Finance Consumer UV phone cleaners and MIA sanitiser: Snake oil and scares – that’s COVID-style marketing

UV phone cleaners and MIA sanitiser: Snake oil and scares – that’s COVID-style marketing

Coronavirus retailing
Consumers are still having to double-check every product they're pitched, as companies seek to capitalise on pandemic panic. Photo: Getty
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Consumers remain at the centre of the coronavirus economic battle, fending off shonky product promises with one hand while applauding good brand behaviour with the other.

This week brought news the already criticised company Mosaic Brands (known for Noni B, Rockmans and Crossroads) is yet to fulfil many of its heavily advertised hand sanitiser orders.

There’s been no shortage of unsavoury behaviour from retailers and companies during the pandemic – clothing chains have been caught out asking third-world suppliers for discounts or pay extensions.

Celebrities aren’t exempt either. Chef Pete Evans found his own hot water when he tried spruiking a $15,000 light machine he claimed would fend off the virus. It didn’t, and he was handed a hefty fine.

As the world spins on a new axis trying to adapt to the pandemic we can’t blame companies for trying to make end meets by changing their product focus.

There’s been a substantial shift in consumer behaviour in terms of how we’re shopping and what we’re shopping for, Swinburne University marketing lecturer Jason Pallant said.

Pete evans fined coronavirus
Pete Evans was fined for his promotion of a BioCharger he said could cure coronavirus.

For example, data from GfK consumer monitoring shows sales of bread makers exploded to the tune of a 647 per cent increase – a reflection of our newfound passion for home-baked bread, while the rise in computer monitors (268 per cent) and keyboards (113 per cent) demonstrate our shift to working from home.

We’re buying our kitchen appliances and home office set-ups online – our online shopping spend surpassed $32 billion at the start of May.

As a result, we’ve seen a lot of different tactics being employed by businesses – from dine-in restaurants turning to home delivery  to distilleries pumping out hand sanitiser.

“Brands have been forced to consider how to operate throughout the lock-downs as well as looking beyond to the future,” Dr Pallant said.

“The result is many brands starting to offer new products and services targeting the new focus of consumers.”

Aldi has jumped on the virus bandwagon this week, adding a UV smartphone sanitiser and wireless charger to its special buys catalogue. (There is some logic to this: UV lights are used as sterilisation methods in hospitals.)

Aldi’s latest deal will charge your phone while killing bacteria with UV lights. Photo: Aldi

But Dr Pallant warned companies that misstep during the pandemic could find themselves with an unshakeable ailment.

“This is really a make-or-break situation for brands,” he told The New Daily.

“Consumers are more in-tune with business operations than ever before … brands who aren’t able to meet consumer expectations may have long term negative impacts.”

For example, the aforementioned Mosaic Brands has drawn the ire of consumer rights association CHOICE, for its exploits during COVID-19.

At the start of the outbreak, it advertised – somewhat forcefully – pre-sales of hand sanitiser and facemasks.

Crossroads was accused of ‘panic marketing’.

Some two months later, and CHOICE reports many customers are still waiting on those orders to arrive.

They could be among many companies regretting the pivot to pandemic-related retailing.

As the world begins to return to some semblance of normal, companies too must shift back to – or transform further – in order to adapt again to consumers’ needs and wants.

“Rather than trying to target immediate temporary trends, brands are likely to be better serve to look for longer trends and impacts of the recent lockdowns,” Dr Pallant said.