Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent stay-at-home orders, shopping behavior has changed dramatically. Major retailers across the US have been shifting their strategies to meet demand and implementing new policies to help maintain public health.
Walmart is leading the pack with efforts ranging from reducing shopping hours and store traffic limits to sneeze guards and sending out videos encouraging Americans to “buy by week”. As you can imagine, a lot of the focus has been around pickup and delivery services. However, even for shoppers in-store, a lot has changed.
In this article, we’ll discuss what has changed in-store, what people are buying, and the short term changes you need to focus on to stay successful as a Walmart seller.
What’s Happening In-Store
Walmart has been implementing measures to keep store associates and customers as safe as possible. In our last blog, we went in-depth on how more shoppers are turning to app services, but here’s a quick glance at what’s happening in-store.
Limiting foot traffic: At the beginning of April, Walmart limited the number of people in-store to 5 people per 1,000 square feet. Many stores are also directing movement within the stores to ensure social distance is maintained.
Changes to checkout: Checking out at Walmart is now contact-free through Walmart Pay on the highly popular Walmart app. After a customer checks out, associates direct them through a different door than they entered to lessen the instances of people passing each other.
New operating hours and senior shopping: Shopping hours have been changed to 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. in all its U.S. stores. Around mid-March, Walmart introduced a weekly senior shopping event (held every Tuesday) to allow customers age 60 and older to shop an hour before stores open.
Measures for health and safety: Walmart installed plexiglass barriers at its pharmacy lanes for both Walmart and Sam’s Club and their regular registers. Starting April 20th, all Walmart and Sam’s Club associates must wear face masks.
Such restrictions limit the volume of in-store traffic, and customers are still stocking up when they do make it to the store. What’s viewed as “essential” seems to change every week as stay-at-home needs shift.
Ever-Changing Shopping Habits
Recently, we talked about how Walmart saw an 8.9% increase in in-store traffic compared to last year for March. By now, in-store traffic has slowed down. This comes from a combination of consumers choosing online ordering options and Walmart limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at the same time.
In recent weeks, Americans’ shopping behavior and the items they buy have become a reflection of pandemic life. Essential items are still flying off the shelves, but other categories have seen surges as well.
In an appearance on the Today Show, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon reassured shoppers that food supplies are “in good shape” and urged shoppers to “buy by week” for products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer that have been hard to keep in stock. According to him, in just five days, Walmart sold enough toilet paper for every American to have their own roll!
McMillon also noted how shopping trends have changed over the past few weeks. At first, there was an increase in essentials and pantry items. Then, people started buying more board games and educational products for homeschooling. Now, Walmart is seeing higher sales of beard trimmers and hair coloring products. Hair clippers sales increased 166%, while nail polish sales increased by 335%, and hair coloring products rose 310%, according to Nielsen data.
What to Focus on in the Short Term
Keeping up with the times can feel like a challenge right now, but in the short term, here are the key areas to focus on.
Innovation and Efficiency: It’s important to stay relevant and innovation in your category. You will need to sell your buyers on why your products can win a world with COVID-19. Work on a marketing strategy that helps consumers understand what your brand and products are necessary.
This will be especially important as consumers continue to make difficult purchase decisions and companies have less room to make costly mistakes.
Supply Chain: Now more than ever, you must stress your supply chain excellence and efficiency to buyers. No matter your category, make sure there is minimal disruption to your supply chain.
According to MIT Sloan, disruptive risks, such as the one we currently face, should force companies to build resilience into their supply chains despite the additional cost. Reliance on sole-source suppliers, centralized inventories, and low-cost offshore suppliers with long lead times may make you vulnerable to disruptive risks.
EDLP: Walmart’s mantra of Every Day Low Prices is going to become increasingly important to consumers in the face of rising unemployment rates. Focus on delivering that promise and keeping your prices affordable.
Know Your Tech: Make sure your technology is buttoned up. Virtual meetings could replace face-to-face meetings for a period of time, even after we get back to office life.
The Art of Virtual Demonstration: Practice demonstrating product features and benefits on a conference call. Keep things light and have a sense of humor. We all have workspace challenges these days, whether it’s kids, pets, or other distractions.
Shopper behavior has changed dramatically in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. That means your focus needs to shift as well. Make it clear that your brand is essential and relevant. Stay on top of your supply chain, pricing, and seller relationships in a world that’s more virtual than ever before.
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