4 takeaways from the State of Retail and the Consumer

How brands can appeal to the post-pandemic consumer

How do brands appeal to today’s consumers? Is bricks-and-mortar retail going to come back after the pandemic? How have retailers responded to recent discussions around racial tensions and inequality?

All of these questions (and more) were discussed at NRF’s inaugural State of Retail and the Consumer event, which explored the emergence of the “citizen shopper” — the consumer who wants retail stores to be more than just a place to shop. Today’s shopper votes with their wallet, supporting brands and stores that stand for important causes, including equity, sustainability and climate change.

As the country enters a post-pandemic era, brands must appeal to the post-pandemic consumer in order to survive. Here are four key takeaways from the State of Retail and the Consumer event.

Retailers and brands must prioritize DE&I.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic changed the country forever. But the pandemic also brought to the forefront important discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. A report by NRF and GfK Consumer Life found that socioeconomic issues, including equality and social tolerance, are becoming increasingly important to Americans. From devoting shelf space to Black-owned businesses to addressing unconscious bias in retail to increasing diversity in leadership positions, the retail industry has been a leader in addressing DEI in the workplace.

And it’s paying off: Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO of Sephora Americas, said this year was the first time he had seen meaningful change in this area. But the discussions around this topic aren’t going away; Rachel Bonsignore, vice president at GfK, said it will be imperative for brands to address economic, social, and racial inequality moving forward.

Consumers want brands to take a stand on social and political issues, but brands risk alienating some customers.

Panelists emphasized the emergence of the “citizen shopper” — the consumer who challenges brands to react to issues more quickly, keep a closer pulse on what their consumers care about, and understand the role they play both passively and actively in key social issues. But Americans are more fragmented and siloed in their beliefs than ever before, so how do brands navigate these waters when many Americans are reluctant to be exposed to points of view different than their own?

The future of retail

Learn more about how consumers are changing the way they shop and do business at NRF Retail Converge.

Brands that stand up for certain social and political causes might alienate some customers — but it can also create loyalty amongst customers who do share their values. Melissa Repko, retail reporter at CNBC, emphasized that some consumers might see this as a differentiator when choosing where to shop. Bonsignore said the path forward will require retailers and brands to know who they are, align with their customers ideologically and figure out what place they want to play in the world.

Online shopping is here to stay, but consumers still crave an in-person experience.

From curbside pickup to mobile app ordering at restaurants to new loyalty programs offering free shipping, it’s no secret that online shopping has soared during the pandemic. But as the country enters the post-pandemic era, is bricks-and-mortar retail a thing of the past? 

Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of Albertsons, emphasized the need for brands to shift to a quality omnichannel experience — maintaining the convenience of online shopping while continuing to provide a valuable in-store experience. As stores reopen at full capacity and brands look ahead to the future, many believe online shopping will remain a large driver of retail sales. However, after a year of lockdowns and temporary business closures, retailers should take advantage of consumers’ desire to experience their products and services in person.

Price is still king.

The retail industry is constantly evolving, and the pandemic accelerated a shift toward new technologies and corporate social responsibility. However, as retailers recover from the pandemic and embrace the citizen shopper, one fact remains unchanged: Price is still king. 

Citing the EY Future Consumer Index, Karen Benway, partner and consumer market leader – East region at EY, said consumers ranked affordability the highest among their key values, with 31 percent selecting it as their No. 1 priority. Other key issues for consumers include personal health and family health, environmental issues and societal changes. While pricing may remain a top priority, Benway said many consumers are becoming more aware and purpose driven, and they want to understand how retailers give back to society and focus on diversity.

Visit NRF’s State of Retail and the Consumer recap to view a recording of the full event.

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