Since the beginning of the pandemic, the term “new normal” has been thrown around a lot, along with plenty of speculation and conjecture about what the “new normal” really is. Now, nearly a year and a half after the entire world shut down, we’ve had time to take stock of the many changes we’ve experienced since March 2020 and better assess the changes still to come. To that end, Google kicked off its 2021 Retail and Consumer Summit with a focus on future and current market trends impacted by the pandemic.
Cloud Data has Dramatically Expanded Our View of the Consumer Journey
The event kicked off with an address from Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud. During his address, Kurian called out the importance of retail ingenuity during the COVID-19 pandemic and thanked attendees for rising to the challenge — from online grocery shopping to procuring goods and services while remaining socially distanced. But, Kurian noted, industries aren’t done transforming just yet. Kurian cited the evolution of consumer goods technology to create “a consistent, unified view of the consumer and using that to power omnichannel consumer journeys” while empowering retailers to provide a world-class experience — all through cloud technology.
Clearly, there’s tremendous potential for retailers and brands who continue to embrace this moment of change. “Our organization is structured to support and help you accomplish your objectives, and our goal is to help you bring together the diverse capabilities and expertise of Alphabet, to accelerate your transformation, and to help you rapidly respond to changing consumer dynamics,” Kurian explained.
Kurian then introduced Piedad Rodriguez, Director of Human Truths on Google’s Advanced Brand Acceleration Team. Rodriguez runs a team of human behavior experts who analyze data-powered human insights to facilitate meaningful customer connections. Rodriguez’s team uncovered a bevy of fascinating trends and statistics throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. One significant finding was how the dramatic uptick in online grocery shopping resulted in consumers exploring products and brands they would not have otherwise considered in stores.
- Before the pandemic, 48% of consumers listed brand and product discovery as a top reason to shop at a brick-and-mortar location. Now, 70% of consumers say they buy from brands they discover online.
- 72% of consumers preferred in-store shopping for the experience pre-Covid. Today, 78% of consumers have health concerns about trying products in-store, and 63% of consumers prefer to try new products from the comfort of their own homes.
- Before March 2020, 50% of consumers stated they would never buy consumer packaged goods (CPG) products online. Now, 74% of consumers purchase CPG products over the internet.
But, how many of these behaviors will last? Leveraging the data her team gathered over the past year and a half, Rodriguez explained that at the height of the pandemic — and the height of consumer anxiety — people turned to brands they already trusted. However, since January 2021, consumers have started branching out and discovering new brands, likely to break up the monotony of the prior year. As a result, increased exploration means the purchase journey is no longer linear and becomes harder to decipher. According to Rodriguez, “Shopping behaviors are no longer aligned with the classic purchase funnel as consumers have new demands and expectations driven by the acceleration of the switch online.”
Using search data from both current and historic trends across CPG categories, the team found a 25% increase in search volume since 2019 that was driven by search queries within the following categories:
- Transactional (i.e., shipping, store hours, near me, click, collect)
- Personal value (i.e., ethical, sustainable, Black-owned)
- Exploration (i.e., inspiration, routines, ideas, tutorials)
- Questions (i.e., which, where)
- Product value (i.e., comparison, functionality, with/without)
- Sensory (i.e., scent, size, image)
As Rodriguez explained, three noteworthy consumer trends emerged in the form of elevated expectations as a result of the pandemic:
- Elevated convenience: the expectation of increased convenience both online and offline.
- Elevated value: the expectation of value that goes beyond price.
- Elevated serendipity: the expectation of a fun, exciting experience.
Consumers Need Elevated Convenience
Out of all six search categories Rodriguez listed, “Transactional” experienced the highest uptick in the first half of 2020 with consumers searching for retailers that allow them to conveniently make their CPG purchases online. This, combined with the increase in questions such as “where to buy ____”, points towards “possible behaviors of product selection online and purchases offline.” According to Rodriguez, “For brands and retailers, it’s important to guide consumers through these convenience-related queries to make it easy and convenient for them to purchase.”
Consumers Want to See Elevated Value
Rodriguez‘s team also found that searches for non-price value are growing twice as fast as searches for price-based value. This includes searches for top-rated goods and services or products that include extra value.
There has also been an apparent growth in searches related to personal value as people increasingly want to see themselves reflected in the brands they buy. This includes searches that include terms such as “for me,” “sustainability,” “ethical,” and “Black-owned.” Per Rodriguez: “Brands and retailers, therefore, need to ensure they’re clearly communicating how they provide value to consumers beyond price.”
Consumers Miss Moments of Elevated Serendipity
In years past, consumers would window shop to spark inspiration. These days, consumers are turning to the web to source ideas by experiencing products online rather than going into a store. Top searches that align with this trend include searches for routines and tutorials as well as sensory experiences such as scent, images, and virtual try-ons. In other words, “consumers have elevated their expectations of what a digital experience should be,” Rodriguez explains.
During the breakout sessions, attendees had the chance to learn about several major (but very different) retail brands and how each one of them successfully navigated the changes to the consumer experience last year by leveraging cloud data. Then, attendees could select from four different learning tracks:
- Become Data Driven
- Embrace the Digital Moment
- Transform Your Operations
- Partner Insights
Cloud-Based Data Made Easy
Throughout the day, one thing became exceedingly clear: whoever wields the power of cloud-based data analytics will always be one step ahead of the competition in terms of meeting consumer needs and anticipating their behavior. However, analytical data is often locked behind closed systems, creating a barrier between data insights and the retailers who need it. During Maven Wave’s session titled “Making Legacy Data Insights Accessible to Anyone, Any Time,” Chris Daniel and Sachin Joshi drove home the value of open access to cloud analytic data, which helps retailers make quick business decisions without advanced technical skills.
For retailers, rushing headlong into the future has its downsides. After all, this is brand new territory, and there’s little in the way of consumer insights. So, how can retailers make ambitious moves while preventing costly mistakes? As a Google Cloud Premier Partner, Maven Wave enables retailers to adapt to the rapidly-changing CPG space and meet ever-evolving consumer needs in real time. If you’re ready to discuss how you can incorporate Google Cloud into your organization, contact us to connect with our experts.
And if you’re looking to learn more about how to unlock the secrets to digital transformation and prepare your organization for the future, download our guide, “Welcome to the Agile Retail Era: Mission-Critical Ways to Strengthen Your Digital Acceleration Footing.”
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