5 Takeaways About Retail During a Pandemic From Adweek Elevate: Commerce

Brands including Panera, Walgreens and Hims explain their adjustments

four panels of people
Adweek's I'm With the Brand host Ian Wishingrad sat down with some of the hottest names in food and beverage DTC, including Haus, DADA Daily and Great Jones during the Adweek Elevate: Commerce.
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Key insights:

The Covid-19 crisis has rapidly altered client demands and shifted consumer preferences, forcing players within the commerce space to reflect on how to not only safeguard their brands during this present period of economic turmoil, but also future-proof their brands for what lies ahead.

During Adweek Elevate: Commerce, with sponsors Attentive, Sailthru and SheerID, our editors spoke with leaders in the marketing, advertising, media and technology sectors to bring into focus the salient topics and emerging trends shaking the commercial sphere today. These included how to effectively bridge the channel divide, how to best target specific groups to create purposeful campaigns, how to take advantage of personalized text messaging, and how to dominate the 2020 holiday season.

Optimize and build on what already exists

Helena Hambrecht, co-founder and co-CEO of DTC aperitif brand Haus, was “preparing for the worst” when the coronavirus outbreak first hit the United States. “We wanted to be as nimble as possible in order to survive if the economy totally collapsed and if no one was buying anything,” she said.

The Sonoma, Calif.-based company ended up being pleasantly surprised by the financial outcome on their business: It grew 500%. Now, Haus is continuing to update and upgrade to keep up with demand. Per Hambrecht, product differentiation and customer experience (versus focusing solely on revenue growth), will set brands apart from others now and in the future.

“The most important thing you can do right now is look at what you were messaging prior to Covid, and then asking yourself whether or not these messages work anymore,” Hambrecht continued. Certain changes had to be made to how the brand was positioning its products around gatherings, but the subscription model that the business was built upon was in no need of alteration. Alcohol delivery services have been profiting from lockdowns and quarantines.

Embrace new platforms and customer experience strategies

When Walgreens realized that its sixth annual Red Nose Day, the seminal children’s charity event in partnership with Comic Relief US set to take place May 21, could be jeopardized by the pandemic, the pharmacy store giant had to reset and get creative.

“We had an ‘oh no’ moment back in February, where we pretty much had the whole program ready to go and all of a sudden we realized, ‘Wait a minute, we’re being told to not touch our faces, and now we’re going to be selling a red nose to put on your face?'” said Alyssa Raine, group vp of brand marketing and creative at Walgreens.

It also wouldn’t have made sense, Raine continued, because the promotion exists not only to drive awareness for the cause but also to drive traffic to the stores.

The celebrations surrounding Red Nose Day, which has thus far raised over $200 million for children experiencing poverty, were then adjusted accordingly. “We wanted to make sure that we were supporting kids who would need it more than ever before right now,” Raine said, “so we quickly decided not to sell the red noses.”

Though the thousands of clownish noses the company had already ordered are collecting dust in Walgreens’ warehouses, the red nose got the digital treatment for the first time ever. Those who have donated to the cause through Walgreens’ site will receive a link to a filter compatible with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Stories.

Keep tabs on behavioral trends

Telemedicine company Hims Inc. (which operates both the Hims and Hers personal care and health brands) didn’t have a crystal ball when it launched three years ago, foreseeing the prescient need to receive healthcare while sheltering in place.

According to Hilary Coles, co-founder and vp of merchandising at Hims and Hers, the company’s mission has always been to make it easier for consumers to take care of themselves by making access to doctors, prescriptions and medications more readily available and more affordable, all without stepping into an office or a pharmacy.

Different types of presence have also given Hims access to plenty of valuable first-person data, which has been leveraged in response to Covid-19. The company launched a partnership with Target about six weeks ago, which has been helpful in building brand recognition. The merchandising department wanted to get the two brands on as many channels offline and online as possible to get “as many eyeballs” as they could tog et away from the “DTC stereotype of people who are on their phones.”

“Consumers are being thoughtful and careful on how they’re going to be spending their money, and for us, it’s all about de-risking that purchase and making them understand that they are in complete control of their healthcare when they come to our platform,” Coles said. As a direct result of consumer demand, the company launched primary care and mental health features within the past few weeks, thinking about micro and macro trends in data and adapting the brands’ roadmap to rise up to consumers’ needs.

Stay nimble

According to Scott Nelson, vp of marketing at Panera Bread, the café chain’s marketing team would have typically taken at least between eight months and a year to launch an entirely new customer experience and business stream nationwide from start to finish. But the time of Covid-19 is anything but typical, so the team’s usual process was expedited amid consumer shifts in demand and preference.

“We literally launched Panera Grocery in three weeks’ time,” Nelson said. “We saw that many people were nervous about going to the grocery store, and we also knew that we had a diverse, robust pantry with items like fresh produce, bread, milk, and all of those staples you would typically get at a grocery store.”

Panera Bread already had an established foundation of off-premise business prior to the pandemic, such as rapid pick-up and delivery options, which have been implemented across all 2,000 of the fast-casual bakery’s stores throughout the country since 2018.

The company had also doubled down on delivery toward the end of March, but it wasn’t enough to meet its customers where they were at, Nelson noted. People were interested in getting their essential food items without having to step into a crowded place like a grocery store. The ability to pivot and to iterate in step with the rapid pace of the health crisis was necessary for the speedy debut of Panera Grocery.

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@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.