Emotionally worn out, consumers are looking to retailers for more than just a transaction. So how can retail brands give them what they need? Mary Winter explains.

Covid restrictions have changed how we physically shop but the pandemic has also changed the way we think about shopping, particularly aspirational shopping experiences.

People have been sad and fearful. They are emotionally worn out. So they’re seeking out retail brands to cheer them up and make them feel good like never before.

So what does aspirational shopping look like now for Covid-weary, emotionally needy shoppers?


Brands supporting self-worth instead of challenging it

One of the biggest trends I have observed during the last two years is an escalation of diversity and inclusion.

People no longer want brands to make them feel inadequate, by, for example, suggesting they are not skinny enough, not beautiful enough, not rich enough and so on.

We want to feel great just the way we are. This is particularly true of millennial shoppers who refuse to be made small by brands.

To support this trend, brands need to re-think stereotypes and conventions.

One of the best campaigns I have seen in recent times is Third Love in America which has authentically embraced diversity.


Retail brands form part of the community

Consumers are placing a premium on the romanticised ‘village life’. The ‘marketplace’ is even more romanticised as a way to shop.

Many consumers have cooled to impersonal shopping experiences and are dreaming about shopping in a way that is connected, simple, and friendly.

Some have developed more cosy shopping patterns in their local areas and maybe only frequent a small range of shops. They have formed relationships with local shop owners, to the point where they are on a first-name basis as they see the same local people over and over again.

Retail brands should embrace this shift and find ways to highlight the community element of their offering.


Shopping at peace

Working from home and flexible time has allowed people to more easily integrate into suburban life. They have been able to shop at irregular hours and time their shopping according to other needs making it a less frenetic experience that is ‘squeezed’ in with other demands. Going back to shopping that exhausts you may not be desirable post-Covid.

Retailers can recognise this by being prepared for shoppers outside of traditional ‘peak’ shopping times and maintaining a sense of calm in-store.


A source of inspiration and recreation

During the pandemic, shopping has been tied to creating quality of life. For example, gathering food has been about curation, experimentation and learning new cooking skills – not just grabbing what you can by the train station on the way home from work.

Lockdown made food shopping an event for some. It became a primary form of recreation and for many, the only time they visited the shops.

Attention to detail and creating experiences may well be more valuable post-Covid and retailers can play to these aspects within their offering.


Making shopping fun

Being too serious can be a turn off as we have been glued to bad news each day for two years. An Australian brand called Knobby is making underpants great fun. They deliver a pair every month that has a new fun design. They have an irreverent spirit and are making something playful happen during Covid. Check out their amusing creative below.


Retail brands as change agents

Covid has made us demand positive change. It has spurred on the desire for environmental action and a desire to see retailers be held accountable for their impact on climate change and social justice.

Consumers do not want to see these things in the background as tokenistic. They want sustainability policies and practices brought to the fore and celebrated.

Take a look at the feminine hygiene brand Tom Organic as indicative. This brand also speaks to inclusion and authenticity.


The values shift we are seeing during Covid will be a true shift. It has been too long and painful and the changes we have made have shifted behaviours for good such as working arrangements which will continue to have an impact on shopping behaviours for years to come.

Exactly how our shopping aspirations will land is hard to say but we will likely be open to things that give us deeper experiences and happier times.

This article first appeared in Inside Retail.