When the pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this year, customer behavior at Walmart evolved five years in five weeks.
Chief customer officer Janey Whiteside—a 2020 Brand Genius honoree—cites this stat often, and did so again during Brandweek on Wednesday.
Here’s a closer look at how Whiteside said both customers and marketing have changed so far this year (or perhaps slightly earlier).
For starters, Whiteside said customers are even more focused on how to save money now, either because they’ve been furloughed, laid off or worried that either could happen to them. Consumers are also being “super proactive” about their health by using digital health tools and signing up for digital fitness classes via services like Peloton.
Additionally, Whiteside said digital shopping has been embraced by a wider group of consumers.
“Our fastest rising group of people who are buying online for pickup or delivery is the over 60s, interestingly enough, so segments … that wouldn’t have engaged in [those] services before,” she said. “And that’s led [us] to have to start to think about doing different things.”
That includes creating a YouTube video explaining how to do online shopping at Walmart, which she said has since netted 6 million views.
Whiteside also said customers are making shopping decisions based on how they see brands respond to current events.
“We saw a percentage of Americans said they’d remember … the companies that did the right thing by their workers … and so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about … telling the story about what we have done for our associates and the actions we’re taking as it relates to not just the pandemic, but racial equality and justice,” she said.
And while the change of pace has certainly accelerated in 2020, these pivots are not the only way Walmart has changed in recent years.
When Whiteside joined Walmart in 2018 as its first-ever chief customer officer, she said the retailer viewed marketing at the end of the funnel, or, as she described the approach: “If you have great product at the right price and you serve it up in the right physical location for people then [it’s] pretty easy to write some … commercials … and do some signs that talk about that product in that price in that place.”
But Walmart has since embraced a different approach as an omnichannel retailer, which requires a more customer-centric perspective and a different narrative rooted in storytelling. The Mad Men era of “big, glorious, fancy ad campaigns” is over—at least for the retail giant.
“We don’t have time for that anymore. We don’t have time for 15 rounds of briefs,” Whiteside said. “It’s about how can you get a message that is right for today or right for this evening or tomorrow … wherever it needs to be? And how can you do that as quickly as possible and as permanently as possible? And I think that’s actually been more fun.”
The retailer also realized it has a secret weapon.
“A big insight for us … is when you’re as big as we are, our associates and our customers can tell our stories for us much better, much more authentic, [and in a] really genuine way versus the … glossy ad agency needing to step into the middle,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t need to facilitate the stories coming out the right way … but it can be different.”