Humanized Commerce: The New Ways Retail Is Addressing Human Concerns and Priorities

Doctor on cell phone

As the retailization of healthcare accelerates post-pandemic, humanized commerce approaches will become a new normal U.S retail trend.  Shoppers’ values will continue to shift even more in the direction of human concerns and human priorities. According to the CDC, health equity is when each person has the chance to reach “his or her full health potential,” without facing obstacles from “social position or other socially determined circumstances. In the context of this article, the retailer’s ability to establish health equity, will be more dependent on how well the retailer delivers against the local communities’ human concerns and priorities.

Humanized Commerce

At WPP’s Global Commerce 2021 event, J Walker Smith, the global Knowledge Lead for the global Consulting division of Kantar, explained that “virtual systems and e-commerce have made gains during the pandemic, and much of that will persist. But one of the unambiguous things we learned during the pandemic is that people still want human contact and social engagement, and no amount of digital can satisfy that.” So, technology will migrate from being a wholesale substitute for physical engagement to an enriching enhancement of physical engagement.  In short, it means technology will help make commerce more human.

Leading mass market chain retailers such as, Walmart and Target, have already begun to close the health equity gap with shoppers by introducing new commerce business models, focused on mental health development and community outreach. The renewed focus on human scale will also be reflected in a new way of thinking about others and thus a new set of values and expectations for brands. This article will examine some of the unique ways CPG brands can accelerate category growth, by addressing human concerns and human priorities.

Humanized Concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the community pharmacist service position, to include continuity of provision of medications, providing preventive services, and ensuring health equity. A 2020 chart from Google’s database of books and texts shows that for the first time in the last 120 years of American culture, people are writing about “community” more than about the “individual.”

The humanized health commerce implication here is, we are headed into a time where there is much more focus on things that are good for all than on things that are good only for oneself. This means that CPG brands can now play a bigger role in how well the retailer is perceived to have solved the community’s health equity concerns.

Walmart currently has seven health center formats, named Walmart Health stores, throughout the US, which provide communities in need with affordable, accessible preventive care, delivered through Walmart Healthcare plans. The scaling of Walmart Health primary care service format is a disruptive step towards Walmart being able to provide health equity to all. However, scaling the Walmart’s partnership with Thrive Global,  behavioral change technology company started by Arianna Huffington, could be the gamechanger digital application platform which CPG brands could embed more entertainment promotional content to help Walmart transform the lives of loyal customers by helping them make smaller, healthier consumption choices.

Walmart/Thrive ZP challenge inspired users to incrementally celebrate progress as they are encouraged to make “better choices” every day. As more mental health services are created across retail, expect Walmart to enable greater access to Walmart Media Group 1st party data. This will offer marketers the ability to better target Walmart+ addressable audiences with algorithmic triggers across the health and wellness moments that matter and drive communications to CPG brand services and community health influencers. This means we should expect to see more digital native Smile Direct or Dollar Shave-like product as service experiences in physical stores. This accelerating humanized commerce trend will be brought to shelf by digital native brands first, but soon will scale across CPG established brand categories, private label innovation and first mover challenger brand value propositions.  

Humanized concerns: CPG shopper marketing recommendations
  • Expect more leading retailers to offer CPG health commerce platforms online and offline.
  • Create omnichannel turnkey digital health commerce shopper marketing programs
  • Push retailers to offer more retail media access to target more chronic suffers web searchers as shoppers.
  • Create distinct and unique brand owned health commerce occasions around shopper’s urgent care, dental, physical therapy, sports medicine, allergy, and primary care interactions.
Humanized Priorities

Another learning coming out of WPP Global Commerce 2021 event was that retailers and their key brand stakeholders are now expected to provide leadership in society at large, not just business.  It is steering the basic idea of purpose toward the more disruptive idea of justice. The purpose-driven brand is becoming the justice-driven brand — a trend which is becoming a movement. And retailers are scaling these purpose driven brands, across departments and categories, in an effort to better represent community demographics and to provide more equitable economic opportunities to their communities in need.

According to CNBC, Generation Z — the group of teens and early 20-somethings who are aging into shopping and establishing relationships with brands — care more about social justice than previous generations. Over the past year, major companies like Nike, Walmart and Ulta Beauty have rolled out their own racial-equity pledges, such as featuring more Black people in their ads and reducing the number of police or security in stores.
Target recently pledged to invest $2billion dollars to bring 500 Black-owned brands to Target shelves by 2025. Sephora and Macy’s Inc., have made similar commitments by dedicating 15% of their shelf space or purchasing budget to BIPOC brands. The humanized physical store category impact will be more competition for established, private label and challenger brands and first generation D2c brands.  The scaling of BIPOC Direct to Consumer (D2c) brands to shelf represents the evolution of digital native brands coming to physical store formats. This is humanized commerce best practice, where the traditional shelf transforms into an inclusive shelf; #inclusiveretail.

Humanized Priorities: CPG shopper marketing recommendations
  • Retailers want suppliers to shift to a digital-first mindset, in which suppliers are required to drive ease, value and accessibility not just with product, but with content, engagement, digital search and fulfillment.
  • Create more Q&R mobile-first experiences leveraging retailer beacon technology in store.
  • Help local communities understand themselves in relation to the products they consume.

With the increased demands for humanized commerce, digital innovation has created new opportunities to reach and market to shoppers as humans unifying around the individual across an omnichannel commerce ecosystem.  The way forward for all retail partners is applying the right content and customer experience to every meaningful humanized commerce opportunity. This requires new capabilities and reimagining of commerce across retail and brand ecosystems.

  1. Reimagine Your Commerce Strategy – Accelerate the development and implementation of a strong category and brand positioning for brands, which differentiates and drives sustainable and profitable growth.
  2. Reimagine Your Route to Consumer – Drive brand availability, visibility and recommendation wherever and whenever your consumer considers a healthcare omni channel shoppable purchase.
  3. Reimagine Your Commerce Ecosystem – Optimize the consumer experience and connect with them across the entire purchase journey, maximizing the impact of your activation campaigns.
  4. Reimagine Your Capabilities – Develop the optimal structure, competencies and capabilities to unlock your healthcare commerce category or retailer growth opportunities.

- Brian Owens is SVP strategy at VMLY&R COMMERCE

Originally published in Chain Drug Review.