Gilbert said Pepperjam has noticed “clear progress in how people are buying,” which is what the company is using to try to anticipate what that trend will mean going forward.
For example, sales of computers and electronics tumbled later in March, after a surprisingly strong first half, which Gilbert said was driven by people preparing for work-at-home setups and potential homeschooling situations. On the other hand, clothing and apparel sales suffered when people went into quarantine, but jumped from zero or negative growth to more than 200% in the last week of March.
Gilbert said the people who want comfortable clothes for working at home are the ones who pay to sell clothes.
Brands and retailers stare at their crystal balls, doing their best to understand how these waves of consumer spending are affecting them.
Apparel sales, for example, may stay up for a few weeks, but that won’t necessarily be a sign of strength, given that retailers – brick-and-mortar businesses in particular – are cutting back hard because they need to weed out stores and warehouses. This trend may be short-lived as shoppers snap up bargain basket prices from upscale retailers in malls.
Dealing with shopper motivations is essential for retailers and manufacturers trying to explain these currents of behavior now in order to get their discount and production strategies on track to increase back-to-school shopping.
Think of the Home & Garden category, Gilbert said, which would normally be in serious shape right now. Is the surge in household supplies from early March an indication of a good season? People are stuck at home and looking to do projects or renovations. To what degree are home and garden purchases driven by people who plan to have friends and family along the line?
Retailers and manufacturers are trying to answer these important questions – and place their bets – without historical precedent.
So what’s next?
Another added card is the fact that the coronavirus may reshape the way people shop even after the crisis is over.
New direct-to-consumer companies and CPG brands are reading tea leaves and entering the affiliate marketing space, Gilbert said.
It’s the next logical step, as online food and beverage sales surged at an annual growth rate of 400% by the end of March. Grocery delivery and curbside pickup services offer direct online conversion opportunities for CPG brands, which have historically only been able to use online advertising for brand campaigns or online shopper marketing, such as coupon deals or sales on Amazon.
Gilbert said that many DTC companies and big-name CPG brands have not touched affiliate marketing before. But in the past few weeks, these brands have accelerated testing of affiliate and other channels, including influencer marketing, because they are worried about losing touch with their brand, as people make more SKU-based purchases (for example, people want paper toilet, but now don’t care whether it’s Charmin).
Brands are also studying new fulfillment options for the first time, too.
“This crisis exposes the weaknesses of a brand that relies on outside distribution,” Gilbert said.
With brick-and-mortar chains disrupted and Amazon delaying all deliveries of non-essential products and additions to its warehouse network, some of the most well-known brands are suddenly stuck with full inventory and nowhere to go, he said. They are also concerned about losing their stake to DTC startups that have already come up with shipping directly to a customer’s front door.
But some classes, unfortunately, don’t have new havens or tricks to learn. They are just being beaten.
Travel is the obvious loser. By the end of March, sales of Pepperjam’s travel-related affiliates were down nearly 100%. This means that they have disappeared.
Jewelry and accessory brands are also struggling. A surprising part of the accessories category is travel-based, Gilbert said. He said these are the kinds of connections that carriers didn’t appreciate before, but that now seems clear because people aren’t buying the technology and accessories they usually like for rides.
So, what can the brand do if its sales have now evaporated due to quarantine and fears of a recession?
Not much, unfortunately, unless they can switch to the coronavirus economy.
Some luxury accessory brands, for example, have converted factories to produce basic products, such as surgical masks.
It’s a combination of capitalism – there is strong demand, after all – and a hint of marketing drama mixed with a sense of frustration. The truth is, there aren’t many other brands that can do right now.