Redefining Impulse Buys: Where Nestlé, P&G And Walmart Find Opportunity In An Amazon World

Ride-s are from Mars, videos from Venus?

Increasingly so, when Mars and Venus represent two major supermarket brands. With more groceries being purchased online, largely thanks to Amazon, items that often don’t make the digital shopping list are being forced to find new ways to capture the customer. Makers of candy, razors and lipstick are therefore turning to Uber, Instagram and Spotify — as well as to product innovation — to resonate with online-distracted shoppers.

An estimated 30% of the U.S. online grocery budget is spent at Amazon, according to a survey by advisory firm Bricks Meets Clicks. That’s equal to the U.S. online grocery market of all supermarkets combined. And missing from many of these online orders are the unplanned purchases shoppers make while waiting in the checkout lane, encountering in-store promotions or acquiescing to demanding children.

Even services such as click-and-collect, which still require the shopper to come to the store, could result in fewer impulse buys, causing grocery sellers to seek unorthodox ways of intercepting shoppers and getting into their shopping baskets.

The timing of these efforts is important if grocery sellers want to be a part of the expanding online grocery cart. By 2025, online grocery is expected to generate $100 billion; 20% of total grocery spending, according to a story on, citing the Food Marketing Institute. That compares with 2% to 4.3% now.

Here’s how seven major brands are getting in front of the shopper in new ways.

1. Mars Wrigley Confectionery: The world’s largest candy company is doing what most retailers should — following the shopper. It’s offering its candies, which include Skittles, MMs and Snickers, in places where people are captive, are potentially restless or simply are more open to a snack, such as in a Lyft or Uber, according to a story in AdAge. Mars also is issuing online certificates people can buy and send to friends to redeem for bags of Skittles and other treats, entering itself into the gifting category.

2. Pat McGrath Labs, the New York-based namesake shop of the well-known makeup artist, in 2017 chose to sell its new cosmetic collection through Spotify, the streaming music service. This is despite McGrath’s retail partnership with Sephora. McGrath said she chose Spotify — specifically the Spotify shop of teen pop star Maggie Lindemann — because she wanted to keep her merchandising fresh. “I have always believed in finding new ways to disrupt the marketplace and engage with my fellow beauty junkies where they live,” she told The New York Times.

3. Mondelez International, the owner of Nabisco, is going abroad to boost sales of its Oreo cookie brand. It’s creating new flavors, such as wasabi and hot chicken wings, to appeal to shoppers in emerging markets including China, where snacking is on the rise. Meanwhile, in the states, Oreo continues to roll out limited-edition flavors such as apple pie, Peeps and Mickey Mouse birthday cake. These creative concoctions generate buzz (and lots of blog reviews) that stimulate a steady stream of trial sales, even through Amazon.

4. Venus, the women’s shaver brand under Gillette, is working with 10 on-the-rise female directors, plus actor and director Regina King (The Good Doctor and Shameless), to create video content showcasing the world through a woman’s point of view. King’s piece will provide tips and advice to other directors, including aspiring ones, resulting in messages that focus more on professional advice than on selling. Fans can view content on the Gillette Venus Instagram page.

5. Walmart is using a laboratory to create impulse products. At its Culinary and Innovation Center, Walmart has developed a cantaloupe that remains sweet in the winter, fruit-punch-flavored pickles (called Tropickles) and a flavorful yellow-skinned watermelon. With these products, Walmart is using technology to compete the old-fashioned way: by offering products the competition just doesn’t have.

6. Energizer and Duracell could recapture market by joining the competition. Both reportedly will bid to manufacture Amazon’s private-label batteries when its contract with its current battery maker expires. Online battery sales represent only about 5% of total battery sales now, but that figure is expected to rise to 17% by 2025. Amazon makes up roughly 90% of online battery sales, aided by its in-house brand AmazonBasics.

7. Dove and Dunkin’ combined the daily coffee fix with the less-planned hair spritz at a co-hosted pop-up shop in New York, where they gave away dry shampoo and free coffee, according to Vox. The #DoveXDunkin Style Café, which was tied to a broad social media campaign, also offered access to giveaways of branded merchandise. The brands also sponsored a sweepstakes (through November 8) for a year’s worth of product based on the best photos of consumers and their stories of why they run on coffee and dry shampoo.

The industry is buzzing with other efforts. Some food makers are talking about sending notifications to online shoppers, through their GPS-enabled grocery-pickup apps, that suggest adding items while waiting for employees to carry out their orders. Consumer goods makers could partner with Airbnb operators to place their toiletries, cleaning products and paper goods into their homes.

What each effort has in common is it veers from traditional retail paths and instead follows shoppers and then gets in front of them. One doesn’t have to go to Mars to get there, but an Uber ride could do it.