NEW YORK — Consumer buying habits have certainly changed during the pandemic in a number of areas, including healthy homes and habits, smart spending, and mental health and well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly every phase of American life, and shopping is no exception. It has brought changes in what we buy, how we buy it and how we pay for it.
Musab Balbale, senior vice president and chief merchant at CVS Health, says that as a result of the pandemic, customers are more digitally engaged than ever, and they expect a seamless omnichannel experience both online and off line.
“Over the past year, many customers tried our digital tools for the first time as they looked for ways to make their shopping more efficient and affordable. For example, since 2020 we witnessed double-digit increases in app downloads, and the number of customers enrolled in our text messages through our ExtraCare Rewards program grew by more than 45% last year.”
He says that more CVS Pharmacy customers than ever are taking advantage of the retailer’s delivery services through CVS.com and other channels, including DoorDash, InstaCart and Shipt.
“Consumers are also more frequently gravitating towards value and private label brands. There has also been an increased demand for vitamins and supplements and proactive wellness categories, particularly as consumers continue to prioritize their health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Self-care has been and will continue to be a top priority for consumers, with stress relief and sleep support products more popular than ever. We’ve also seen a new interest in discovery, alongside a willingness to experiment with beauty and personal care products during this time, including DIY services, like grooming and nail care, as well as a deeper focus on skin health.”
Balbale says as a consumer-centric, integrated health solutions company, CVS strives to meet its customers’ needs across the spectrum, both physically and digitally. “In doing so, we’ve evolved our strategy to provide a seamless, connected experience and meet our customers wherever, whenever and however they need us. We have expanded convenience beyond our physical locations through a digital-first, omnichannel approach.”
He continues, “We’ve enhanced our digital tools, including the Pharmacy app. It’s the access point for everything from making vaccine or MinuteClinic appointments to refilling prescriptions and, of course, rewards and savings.”
He adds that the company recently launched its Buy Online Pick-Up In-Store option. “We’re investing in omnichannel convenience to create a seamless connection between our digital and physical experiences. Lastly, to meet the demand for proactive health solutions, expanding healthier food and wellness offerings is a priority of ours to make healthier choices easier. We’re constantly bringing new items to our shelves and to CVS.com across health, wellness, grocery and beauty. Within our Store Brands portfolio, we’ve introduced many new quality and affordable products to shoppers including vitamins and supplements, sleep, relaxation, digestive health, sun care, better-for-you snacks, hair care, nail care, and more.”
Balbale points out that sustainability and transparency are more important than ever to consumers, and CVS has introduced new offerings to meet that demand.
“Our Tested to Be Trusted program was established in 2019, which requires third-party testing of all vitamins and supplements sold at CVS to ensure that products contain what is listed on the supplement panel. All supplements are tested for specific identified contaminants. This was the first program by a national retailer to require this caliber of standards for vitamins and supplements.
Additionally, we’ve introduced expanded product offerings within our exclusive Live Better brand, which promises at least 80% recyclable packaging and transparent ingredients, in addition to the bio-based products that meet EPA Safer Product Standards within our Total Home Earth Essentials line.”
Balbale notes that in the beauty category CVS’ partnership with SkinSAFE allows customers to look up products in their comprehensive and searchable skin product ingredient database developed with the Mayo Clinic. “To further simplify, we also introduced in-store signage identifying Sensitive Friendly items and trained beauty consultants to help recommend products and show customers how to use the SkinSAFE app. And through our Beauty Mark initiative, 100% of our beauty imagery is labeled for customers to identify what has been retouched and what has not when they walk through our beauty aisles — another one of the many ways we’re addressing health and transparency in beauty.
“We also recently announced our partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and Resource: Plastic to create goals related to our Store Brands products, including that all packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, compostable or can be returned for proper disposal at the end of life by 2030. And our Beyond the Bag initiative aims to reinvent the single-use retail plastic bag, with the understanding that reinventing the retail bag requires a coordinated industry approach among retailers nationwide.”
As for future trends, he is seeing digital use rise across the industry; customer expectations for a simpler and more seamless experience will follow suit.
“Furthermore, we anticipate the demand for delivery services and digital shopping to continue to increase, with customers expecting a seamless experience both in-store and online. Driven by the events of the last two years, we also foresee customers continuing to seek convenient ways to save on everyday essentials and consolidate shopping trips as they prioritize the health and well-being of themselves and their families.”
“Whether customers are using our app to view their prescription fulfillment schedule, directions, and refill tracker, shopping for their everyday needs online, utilizing prescription delivery at home or pickup at our drive-thru locations or opting to shop in-store, we’ll continue to innovate to make our customers’ lives easier, all while keeping health as our top priority,” Balbale says.
“Today, consumers’ definition of wellness spans beyond simply treating illnesses into a far more expansive view of health,” says Megan Boyd, senior manager of retail and merchandising communications for corporate communications at Walgreens. “The pandemic has shifted consumer mindsets towards preventative and holistic health, with an emphasis on daily routines that boost immunity, mental health management and taking precautionary measures at home. This aligns to our brand vision for Walgreens Owned Brands to be the first choice for health and well-being.”
She points out that, more specifically, in a recent consumer survey conducted by OnePoll for Walgreens, 65% of respondents have been stocking up more on health and immunity-boosting products. The top picks included vitamin C (50%), multivitamins (47%) and vitamin E (44%).
“When asked what supplements they can’t live without, people named an array of vitamins, as well as ginseng, allergy medicine, calcium, CoQ10 and probiotics, among others.
In addition to products, the way consumers shop has become more digitized after many turned to omnichannel solutions during the pandemic. It has become table stakes for retailers to meet customers on their terms for shopping when, where and how they want. We’ve invested in our digital and store capabilities to enhance the customer experience and offer pickup in as little as 30 minutes, same-day delivery in under one hour and tools for checking inventory availability online.”
During the pandemic, many chains have been adjusting their merchandising on the front end. “In a time where things are feeling “out of control,” personal health and wellness has been something that customers feel they can take into their own hands.”
Boyd notes that many consumers are embarking on new journeys to wellness, taking a holistic 360 approach — this includes their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual and social health. “They are taking on new proactive wellness habits and examining what they put in and on their body. When it comes to products, they are turning to owned brands for a better value. Wellness is something our consumers are defining for themselves, and we’re meeting them there to support them wherever they are in their journey. We want Walgreens to be the first choice for all their health and wellness needs and how we can support them to meet their goals with our high-quality products.”
Boyd says there is a lot of innovation in items that help people take control of their overall health and well-being. “From at-home testing devices to chronic pain management, that is where we will see innovation in the market, and with Walgreens Owned Brands. We have over 100 new items launching in this space in 2022,” Boyd notes.