The Grocery Trends of 2020: How They’re Impacting the Year Ahead


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There are many important lessons to learn from 2020, a year unlike any in recent memory. Between social distancing and stay-at-home orders, brands and retailers had to quickly adapt in ways they never anticipated. Product availability became a key challenge as consumers flocked to physical and digital retailers to acquire food, paper products and other essential items. Our data showed that Grocery Dollar Spend Lift (the dollar sales value of each basket) increased significantly in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and other major cities, maintaining above-average growth for most of 2020.

Now that 2020 is behind us, many are wondering how to proceed. To start, they should consider the trends of the last several months—including which trends are here to stay and what they mean for brands and retailers in the years ahead.

Retailers Wrote the Playbook; Now Everyone Benefits

Without question, the biggest and most notable shift proved to be the rise of eCommerce. Every retailer had to get on board very quickly, offering curbside and delivery via in-house or third-party solutions. However, the rise of eCommerce did not take away from physical retail, which still experienced high volumes of traffic, creating a hybrid model in which consumers shop wherever and whenever it is most convenient. Understanding the gravity of the situation, retailers also showed they cared by giving back—donating millions of dollars at a time when both shoppers and employees were in need.

Their efforts should be applauded, but retailers didn’t stop there. They really stepped up their game with regards to the safety, erecting acrylic glass barriers to protect staff and customers alike and offering contactless payments. They improved sanitation, provided gloves and disinfectants and reduced store hours to ensure that they had extra time to clean. This happened at a moment when they were bombarded all at once by a pandemic that, at the time, we knew very little about. I am so proud to be in an industry where everyone joined together and worked so tirelessly to ensure that safety remained a critical focus, all the while striving to restock products as demand increased.

Now, retailers have a playbook. They know how to handle these sudden changes. Even as infection rates rise and and stay-at-home orders return to some locations, we still aren’t seeing the degree of empty shelves that we saw previously because retailers are prepared.

Digital Commerce and Couponing Will Continue to Play an Important Role

Coresight Research estimates that online grocery sales grew 40% in 2020. That’s huge. And while that growth may not continue at such a record-breaking pace, I expect that modest year-over-year growth will follow. People certainly want to return to normalcy and be out and about, but there will continue to be demand for digital grocery.

As far as which products will sell, brands should be mindful that availability and dollar value played a role in determining the items consumers purchased during COVID. Brands will now have to work a little bit harder to earn back any shoppers they may have lost during the pandemic, all the while factoring in their search for value.

Brands must also consider where and how to apply that value. Free-standing inserts (FSIs) are on the decline and have been for some time—dropping as a clunky and ineffective vehicle for saving, along with the fall of newspapers. According to a report from Pew Research Center, newspapers have experienced around three decades of consecutive declines—impacting the potential reach of FSIs. There’s no coming back from that. And in a world where contactless payments continue to increase, consumers are not going to be interested in clipping physical coupons, storing them, keeping track of expiration dates and fishing for them at checkout. It’s such an outdated experience, and consumers have caught onto that.

Brands and Retailers Will Get the Support They Need to Thrive

As brands and retailers prepare for the coming months and years, they will surely reflect on the challenges of 2020 and how they can and should handle disruptions going forward. The key thing to remember is that they will need to be able to adapt quickly, amplifying or reducing promotions at a moment’s notice. Inventory fluctuations also play a role. Advertisers and retailers will not be able to rely on stagnant, paper-based solutions. They are too slow and, once printed and circulated, cannot be updated.

Brands and retailers need a solution that understands these challenges and empowers them to react quickly to any circumstance. That’s one of the benefits that digital provides. It’s fast, efficient and can be updated in real time. Digital doesn’t require newspapers to make a sudden comeback—it can meet consumers wherever they are, which is very important in this climate, but it will continue to be vital even as we discover our new normal.

The Challenges of 2020 Can Be Put to Rest, But the Benefits Will Remain for Years to Come

No one could have predicted the events of the last year, but the retailer response has served as an incredible reminder of the tremendous dedication that they have for their customers—as well as their employees. Safety remains top of mind, and that means consumers can shop with comfort and confidence.

In addition, both brands and retailers quickly realized the benefits that digital provides—enabling contactless shopping and saving at a time of social distancing. Those features will continue to be a prominent tool for endearing customers, offering added convenience that simply cannot be achieved with non-digital alternatives.

Steven Boal
Steven Boal founded Quotient in 1998 and serves as the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors. Prior to founding Quotient, Boal served as vice president of business development for Integral Development Corporation, and was vice president and head of global emerging markets derivative technology at J.P. Morgan. Before that, he was president of OptEdge, a real-time options, analytics and risk management business. Boal also held various management positions at TriStar Market Data, eventually running the company’s Montgomery Securities division.


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