Covid Slashed Consumer Choices. This Is Why They Aren’t Coming Back.
Kanebridge News
    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,599,192 (-0.51%)       Melbourne $986,501 (-0.24%)       Brisbane $938,846 (+0.04%)       Adelaide $864,470 (+0.79%)       Perth $822,991 (-0.13%)       Hobart $755,620 (-0.26%)       Darwin $665,693 (-0.13%)       Canberra $994,740 (+0.67%)       National $1,027,820 (-0.13%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $746,448 (+0.19%)       Melbourne $495,247 (+0.53%)       Brisbane $534,081 (+1.16%)       Adelaide $409,697 (-2.19%)       Perth $437,258 (+0.97%)       Hobart $531,961 (+0.68%)       Darwin $367,399 (0%)       Canberra $499,766 (0%)       National $525,746 (+0.31%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,586 (+169)       Melbourne 15,093 (+456)       Brisbane 7,795 (+246)       Adelaide 2,488 (+77)       Perth 6,274 (+65)       Hobart 1,315 (+13)       Darwin 255 (+4)       Canberra 1,037 (+17)       National 44,843 (+1,047)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,675 (+47)       Melbourne 7,961 (+171)       Brisbane 1,636 (+24)       Adelaide 462 (+20)       Perth 1,749 (+2)       Hobart 206 (+4)       Darwin 384 (+2)       Canberra 914 (+19)       National 21,987 (+289)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $770 (-$10)       Melbourne $590 (-$5)       Brisbane $620 ($0)       Adelaide $595 (-$5)       Perth $650 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 ($0)       Canberra $700 ($0)       National $654 (-$3)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $730 (+$10)       Melbourne $580 ($0)       Brisbane $620 ($0)       Adelaide $470 ($0)       Perth $600 ($0)       Hobart $460 (-$10)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $560 (-$5)       National $583 (+$1)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,253 (-65)       Melbourne 5,429 (+1)       Brisbane 3,933 (-4)       Adelaide 1,178 (+17)       Perth 1,685 ($0)       Hobart 393 (+25)       Darwin 144 (+6)       Canberra 575 (-22)       National 18,590 (-42)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 6,894 (-176)       Melbourne 4,572 (-79)       Brisbane 1,991 (+1)       Adelaide 377 (+6)       Perth 590 (+3)       Hobart 152 (+6)       Darwin 266 (+10)       Canberra 525 (+8)       National 15,367 (-221)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 2.50% (↓)       Melbourne 3.11% (↓)       Brisbane 3.43% (↓)       Adelaide 3.58% (↓)     Perth 4.11% (↑)      Hobart 3.78% (↑)      Darwin 5.47% (↑)        Canberra 3.66% (↓)       National 3.31% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 5.09% (↑)        Melbourne 6.09% (↓)       Brisbane 6.04% (↓)     Adelaide 5.97% (↑)        Perth 7.14% (↓)       Hobart 4.50% (↓)       Darwin 7.78% (↓)       Canberra 5.83% (↓)       National 5.76% (↓)            HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.7% (↑)      Melbourne 0.8% (↑)      Brisbane 0.4% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 1.2% (↑)      Hobart 0.6% (↑)      Darwin 1.1% (↑)      Canberra 0.7% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.4% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.3% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 1.5% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.3% (↑)        National 0.9% (↓)            AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND         Sydney 28.7 (↓)       Melbourne 30.7 (↓)       Brisbane 31.0 (↓)       Adelaide 25.4 (↓)       Perth 34.0 (↓)       Hobart 34.8 (↓)       Darwin 35.1 (↓)       Canberra 28.5 (↓)       National 31.0 (↓)            AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND         Sydney 25.8 (↓)       Melbourne 30.2 (↓)       Brisbane 27.6 (↓)       Adelaide 21.8 (↓)       Perth 37.8 (↓)       Hobart 25.2 (↓)       Darwin 24.8 (↓)       Canberra 41.1 (↓)       National 29.3 (↓)           
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Covid Slashed Consumer Choices. This Is Why They Aren’t Coming Back.

