Summer Promotional Planning in a COVID-19 Spring

Apr 30, 2020

Most retailers are wondering what this summer will be like. Will shoppers be able to get out and do the things they normally do each summer? Vacation, BBQ, travel, outdoor parties? Even if local governments relax social distancing standards, will shoppers be confident enough to behave normally?

Or will we see an explosion of pent-up demand, with shoppers so anxious to return to normal life they quickly re-enter the world, ready for entertainment and relaxation?

As a retailer, the time for planning for the warm summer months has probably come and gone, yet any plans we made six months ago are way out of date, depending on which way the COVID-19 crisis goes. What is a retailer to do?

Here are some thoughts based on shopper-behavior in other countries, and my suggestions for planning for key summer months.

First, in China and other countries where COVID-19 infections weren’t as severe as in the U.S., shoppers have come out of quarantine more conservative, more fearful, more cautious. Restaurants report less than a third normal traffic; bars less than half. Businesses that cater to young adults do better, but most retailers report a slow but steady return to normal as the weeks unfold.

So for the U.S., with states just now beginning to relax quarantine protocols, we may be looking at cautious shoppers throughout the late spring and summer months. That’s good for grocery stores, bad for restaurants and entertainment venues, and other forms of retail.

But even for grocers, there is risk. Summer entertainment, BBQs, and outdoor entertaining all contribute a large part to our summer sales of beer, non-alcoholic drinks, and of course meat, a stand-out staple for IGA given so many of our stores cut their meat fresh daily.

So, how do you plan for summer promotions in a COVID-19 spring?

  1. Give people permission to celebrate.
    These last few weeks have shown us incredible top line sales growth, and many retailers have slackened promotions for fear of out-of-stocks and shortages. As we move into the summer months, shoppers are looking for ways to celebrate everything from Mother’s Day to Memorial Day and beyond—no matter where they’re located. Whether your area of the country is still quarantined and facing product shortages, or if you’re experiencing a return to something more like normalcy, use your flexibility as an independent to your advantage and build in-store displays offering sale prices on outdoor cooking essentials, and be prepared to sub-in other products if you encounter shortages.
  2. Take advantage of what your vendors are cooking up on social media. 
    Like your shoppers, vendors are anxious to get back to business, and many are working hard to develop creative campaigns that promote responsible gathering among friends and family, like this one from Oscar Mayer that asks shoppers to participate by sharing pictures of socially-distant cookouts throughout the month of May using #FrontYardCookout. Visit for recipes and blogs that can be shared on social media to help you transition your message to shoppers from COVID-19 to life in the new normal.
  3. Concentrate on Private Label.
    Many shoppers will be getting back to work soon; others may be still looking for new employment, so value will be a strong driver this summer. Bulk up end-caps and do dump bins or value-alleys featuring your entire range of exclusive brand IGA products and other private label. Look for new Exclusive Brand signage from IGA in the next few months to help you promote our top-quality line to shoppers who need to save while they get more financially secure.

No one knows how this all will play out, as the experts weigh in with widely varied testimony and every news outlet seems to have its own opinion. As a retailer, it is better to do the planning now for a more and more normal summer. We can always postpone or cancel plans, which is significantly easier than creating them from scratch. Good—perhaps optimistic—planning means you will be ready for sales when COVID-19 isolation behavior is over. Hopefully soon!

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