There is no doubt that the sector retail has been impacted by the – now absolutely normal – post-Covid world. The dynamism, adaptability and flexibility with which this sector adapts to the evolution of social demands have been demonstrated once again.
The current context tells us that citizens, consumers, have become even more demanding and, in the face of the traditional demands that still coexist with us, there are other kinds of needs that erupt, in part due to the situation created as a result of the pandemic and in part due to the natural evolution of the social environment.
Health already occupies a prominent space in our purchasing decisions and we link to this – although there is not always a direct correlation – the search for local, artisanal, even with guarantee seals that certify sustainability, quality and origin of what we consume. Sustainability is part of our internal discourse, and especially external, although we have not yet managed to understand all its complexity and the points of contact along the value chain that revolves around a product.
In this context and with inflation pressing the pockets of citizens, companies need more than ever a clear roadmap that allows them to move forward with a firm step and in line with the transformation process that we are living. Data are key to designing this roadmap. There have been many years of speeches and conferences in this regard: now the moment of truth has come. We need data at all levels. Consumer companies have known and studied the preferences of loyal consumers for a long time. What you buy, when you buy it and how you buy it. However, it is still necessary to go one step further.
Although progressively and irregularly, the consumer is giving us clues about new habits, trends and preferences. It always leaves us a trail, but on more than one occasion it misleads us. After all, whoever buys is still a human being full of contradictions. Faced with this new reality, companies must be proactive in reading and analyzing information and, of course, in explaining its changes and improvements so that they are accepted or perceived in a manner at least proportional to the time spent and the investment made.
A situation for which technology provides us with tools of enormous value. Now, beyond the responses obtained in a survey, we can listen to what the existing conversation is in relation to the issues that affect us and observe that what is manifested does not always coincide with what is transmitted in a debate or deliberation. This, without a doubt, is important because companies are immersed in large transformation processes, more or less voluntary, which impact the perception that citizens have of them.
Is the consumer aware of all these changes?
A priori, it is difficult to imagine that citizens buy being aware of the enormous effort required to transform logistics to a more sustainable model and how this process can affect them. When we buy, we do not reflect on what it means to renew a fleet of heavy vehicles, or on how much work should be done in optimizing loads and, above all, we do not associate it with our degree of satisfaction in the purchase. Nor have we thought about how our food got to the table: it was simply on the supermarket shelf. The industrial process behind every purchase we make is very sophisticated. However, we do not feel responsible for it, and as citizens / consumers we make opinions and judgments about the companies, the products they sell, or their services, shaping their reputation.
Very often the work that retail performed to adapt to a constantly evolving market does not reach the final consumer, who is then unable to recognize it. In the best cases, the perception is limited to the most superficial and aesthetic aspects of the change, ignoring the investment, the resources and the intense improvement processes that are applied throughout the entire value chain.
To reverse that perception, the solution is to listen more and better to act accordingly. In the midst of the noise of change and many issues that are less relevant, the most important thing is knowing how to listen and analyze the concerns and contradictions of those who buy from us. What motivates you and what you reject. Good listening will take us to the next level: what should I communicate and how to become the most attractive reference.
Perhaps the analysis shows that we should talk about the product, or perhaps it tells us that we should communicate from another place and with a different tone. There is no doubt that, increasingly, mass consumption is part of a whole, from which it cannot be abstracted. A holistic view of the business as a whole is more necessary than ever. Starting from this basic principle of listening and analysis, the challenge is enormous. You have to manage to build a dialogue. That the company listens to the consumer is key and not always easy, but it is even more complicated for the consumer to listen and get to know the company. And yet, only in this way, through dialogue, will it be possible to advance steadily along the path of change.
The consumer, at least in theory, is more digital, healthier, more concerned with the environment, cheaper and more local, but is it more open to dialogue? Are companies?
Integrate changes and advance the dialogue. Walk towards a retail more holistic.
Nieves Alvarez is Senior Director of Corporate Communication at LLYC