If I wasn’t CEO of gap intelligence, I’d be the General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. If I wasn’t the General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, I would be a social scientist – the study of human behavior is absolutely fascinating. With today’s global lockdown, social scientists have a treasure trove of studies, learnings, research, observations, and understanding. We will learn infinitely more about ourselves as a result of this global quarantine.

Alas, I am not a social scientist and just your average hack enthusiast of social behavior. As the CEO of gap intelligence, I of course also have a fascination with retail and have followed the industry for longer than I would like to publicly admit. Putting both of those together, please allow me to share how hardwired human behavior will not only determine the short term winners of this pandemic when it comes to consumer focused brands, but the long term future of retail.


Brand Connections

I miss you. You miss me (I hope). We miss each other. Though we are enjoying the comforts of working in our slippers, we all miss the physical and emotional connections of being together. We miss offices. We miss dinner and drinks. And oh how we miss sharing that human connection of live sports. We are humans and we are social creatures. We connect with one another and we connect with the brands that we buy from.

Strong Brands: In the short term those manufacturers, retailers, and companies that worked hard on building brands that connect with us emotionally are the ones we are turning to now and will continue to do so in the future. Stores like Best Buy (cool stuff), REI (adventure stuff), Starbucks, and Apple will weather this storm far, far better than transactional brands. We want to stay connected with the things we’re familiar with. Brands and companies that scratch that itch and indulge us with their Why will be the ones we remember, the ones we go back to, and the ones we continue to invest in.

The Helpers Will Win: These are extraordinary times and we all need help. The brands that stay connected with the public and offer help where it is needed will prevail vastly versus the companies that clammed up. Zappos.com opened up their infamous call center for customer support for anything. This which started as a novelty and Zappos employees took calls for Netflix recommendations. Later, calls got more serious and ultimately Zappos helped a Mount Sinai doctor find 300 pulse oximeters during this crisis. That’s help. HP opened up its creative outlets and offered free educational print outs to millions of parents teaching their kids at home. They even saved my bacon by offering free print-at-home Mother’s Day cards. That’s help. Fascinating and unusual acts of kindness and help like these will keep these brands top of mind for consumers who will be forced to make more choices of where they put their dollars. They will be remembered for more than shoes and printers but for the people behind those products and the care that those people provided in a time of need.


We Will Mitigate Risk

While there are a special folks who parachute off cliffs with seemingly no fear, the vast majority of us inherited our fear of risk from our cavemen ancestors and we will baby step our way back to some sort of normalcy. We are currently quarantined in our homes with our families. The next step will be when we venture out into our neighborhoods, then a few more blocks down the road, and then make the long journey back onto highways and visiting with more people.

#ShopLocal Will Prevail: Those little boutique stores that you have driven by for years will be the stores you visit for home accessories, clothes, antiques, hardware, and produce. Cleanliness is the key and if these stores can keep a personal connection, meet demand, and keep their stores sanitized, they have an opportunity to be a much larger part of our retail ecosystem. People will trust their friendly local florist or baker more than a large store where they have no personal connection.

Integrated Services Will Be Big: Personal services will be the biggest draw for us to bravely leave our caves. We all need to get our hair cut, roots dyed, nails polished, and teeth cleaned. We need to take care of ourselves and while we are there, we’re going to buy products at those locations. Customers will be far more willing to purchase hair care products, power toothbrushes, nail polish, and other accessories at the same location that these services are performed (like thedrybar.com), because it will save them a trip to another store.


The Store is the New Outer Space

It will be a long time before the concept of jumping into your car to take a quick trip to the store is commonplace again. The planning and preparation to take a trip in the post-pandemic world will be like preparing for a rocket launch to the moon. Like space walkers, we will need supplies. We need gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes, special shopping bags, sprays, and a whole host of other cleaners to feel safe out in public. If you add kids to the mix, then the preparation and planning expands exponentially. What this means for the future of retail is that we are going to treat trips to the store like trips to the moon: we’re going to make them count.

Subscription Push Services Will Flourish: We’re only going to launch for products that we are emotionally motivated to get and that does not include commodities. Consumers will be far more inclined to subscribe to push services for printer ink, razor blades, toiletries, and other essential utility products rather than dedicate a trip to the store to buy them.

We Won’t Touch Moon Rocks: Retailers are already wrestling with how post-pandemic customers will pay for their goods. Plastic barriers shield cashiers from shoppers and touch screen panels are sanitized in between transactions. Ultimately, the cash register that post-pandemic customers will trust the most is their own smartphone. Retailers who embrace and build payment via smartphone applications (such as Starbucks) will thrive in the post pandemic world.

We Won’t Leave the Lunar Modular: Buy Online and Pick Up In-Store is not going away and curbside pick-up will be even more popular in the future. Customers will be less inclined to see a product in the flesh, even less likely to touch a display model, and will be more comfortable buying products online. However, even Amazon Prime has not curbed our insatiable need for instant gratification, which will drive customers to picking up their product within hours after purchase. Target has offered curbside delivery for some time and Best Buy has mastered the practice during this lockdown. With that, we’ll see more parking lot spaces and store staff dedicated to curbside fulfillment.

We Won’t Visit Multiple Planets: Exiting and entering the car will be a keystone moment in our shopping rocket launches. We’ll be hesitant to bring the germs we found on the moon into our lunar module, take off gloves, sanitize, unmask and then put all the gear back on when we land on Mars. Instead, the new normal will include our attempts to fulfill all of our extraterrestrial shopping at a single location: the mall. Mall owners and retailers of all kinds will help redefine the American mall, a place where I can buy my groceries, get clothes, buy electronics, fit in a yoga class, and the gym all in one landing. One trip – one time leaving the car and one time getting back in and then go home.


We’re Forming Habits

In 2009, Psychology Researcher Phillipa Lally conducted an experiment to see how long it takes for human behaviors to become automatic – or habitual. Ninety-six subjects were asked to start a new healthy behavior such as drinking a bottle of water during lunch and measure how automatic that behavior became over the course of twelve weeks. Lally measured the results and determined that habits form after two months of persistent behavior, or to be exact, sixty-six days.

As of this writing, we are at day sixty-two of this lockdown. We are forming habits.

Gyms are closed, but that does not mean we are just sitting around. Peloton bikes and home gym sales are spiking. I am even participating in a daily burpee challenge with other gappers. Walking outside is more of a luxury and a privilege than we ever realized. We are cooking more at home and spurring sales of KitchenAid mixers and other fun devices. We are collectively more health conscious than we have ever been and washing our hands every 30 minutes. Who knows which of these habits will stick but this pandemic will change our world long term.

We won’t be the same, but we, as humans, adapt. With a little bit of effort and a lot of care, we can come out of this on the other side even better off than where we started. At the very least I am hopeful people will stop hoarding toilet paper.

We’re all in this together.

For more than 17 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at info@gapintelligence.com or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.