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Talking to consumers about price and availability

Columnist David Orgel discusses how retailers need to communicate with empathy in the face of ongoing inflation and supply chain challenges.

At first blush, the recent CEO letter to customers from discount retailer Aldi may not seem so extraordinary. 

Aldi "Our Price Promise" CEO-Letter

“Saving you money is what we do best,” it begins. “And in times like these, I’m incredibly proud to underscore this commitment to you.”

But in reading more of the “Our Price Promise” message from Jason Hart, it becomes clear the retailer is reasserting its low-price-leader promise for this extraordinary period of rising prices driven by global circumstances. 

“No matter what happens in the world around us, Aldi will always be the low-price leader in every community we serve,” it reads. “Whether you’re feeling the pinch at the gas pump or on your home energy bills, you can count on Aldi as a bright spot in your weekly budget.”

Clarity in the Face of Complexity

This simple but effective letter shows empathy in communicating with shoppers and asks for continued trust. It’s a type of messaging that can be adapted by other retailers, even if they aren’t the low-price leaders. They just need to be able to show understanding about what customers are facing. 

The messaging opportunities go beyond price. Shoppers are encountering out-of-stocks on a range of items across retail channels. Retailers need to provide updates on what shoppers should expect.

Purchase Limits on Items 

A number of major retailers have been putting limits on purchases of certain items impacted by out-of-stocks, in categories ranging from baby formula to pet food.

[Read more: NACDS shares update on formula shortage, Enfamil maker reportedly eyeing sale]

Moreover, some retailers and brands are adjusting product and recipe formulations in reaction to supply challenges. Shoppers will appreciate knowing about these situations as they develop.

Depths of Shopper Concerns

Dealing with price and assortment challenges isn’t a new development for consumers, who have experienced just about everything during the pandemic.

However, this is an especially difficult period as lingering supply-chain bottlenecks from the pandemic combine with new ones from the war in Ukraine to create extreme hurdles. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to battle inflation through higher interest rates have created concerns about slowing economic growth.

“Retailers need to provide updates on what shoppers should expect.”

Kantar reports an increase in the share of shoppers extremely or very concerned about rising costs due to inflation — up from 38% in January to 43% in March, according to the organization’s ShopperScape data. Inflation anxieties are growing or consistent among nearly all shopper groups, with millennials and households with children relaying the most concern, Kantar found.

Keys to Consumer Messaging

Effective and empathetic communications from retailers can help overcome anxieties and even boost customer loyalty. Retailers need to relay they are on the side of shoppers. Here are examples of messaging that would likely resonate with shoppers.

  • We are doing everything possible to stay competitive on price and in stock;
  • We are limiting purchases on some items to make sure our shopper base can get what it needs at a time of shortages;
  • We just held off on price increases on many items, despite higher costs;
  • Here are some alternative products you might consider until we can get your regular ones back in stock;
  • Heads up that prices are going up. We are actually not passing along all of our higher costs; 
  • Our private label is a great value to consider at this time; and
  • We will continue to keep you updated and in the loop.

Retailers need to figure out which types of messaging work best for their customer bases and push these out across communications channels — from in-store to online. 

Focusing on communication and compassion will go a long way. The impact will be cumulative over time as shoppers view their retailers as allies.

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