Customer, Now. 01

Community as important as food

What’s emerging is a collective need for community and solidarity.

Customers share their admiration for those who are helping to keep people fed. Who knew that the sometimes-derided grocery store would come to be a lifeline for its customers, and that its staff would be seen as heroes, on a level with the emergency services’ first responders?

Selflessness in the face of this crisis is now highly prized. Yes, there have been examples of survivalist behaviors, but this situation is inspiring collectivism too. #Inittogether is trending on Twitter, we’ve seen neighborhoods of Italian people making music together across their balconies, and community volunteer networks to help those in isolation are recruiting tens of thousands of people looking to help.

It seems it’s not just immunity we find in the herd, in times of crisis we find safety there too. Disdain for hoarders, voiced loudly by our panel of consumers, signals something deeper; a fear of those who refuse to help secure our collective survival, and a fear of the risk they present.

Contrasting with this anti-hoarding attitude is a new admiration for organizations who are seen as providing a reliable and dependable lifeline, and particularly their front-line staff who are potentially risking their own health to make sure others can buy necessities.

Our panel of customers talk about store workers as “on the front line”. They mention them in the same breath as the doctors and nurses who are “keeping us alive”. These low-paid workers who are turning up to work and risking their own health to keep us and our families fed are “heroes”.

People buy too much and don’t think about others. It will come back to get them.”

Sarah M

This pandemic has fundamentally shifted the hierarchy of needs

What we’re seeing is a complete shift in our hierarchy of needs. Community has moved down Maslow’s triangle from safety to sit on a par with psychological needs, like food. That’s a significant shift.

Times of fear and high anxiety demand that business asks itself more fundamental, human questions. How do you do right by others? The only thing that is certain for customers right now is uncertainty – meaning that you need to make sure your proposition offers safety, security and perhaps a promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Just weeks ago customers saw the stores as, at best, just somewhere to buy the basics. While the ability to get food has always been an essential service, its ready availability has suppressed this view. But in this crisis people now appreciate that service far more. Customers are starting to focus on something very different.

One point for the stores’ management to consider, though is that not only are grocery employees “on the front line,” our employee communities show that they are increasingly worried about becoming sick – it’s a very fragile link in the supply chain. Grocery brands should make sure they are taking care of their people.

“[My grocery store] started allowing senior citizens to come in early to buy supplies. For them to put senior citizens first and not think about money. I applaud them and I will support them in future. They’re thinking about their community. They’re keeping us alive.”


This new bond between customers and their neighbourhood grocery stores could prove vital for their continued success when (and if) shopping patterns return to some kind of normality. The pivot to e-commerce is critical right now, however – even if people can go to the store, they would probably prefer to order online.

Consumers are going to be loyal to the brands that help them get through their day-to-day lives during this crisis, and will likely continue to be loyal after we make it through because those brands helped them and their families make it. One interesting message for grocers is that because they are an essential service and consumers will always need them they may not always have felt the need to be customer-first in order to beat their competition – so how do they maintain this new, positive relationship with consumers beyond the crisis?

It stands to reason that the companies that are providing essential services are disproportionately important to the lives of customers.  And while grocery stores are thriving, other discretionary spending has been far from the minds of most customers.

So another big question is: “What can other brands do to form new relationships with consumers?” Remember, two of the world’s great brands – Coca-Cola and Hershey – formed bonds with consumers that still exist today because they actively participated with the US military during World War II. And we find ourselves at war, yet again.