Published on: September 30, 2008by Michael Sansolo
Does anyone out there have the answer to the current financial crisis?
I thought I’d ask in case someone is sitting there with all the information and just hasn’t acted because no one actually inquired.
However, I’m betting we won’t get an answer to that question. I’m sure we can easily spark a debate on what caused this mess, how we feel the various politicians are responding and whether we have confidence in the firm of Paulson and Bernanke who now seem to be running the United States. (If indeed it can be said that anyoneis running the country, in the wake of yesterday’s stock market freefall, the failure of Congress to pass the $700 billion bailout bill, and the blame game that everybody seems to be playing at the moment.)
Here’s the thing: The financial mess is THE issue people are discussing and no one is feeling good. I happened to be in Mexico for two days last week and the US financial crisis was all I heard about there, too. As one businesswoman told me, if the US gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia. In the US, the discussion is just as downbeat.
The reason we need to state the importance of this issue is this: what matters to shoppers must always matter to us. PERIOD.
Think about it: since the financial crisis became the focal point of the endless news cycle the odds are that most Americans haven’t bought a house, a car or anything else. But they have gone to the supermarket and the questions we must ask is are we in step with the issue on their minds.
Financial issues and economic upheaval always have impact on the food industry. It might take time, but it always happens. Just think back on the period of generics and barebones warehouse stores during the economic malaise of the 1970s. The growth of services and upscale products were characteristics of the boom times of the 1980s and 1990s. And the emergence of price operators accelerated during the downturn of the late 1980s and the early part of the current decade.
Economic changes always alter this industry and the companies that thrive during these periods are those that most quickly get in line with these changing shopper realities.
And today the realities are spinning out of control. Most Americans don’t understand this financial mess and never will, but they are worried. So what will that mean to shopping patterns, the mix of products in the basket and the emphasis on price? We’re already seeing evidence of change in many ways, but the evidence is all about reaction. None of it is about anyone leading.
Simply put, we are facing a new reality. And a new reality requires new discussions.
So while you may not have the answer, you have questions you must consider on how your company will address this issue with shoppers and what it will mean to your financials, your associates and your messages. We need to think about how to align with these growing concerns and how to demonstrate alignment with the shifting values consumers are likely to have.
There are places to start. Talk to your shoppers and express your shared concerns. Remind them of all the money-saving devices in the store, from the range of products, to sales, coupons and more. Educate them on the steps you take to hold down costs even as commodity prices rise. And even talk with them about the economic benefits of home meals because, after all, there is opportunity in this. Have the same discussions with employees because they share the fears, too, and they will be the front-line eyes and ears through this mess.
This is not the usual economic situation either. It is already hitting affluent neighborhoods as well as poor ones. It’s impacting retirees and those just starting careers. Anyone who owns stock, a 401k, a mortgage, a student loan or even a bad credit card bill is worrying. That means, pretty much all your customers.
So, start talking. And show them once again that what matters to them is what most matters to you. And start now.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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