Shoppers’ priorities have shifted, and retail brands must keep up.

By James Willoughby at Sense

The retail landscape is not what it was before the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes in shopper behaviour mean that traditional ways of advertising and connecting with consumers are no longer as reliably effective. People may now choose convenience and affordability over brand loyalty, as habits formed in lockdown continue to influence how we shop and live. Couple that with the cost-of-living crisis, and you have a situation that retail brands must acknowledge and respond to. Shopper marketing for retail brands needs to considered from a new perspective.

Understanding the retail landscape

We recently launched our retail marketing division to guide brands through this new landscape and help them succeed. It’s important for retail brands to understand the needs of the modern consumer, rather than recycling outdated shopper marketing methods that might have been reliable in the past, but aren’t as applicable in the hyper-online, fast-moving and unpredictable present.

As Kantar told the BBC, people are visiting shops less now than they did before the pandemic. Their insights show that a monthly ‘big shop’ for essentials is common, with fewer visits throughout the month, as people continue to work from home.

Discounts are big business, too. As inflation rose, shoppers looked for deals, and the names synonymous with cheap groceries, Aldi and Lidl, raced past their established competitors in the popularity stakes, seeing a 23% year-on-year increase in sales. Other retailers offer price-match guarantees to keep prices low, and have been expanding own-brand offerings.

Then there’s the internet. Nearly 12% of all grocery shopping in the UK is done online – up from a pre-pandemic 8%, but down from a mid-lockdown peak of 15.4%. Older people might have gone back to physical shopping, says analyst Fraser McKevitt, but younger shoppers go online first.

So, with fewer visits to the shops, a squeeze in finances, and online shopping increasingly becoming the first storefront many will see, a fresh and responsive approach is needed.

Retail brands need to adapt

Retail brands must adapt to the current cost-of-living crisis, and employ a more sales-oriented approach. Being on TV for six months may not significantly boost brand recognition as it would once have done – shoppers want instant and compelling reasons to buy.

From a shopper marketing point of view, retail brands need to realise that time-poor, stressed shoppers may struggle to decipher clever advertising messages. They want a simple and instantly recognisable USP, whether that’s how the product will taste great, make their life easier, aid in their health goals or appeal to their kids. Shopper marketing has evolved, and the clever, emotional approach played out over TV ads might work for certain brands at Christmas, but the rest of the year demands an evolved, simplified approach.

Shoppers are faced with endless choices so brands need to make an impact quickly. If customers are having to decipher a brand’s messaging due to it not being obvious, people will move on to look for a product that is.

Successful brands are the ones that recognise time-poor and attention-deficient shoppers require simple, functional language. Sainsbury’s 1 x curry + 1 x beer meal deal is a great example of simple messaging working well, and Colgate’s ‘rinse, brush, replace’ tells shoppers exactly what they need to do.

The golden rules of shopper marketing

Brands should test new campaign ideas against these golden rules to see if they fulfil the need to be snappy, obvious, and undemanding.

  1. Is it simple?

    Communication should use few words, and the words should be short and “every day” in their nature. Speak to people in the way they’d speak to family or friends.
  2. Is it clear?

    Communication should be easy to process. It tells a shopper what a product is, what it does, why it’s good, and how it’s better than other options.
  3. Is it effective?

    Communication should frame choices effectively to make a brand the most obvious choice for shoppers.

Standing out in the crowd

With groceries, it’s inevitable that not every new product will be reinventing the wheel. Orange juice is always orange juice, after all. But even without a new USP, brands need to understand how to market the product effectively. A barrier many retail brands struggle to overcome is developing the messaging they direct at shoppers. In a saturated market, they must understand the trigger words and compelling language that makes someone buy their offering over another.

Ultimately, brands and retailers need to move away from an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality when it comes to their marketing. The old ways – OOH campaigns or TV ads relying on an emotion-driven narrative – may not be broken, as such, but when we recognise that shoppers’ needs and finances aren’t what they were even five years ago, we can see that their priorities are different. Working from this understanding is the first step to succeeding in this challenging, modern market.



5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th St,
#2, New York,
NY, 10003

Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy or amplify your retail marketing moves. Get them here at The Futures Lab.


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003


Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

Connect with us


Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.