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Life in Lockdown: Social Responsibility, Supermarkets and Online Meetings our New Focal Points

As we are in the fourth week of the Nordic corona crisis and the third week of restrictions in Sweden and complete lockdown in Finland, there is a sense that people are adjusting to the circumstances.  While things are far from normal, we can already understand how the world is shaping.

Social Responsibility in a New Focus

As brands have rapidly reframed their communications plan, it has become clear that consumers and corporations alike focus now on corporate Social Responsibility. The broader ESG-agenda has been bubbling under for the last few years, but COVID-19  has suddenly shifted the pointer from Environmental Responsibility (the “E”) to Social Responsibility (the “S”).  

Consumer and citizen sentiment emphatically expects corporates to care for all their stakeholders.  A Kantar global survey of 35.000 consumers (as reported by the Data and Marketing Association of Finland) says that 80% of respondents considered that the critical priority of brands was to take care of their employees, 74% and felt that brands should not take advantage of the current situation, and 78% thought brands should primarily focus on helping customers daily. 

Governance (the “G”) is a responsibility, particularly to internal stakeholders, while Social Responsibility is more about external stakeholders. Employees under duress will expect that management actions are transparent, justified and perceived to be fair. Upholding these principles will be vital to maintaining morale across the enterprise.

The question is whether attention will revert to the Environmental question after the crisis.  When we reach a new normal, there is a possibility that a complete ESG plan will prevail and set the tone for the New Normal.

Consumer Behaviour Patterns are Not yet Clear

Early figures indicate that the impact of social distancing and lockdown reduce overall retail demand fairly consistently by -25% to -35% from previous trend levels. This estimate applies to the Nordics, with Sweden initially being slightly less affected and the rest slightly more affected due to the severity of national measures taken. Food retail is an obvious exception. Chinese Jan-Mar figures indicate +10% growth sustained even beyond the initial hoarding phase, and we would expect Nordic food retailers to perform at least as strongly.

The retail engagement has polarised in most markets.  Physical (off-line) engagement has become the virtual monopoly of local supermarkets. Interestingly, while retail has not been compelled to close, most stores are practically empty.  The supermarket has become a focal point of daily life for many. It should extend the scope of engagement with customers beyond the necessities of the Restricted Living phase we are experiencing. So far, grocery retailers have understandably been focused on the core challenge of maintaining their supply chains and keeping staff and shoppers safe. 

Ecommerce should be the prime beneficiary of the crisis. However, early UK and US data and anecdotal evidence from China indicate that Ecommerce demonstrates roughly the same decline as the underlying categories (Within, RetailX, Glimpse, Amperity).  The exception seems to be Amazon, which continues to increase its share of online spending rapidly.

Eating at home, combined with restaurant premise closures and supermarkets struggling to meet home delivery demand, suggest perfect conditions for food delivery services.  Reports from the UK indicate the opposite and that orders have fallen sharply (according to the FT). This week, China’s food delivery leader Meituan Dianping warned that its Q1 revenues would be down year-on-year!

Consumer behaviour remains highly disturbed, and no new normal has yet been established.  Communicating with customers remains essential, but the messaging still requires excellent sensitivity.


On the Joys of WFH

The novelty of working from home (WFH) has probably vanished for all of us. People who spend their days in back-to-back video meetings testify that moving cooperation online is both intense and often inefficient.  Small things can be handled at the office with a quick chat at the coffee machine. Now everything requires a video meeting with everyone invited. With everyone online all the time, there is no clear start or end to the working day.  

In this new WFH world, how will we judge performance?  Will we reward those who never log out, who attend every video call, who keep speaking up the most?  Or will we find alternative ways to evaluate contributions?  

When we add home-schooling, child care, increased housework, etc., to the endless stream of video calls, many people are likely to feel that they have never before had so little free time or opportunity to recover.  Whereas these are our employees and colleagues, they are also customers. On the one hand, reaching people with addressable messaging has seldom been more accessible. On the other hand, those people have rarely been in as fraught a mood as now!


Written by Sasu Ristimäki and Kim Weckström



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