Spending on kids adapts to an online shopping world

Impulse purchases and seasonal fashion are down, while frozen dinners are likely up. Tandy Thomas looks at how kid-driven retail is likely to change after the pandemic.
April 16, 2020

How families are shopping is changing amid COVID-19. Parents are adjusting to new economic realities imposed by the virus, but the broader industry is also seeing a shift in behavioral changes, as fewer store visits with kids results in fewer impulse buys driven by that younger set, and e-commerce takes center stage in most families retail repertoire. Concerns over supply chains is also driving up essential goods, like baby formula and diapers.

Tandy Thomas, associate professor and distinguished faculty fellow of marketing at Canada’s Queen’s University, says it’s incumbent upon brand supply chains to stay open for parents who want product, find out pain points for customers and do what they can to reduce those, while using community building and reassurance messaging.

Direct-to-consumer models can work in some cases, she says, but they don’t fit well with most distribution structures, and might require building new ones for legacy brands. Thomas says that as parents adjust to buying more products online, those that require in-store testing, like strollers, may suffer.

But kid-friendly companies are reaching out to parents in new and different ways.  Toys “R” Us Canada recently launched the campaign “Stay-At-Home Play” with 12-year-old ambassador Méganne Dagenais, which includes a “Wash Your Hands Challenge,” a hand hygiene singalong.

Grocery will see a big change, Thomas says, with parents making more mealsnot just because restaurants are closed, but also perhaps because of not being able to take advantage of school lunch programs. Convenience foods like frozen pizza or lasagna are likely to see an uptick, as working parents have more demands placed upon them as they balance working from home with child care.

And the older the children, the more likely they are to be engaged by parents in online shopping, Thomas says. Previously, a family might’ve gone to the store with kids in tow, who would’ve been influencing purchasing behavior that way, she adds. Parents are likely doing online shopping by themselves, so it’s more parent-controlled, especially for younger kids.

Most parents that have kids to watch at home might not have time to stand in line outside a grocery store to conform to social distancing measures, she says, and will be forced to try grocery delivery. With the convenience of home delivery, or even the quick store-pick up options, Thomas predicts the retail environment could see the rapid adoption of the delivery/pick-up category, which has struggled to get off the ground.

In the apparel sector, for children’s wear, what friends are wearing is still a very influential component, even if interactions between kids is now exclusively virtual. Many of those kids were interacting with each other anyway before COVID-19 through online forums like TikTok, Thomas says. “Peer pressure will be there, but accessibility will change. There is no longer en masse mall shopping [by teens].” Thomas believes other categories could have already taken up the mantle when it comes to peer pressure, like online games and apps.

According to Thomas, normal triggers are no longer in play in a COVID lockdown economylike spring for new shoes and raincoats. Cyclical triggers like these make people go and update their wardrobes or supplies, much like back to school in the fall. “Now, there are no triggers. People don’t even know what day it is,” Thomas jokes.

“With a bit of luck, the world will open up, and we may see a surge in things that require trying things on,” she says. However, at least for now, we will see a decrease.

Thomas says in this environment there might be a sales uptick in stuff to keep kids busy. “Anecdotally, I am seeing an increase in Crayola ads in my feeds,” Thomas says. She believes activities that keep children engaged in the home, whether through gaming, toys, streaming services or “crafty activities” will see a rise in demand, and could be a relevant approach to reaching parents across categories.

“My speculation would be that we are going to see increases in the kinds of products you need to keep children occupied, whether free or costed online services, but also with younger kids, markers, glue, construction paper,” Thomas says.

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