COVID-19 Retail Guide
News for the week of May 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting retail businesses in a variety of ways. From loss of business to remote work, things are changing fast during the COVID-19 outbreak and businesses are being forced to adapt. Jacobs is working to bring you our research, insights, and stories to help you navigate this challenging time. 

Retail Industry Insights

Unilever reveals the world's consumer habits 

You probably have a Unilever product at home. The giant Anglo-Dutch conglomerate makes everything from Dove soap to Lipton tea to Axe body spray. It has world's largest ice cream business, with brands like Ben & Jerry's, Breyers, and the Magnum-making swirly heart brand whose name inexplicably changes in every country.


Unilever's latest earnings report reveals the world's shifting buying and using habits 

"Less hair washing" 


An actual line from Unilever’s earnings presentation — it knows you're using less of its big TRESemmé bottles. As the WFH and Zoom-in-your-pajamas life takes over, people are doing less shaving, hair washing, and deodorizing — 11 fewer "personal care" usages every week.

Personal care products:

  • deodorant and shampoo were hoarded at the beginning of lockdown — now they're being used (and bought) way less

In-home food products:

  • Ben & Jerry's pints and Hellman's mayo saw a sales surge, but out-of-home food sales plummeted as most restaurants, movie theaters, and public venues closed

Costco sales fall for first time in a decade — it's not all gloom and doom for the retailer: 


  • February sales jumped 12%: at the start of the lockdown panic — shoppers flocked to Costco for cart-full of food and cleaning supplies.

  • March sales spiked 10%: People who didn't panic hoard in Feb started panic hoarding —you remember the great toilet paper panic.

  • April sales fell 5%: In part to stay-at-home orders and scaled back service in areas like the Costco food court.

But what is really behind April's numbers? Gas. Gas sales make up 11% of Costco's revenue. Oil prices took a nosedive in April, even going negative at one point. On top of that plunge, Costco members were driving way less. Costco blamed 70% of its April sales drop on low gas prices/demand.

Key Retailer Responses


 Amazon said on April 14 that Whole Foods Market stores are open one hour early for customers that are age 60 or over. Shoppers ordering from Prime Now, Amazon or Whole Foods can select an unattended delivery option. Customers also have more time to return orders. An Amazon spokesperson previously said in a statement to Retail Dive that Amazon Books, Amazon 4-star and Amazon Pop Up, as well as Amazon Go stores in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco are temporarily closed. They were previously closed through April 7.


Best Buy:

 The company announced in March it was not allowing any shoppers in stores after it had previously said it was limiting the number of people in its physical locations. Instead, the retailer implemented contactless curbside pickup. Effective April 19, the company is furloughing about 51,000 U.S. hourly store associates, including “nearly all” part-time workers. Affected employees will retain their health benefits at no cost for at least three months, the company said.

Williams Sonoma:

 The company — which operates Williams Sonoma, Williams Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Teen, West Elm, Rejuvenation, and Mark and Graham — said on April 15 it will extend U.S. and Canada store closures through May 3. 

Rite Aid:

 The company announced on April 6 that it is in the process of installing plexiglass shields at its pharmacies and front-end counters. The retailer has also introduced senior shopping hours between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. daily for individuals aged 60 and over. The retailer has also added social distancing markers throughout stores and is following local limits for the number of shoppers allowed in stores. The retailer on April 6 announced it has begun hiring for 5,000 full- and part-time positions for its store and distribution teams, having already “significantly increased staffing levels” to fulfill online orders quicker. 


 he company announced that, starting April 19, all locations will have an “Appreciation Hour” on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. where first responders and healthcare workers can shop without a membership. The retailer also updated shopping hours for members 60 and over to between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday. In early April, the club retailer placed limits on how many members could be in a store at any given time. No more than 20% of a club’s total capacity will be allowed to enter a store at a time.


Source: Retail Dive

Target Insights


Target said on April 23 it has increased staffing of its same-day services as a result of increased demand. Target previously announced in early April that it would actively monitor and limit the total number of people inside of stores when needed. Signage, floor decals and audio messages were also installed in stores to encourage social distancing. The mass merchant also announced reduced hours, with all stores closing by 9 p.m. local time. Every Wednesday morning, Target offers a dedicated shopping hour for “vulnerable guests.”

Target gave an update last week on its recent performance ahead of its first quarter earnings release. The update caused its stock price to tumble due to guidance that its first quarter profits will be by hurt by higher costs. Brian Cornell said he expects guests will continue consolidate their shopping into fewer trips. He said that trend would benefit the big-box store, too, since it sells many items from medicine and groceries to clothing. 


Highlights include:

  • Quarter-to-date same store sales increased +7% and gaining market share

    • Essentials and Food/Beverage comp sales +20%

    • Hardlines comp sales +16%

    • Apparel and Accessories comp sales -20%

  • April-to-date digital sales increase +275%!

    • Drive up volume +7x higher than normal

    • Order pickup daily volume has been twice as high as Cyber Monday

    • Shipt volume on the Friday before Easter was more than it typically fulfills in a week

  • Margin pressure continues based on Target’s current sales mix (less higher margin, more lower margin) and the additional store expenses.

Shopping Behaviors
Consumers stating that they are “Very Concerned” about thevirus dropped for the first time from the prior week
  • Those people shifted from red into yellow “somewhat concerned” (5 –6 on the scale).
  • The percent of consumers stating they are “unconcerned”(0 –3 on the scale) has remained relatively flat at <5% over the past 5 weeks.​

Data Source: Numerator COVID-19 Weekly WE 4/14/2020 

Inability to see family & friends rose from prior week into the top spot, with 54% of people stating this as a concern.
  • Fear of infection still remainsthe highest Primary Concerns among shoppers..
  • Product scarcity, job security and cancelling plans are becoming less of a concerns to consumers as they acclimate & come to grips with the new change in lifestyle & normality.
Social Listening

CPG & Retail

One-in-four CPG posts revolve around alcohol, with an increasing number of people posting while drinking. Day drinking is becoming more popular.

On social, the trends of eating comfort food and drinking alcohol in quarantine go hand in hand. Consumers consider eating the food they love as a form of self-care.

Curbside pick up was the leading trending topic this week in grocery store posts.

Difficulties with online shopping are a common talking point, including delays in delivery, lack of delivery slots, online shopping scams and fraud, as well as difficult return processes.

Source: Brandwatch CoVid19 Bulletin 

Health & Beauty
Data & Charts
Business Resources from Jacobs

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, one thing you can control is to ensure your brands have what they need to sustain and grow: information, data and advanced analytics. Jacobs Frontier Analytics is more ready than ever to connect with you on a moment's notice and dig into your unique situation, needs and questions.

Coronavirus Small Business Guide from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Coronavirus coverage, updated daily with new resources to assist you and your business from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Target Coronavirus Information Hub

Latest information from Target.

Frontier Analytics Services from Jacobs

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Voice of the Shopper

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Social Listening

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Shopper Survey

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