into both online and store inventory, and while consumers may be struggling to find dumbbells or Christmas decorations, finding the right product online or at a nearby store for same day pickup offers predictability and a sense of control. Of course, the pressure this increase in online shopping is putting on delivery partners makes it even harder for brands to deliver the certainty consumers crave right now. At a minimum, brands should warn consumers of potential delivery delays outside of their control. Retail marketing leaders can offer consumers more certainty by improving site functionality and removing barriers to conversion (see Key Tactics to Maximize Digital Commerce for Retail Brands, subscription required).
While most are eagerly anticipating closing the books on 2020, the challenges we’re facing unfortunately won’t vanish on January 1. Retail marketing leaders should continue to lean into offering consumers a sense of control, simplicity, and security, at least until the virus is behind us and we can hope for our own version of the Roaring Twenties.