Home and garden have become increasingly important during the Corona crisis. Can the retail sector benefit from this – and if so, how? A room psychologist, a product range consultant and the Head of Marketing at a large garden centre shared their thoughts with us and revealed why “staycation” and other trends offer opportunities but are certainly not an automatic guarantee of success.
The importance of the home during the Corona crisis
Homes and living spaces are not a short-term trend for Dr Barbara Perfahl. As a room psychologist and home stager, she knows that “the living space is an existential and essential theme for most humans. And it has of course become more important these days. You can’t get away now from dealing with your own home.” More people than ever before are tackling the fundamental question of how they want to live.
Dr Perfahl finds future developments difficult to predict. “Normally, this impulse to redesign one’s home comes from one’s own life. Now, though, it is the external situation that is impacting us: Coronavirus, working from home, schools and the easing of restrictions – all these things are definitely stressful for most people. We have never spent as much time at home as we do now. I think the issue of living spaces will occupy us for quite some time to come.” She can well imagine that many people will be taking a more fundamental approach to their living space: “If this state of affairs continues, we will have to rethink the way we furnish our homes in the medium and long term. You can’t just keep on working permanently from the dining table and simply pushing things to one side to make room.”
This is probably one of the reasons why the psychologist sees “staycation” as a double-edged sword: If spending holidays at home or locally becomes the only option, then people will feel pressure to do just the opposite – to go somewhere far away, to the sea or the mountains. Spending a lot of time at home is not necessarily at the top of people’s wish list, according to Dr Perfahl.
“Coronavirus has shown us that people want access to fresh air. Even if it’s only a tiny balcony.” The desire for a home with a balcony, terrace or garden is something Dr Perfahl has observed widely in the current climate. Those people who have outdoor areas are now upgrading them. “This is of course very positive from the point of view of room psychology – going outside and expanding your own living space.” For Dr Perfahl, this also includes public spaces where people meet socially distanced, for example, for picnics.
“I think the issue of living spaces will occupy us for quite some time to come.” - Dr. Barbara Perfahl
As a retailer, should you adapt your product range in response to the “staycation” trend?
As an analytical and creative product range consultant, Barbara Karstens assists her customers in meeting challenges. Retail is always changing and adapting – but it is currently experiencing a new level of transformation in the ongoing Corona crisis. Ms Karstens does not want to gloss over the seriousness of the situation: “The problem is basically that the high-street retail sector was completely shut down for a long time,” she explains. “Some retailers failed to go digital, but many others responded very quickly, for example, by taking advantage of social media. There was a lot of improvisation and rapid establishment of customer contacts. In some cases, completely new services were created, sales channels established, and orders delivered in person with a minimum of administrative red tape. Retailers have also joined forces and used shared hashtags. I thought that was great.”
In addition to establishing and expanding online trading, the consultant had another piece of advice: “During this period, I have always recommended visual merchandising – shop window design. Many people have a strong need to go outside. The weather has also played its part. As soon as there is some easing of restrictions, people see the shopping experience as a reward. And those who revamp their displays more frequently create additional incentives to buy.”
How can retailers react to the focus on the living space? “First of all, of course, there are high stock levels that now need to be reduced. All festive occasions such as Easter, weddings etc. have been cancelled – a complete season,” Karstens points out. She advises against the aimless building up of additional product ranges. But: “The urge for beautiful furnishings is particularly strong now. And not just indoors, outdoors too – which is reflected in how popular DIY stores have suddenly become. People still prefer to buy everything to do with the home locally.”
„People still prefer to buy everything to do with the home locally.“ - Barbara Karstens
Focus on the garden centre: Sustainable product ranges are increasingly important during the Corona crisis
Christian Rauser also sees the theme of sustainability as one of the winners in the Corona crisis: “We noticed that the lockdown acted as a booster and brought issues that had been in the background for a while into sharp focus,” he explains. Rauser is Head of Marketing at Meier AG, one of the leading Swiss companies in the green sector with around 200 employees. Many customers discovered the kitchen garden during the first phase of the pandemic: “And if you grow your own salad leaves, you naturally want to have less poison – through biological crop protection using beneficial organisms instead of chemicals, for example. This will certainly become even more important in the future.”
According to Rauser, his company has benefited from its “relatively broad range of products”. A forward-looking perspective has always been helpful, i.e. not trying to make up for weeks lost or “trying to save itself by an excessive emphasis on action”. Instead, the company analysed what could be done better now in order to be prepared for situations like these. “If you can’t influence your flow of goods, this naturally leads to a lot of uncertainty. We certainly felt the effects of this,” Rauser recalls the first weeks of the lockdown, which was even stricter in Switzerland than in Germany.
The green-sector trade magazine “Markt in Grün” wrote about the importance of the garden: “The digital magazine app Readly checked which vacation-related keywords its users entered most frequently on the platform in June when planning their vacation this year. And “garden” was the top keyword. The “staycation” trend is everywhere.”
„A forward-looking perspective has always been helpful.“ - Christian Rauser
Digitisation in the retail sector must be encouraged
Rauser can confirm the desire for greenery: Anyone able to do so has enhanced their gardens and balconies and bought vegetable plants and herbs. Decorations and garden furniture were less in focus at the start. However, as the lockdown continued, customers became hungry for colour. The Corona crisis felt like a long hibernation: “Now it’s all about spring-flowering plants – anything to do with flowers and colours.” Balconies and gardens are becoming a new place of retreat and, in addition to plants, sales of products for garden living are also growing, according to a study by market research and consulting institute Marketmedia24.
What can retailers learn from the Coronavirus crisis? Rauser believes that one of the most important keys to dealing with economic uncertainty is to ensure the flow of goods is broad enough so that not everything collapses in the event of a lockdown. “We were very happy that we were able to keep our products available online – although we cannot compete with the large online mail order companies, of course. It is important to remain visible!” Digitisation is still a pressing issue, not only in online retail, but also for internal processes. Rauser believes that the green sector in general can still do a little more in this area.
Thank you for the interview!
Dr. Barbara Perfahl is a room psychologist and home stager. She offers room consultations, office checks and tips on the furnishing of business premises – both in person and digitally. www.die-wohnpsychologin.de
Barbara Karstens is an analytical and creative product range consultant for retail and eCommerce. www.barbarakarstens.de
Christian Rauser is Head of Marketing at Meier AG, one of Switzerland’s leading companies in the green sector with its own cultivation and its own garden life publishing company. www.meier-ag.ch