3 Strategies for Retail Marketing During Inflation and Economic Upheaval


To say the current retail industry is complicated would be to put it lightly. Inflation rates are soaring, consumers are feeling frustrated by the economy, and economists warn of a possible impending recession. What’s going on, and how should retail marketers react? Let’s dive in.

What’s the Deal with the Economy?

Before digging into best practices for retail marketers, let’s do a quick overview of the retail marketing landscape as it stands today.  

As of the beginning of June, the annual inflation rate in the United States was 8.6%. Despite the low unemployment rate and the rapid economic growth of the past two years, most Americans are upset. So upset, in fact, that their feelings towards the economy are approaching the same low levels that characterized the Great Recession in 2008.

Though inflation is at the forefront of consumers’ (and retail marketers’) minds, it’s just one of many contributing factors to the industry churn. Digital advertising regulations are shifting, third-party cookies are on their way out—and did we mention that possibly-impending recession? Together, these factors have created a highly complex and unpredictable landscape for marketers to navigate.

What’s a Retail Marketer to Do?

With all this talk of doom and gloom, it’s easy to feel like it’s time to hunker down, slash your marketing budget, stick your head in the sand, and wait for this all to pass. No way consumers are looking to spend in the middle of this instability, right?

That’s not entirely the case. First, brands who continue to advertise will be well-positioned to meet pent-up consumer demand once the supply chain and the economy stabilize. Plus, despite inflation, US consumer spending has actually risen in recent months!

To meet current and future consumer demand, leaning into intentional brand marketing is a surefire way to maintain brand presence and continue to establish brand loyalty despite economic chaos. Read on to learn why putting the customer first, staying consistent, and maintaining flexibility will be retail marketers’ best friends during times of upheaval.

#1: Put the Customer First

Inflation makes consumers feel powerless. They have no control over prices, or the various forces that cause them to rise. And unlike other economic issues that disproportionately impact folks of different socioeconomic statuses, races, and education levels, no one is left unscathed.  

Couple this with the seemingly endless number of brand choices available to consumers, and it’s clear that the pressure is on for brands to maintain their customer base. And as marketers know, brand loyalty comes down to putting the customer first.

One way that retail marketers can prioritize their customers’ needs is by building trust and long-term relationships with them. One individual sale is important; but the communications that happen before and after that sale are just as critical. More so than ever, consumers—especially millennials and Gen Z—are paying attention to the ways that brands present themselves and follow through with action. Brands need to be inclusive and authentic in both their messaging and their products. Long-term, trusting relationships are built when brands’ products and communications exemplify their values and purpose.  

It’s also critical that marketers listen well and respond authentically to customers’ wants and needs. Consumers today—especially millennials and Gen Z—care not just about your product, but also about the content your brand supports. Brands can embrace this information by advertising ethically—in other words, avoiding ad placements on websites that host misinformation and hate speech. When consumers push for authentic sustainability, show them how your brand is taking action. Where inflation can leave consumers feelings powerless, giving opportunities for consumer feedback and then acting on that input can establish trust and give buyers back a sense of agency.

#2: Keep it Consistent

The days of shoppers walking into a store, browsing the aisles, and choosing the product that most appeals to them in that moment are rapidly disappearing. Today’s retail landscape is increasingly hybrid—a marriage of digital and in-person shopping. The message that your brand sends digitally—from social media, to out of home, to search, to email—needs to align with consumers’ in-person shopping experience.

Being consistent goes hand-in-hand with building brand trust and loyalty. You’re not just selling your product—you’re selling your brand. Consumers notice when brand communications are inconsistent across and within platforms. This is why having a solid programmatic advertising strategy and the ability to target across devices is critical.

As consumers demand greater personalization from businesses of all sizes, marketers must move beyond a one-size-fits-all targeting approach and, instead, craft content specific to their audience’s distinct experiences. Trying to accomplish this degree of personalization manually is a monumental task. Staying consistent when manually building out many different creative variations, for example? Whew, it’s tough.

This is where embracing a programmatic strategy, backed by an automated and comprehensive DSP, is critical. Utilizing recent technological developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning will free up the time and efficiency marketers need to target across devices and create consistent, personalized consumer experiences. It also minimizes the risk of inconsistencies due to human error. Advertising automation is a powerful solution for retail marketers to have in their toolkit, as it reduces the duplicative and time-consuming tasks that make this type of consistency in advertising a challenge.

#3: Flexibility and Adaptability Rule

Listening to consumers and staying consistent will, almost certainly, always be best practice in retail marketing. That said, it’s an ever-evolving landscape. It’s difficult to predict what combination of targeting strategies will be dominant in a cookieless world, or whether ecommerce will fully replace in-person shopping in years to come. These and other factors are apt to change—often unpredictably—and retail marketers need to be able to meet consumers’ needs, no matter the changes.

As such, the third and final factor that’s key to retail marketers in this landscape is flexibility and adaptability.

One timely example of an opportunity for flexibility and adaptability is the current marriage of digital and in-person shopping. Though more folks still shop in-person than online, that balance is fluctuating, and an omnichannel advertising experience—both in-person and digital—can help retail marketers reach consumers at the right time, in the right way. Tapping into retail media networks is a great (and rapidly growing) way to be flexible and adaptable in this current context.

Take, for example, the “shop online, pick up in-store” consumer. The ads they view leading up to, during, and after their shopping experiences shape the purchasing choices they make. Though this consumer misses out on the in-person checkout line “impulse buys,” savvy retail marketers can view their online checkout as a place for a “virtual checkout line” experience. By running retail ads for similar impulse purchases (like the items a shopper would see in the checkout aisle in a physical store) during their online checkout process, marketers can adapt to and embrace this hybrid retail marketing landscape.

To Sum Up:

In the wild, wild world that is retail marketing in 2022, staying focused on these three factors—putting the consumer first, seeking consistency, and embracing flexibility—can make all the difference. Many things might (and likely will) change, but a retail marketing strategy with these as the foundation will be well-equipped to weather whatever is to come.

Want to learn more about how advertising automation can help brands and agencies reach the right customers, in the right places, and at scale to boot? Check out our guide and see why automation is critical to meeting the wants and needs of retail consumers who are no longer satisfied with the status quo.

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