Retailers and suppliers say it didn’t pay to offer products for everyone, and customers didn’t care that much when they stopped

Tue, Jan 2, 2024 8:41amGrey Clock 4 min

The furniture retailer Malouf sells beds and bedding in a fraction of the colours it did a few years ago. Newell Brands, the Sharpie maker, has retired 50 types of Yankee Candle. Coca-Cola offers half as many drinks.

Covid slashed consumer choices as companies pared their offerings to ease clogs in the supply chain. The logistical mess is behind them. But many of the choices aren’t coming back.

Retailers and suppliers across industries—from groceries to health, beauty and furniture—have said that it didn’t pay to offer products for everyone, and consumers didn’t care that much when they stopped.

“Today, people would rather lose a portion of consumer demand as opposed to spending extra on too much variety,” said Inna Kuznetsova, chief executive officer of ToolsGroup, a supply-chain planning and optimisation company.

Macy’s president and CEO-elect, Tony Spring, told analysts in November that “the customer today does not want an endless aisle.”

New items made up about 2% of products in stores in 2023 across categories such as beauty, footwear and toys, down from 5% of items in 2019, according to the market-research firm Circana. Shelf Engine, a technology company that automates ordering for grocery retailers, said large grocery stores have reduced fresh-food offerings such as fruit, dairy products and deli meats by 15% to 20%.

Large grocers cutting back on choice is a reversal from pre pandemic days, when they believed they had to carry everything to avoid losing customers to the store across the street, said Stefan Kalb, CEO of Shelf Engine.

Kalb said that grocers are now saving money because they have fewer items to manage and that the slimming of product options is reducing food waste.

Executives at consumer-product companies said the thinning of their product lines has been a relief for those struggling to improve profitability in the midst of higher interest rates and rising costs for raw materials and labor. They said many of the reductions have been in lines that consumers wouldn’t notice, such as items in special packaging and assortments for specific big-box retailers. The cutbacks are also to product lines that drown consumers in options.

“I don’t think any consumer would have noticed we went from 200 to 150” types of Yankee Candle, said Chris Peterson, chief executive of Newell Brands.

Some industry specialists said the new focus on bestselling items has reduced innovation and hurt smaller brands that rely on retailers’ desire to carry something for everyone.

“There has definitely been less innovation since the pandemic,” said Seth Goldman, a founder of the organic-beverage maker Honest Tea, which was bought by Coca-Cola in 2011 and discontinued in 2022.

Coca-Cola over the past few years reduced its brands to 200 from 400, cutting slow-growing as well as declining products, including small regional lines such as Northern Neck Ginger Ale and national brands such as its first diet cola, Tab.

“It was pruning the garden to let the better plants grow,” Coca-Cola Chief Executive James Quincey said in 2022.

Goldman said there was still demand for Honest Tea, even if it wasn’t big enough for Coca-Cola. In September 2022, four months after Coca-Cola’s announcement, he launched Just Ice Tea, a drink that he said is similar to Honest Tea and that is expected to have sales in 2023 of more than $16 million.

Companies began winnowing product lines in the years leading up to the pandemic as a corrective to previous decades when consumer choice ballooned. That was partly because of the internet, where online retailers weren’t constrained by the space limitations of physical stores, giving rise to the term “endless aisle.”

The cuts were turbocharged in 2020 and 2021, when product shortages and a surge in consumer spending led companies to give priority to the most in-demand items. They focused on products that ran fastest on production lines and, because of social distancing in factories, could be made with automated machinery.

Kimberly-Clark cut more than 70% of its toilet paper and facial-tissue products over a single weekend in 2020 as it rushed to satisfy a fourfold increase in demand, said Tamera Fenske, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

Fenske said the company jettisoned slow-selling items as well as many of the special counts and custom sizes it made for individual retailers. Fenske said that, as pandemic restrictions eased, Kimberly-Clark was able to be more thoughtful about the items it brought back. She said the company carries about 30% fewer product lines in North America than it had at the start of 2020.

PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, embarked in 2020 on a plan to cut more than a fifth of its offerings to focus on what it calls “hero” products—those that make up an essential part of someone’s wardrobe.

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Scott paper towels, has brought back some, but not all, of the products it stopped offering during the pandemic. PHOTO: KRISTEN NORMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Some companies said the culling of less-popular products opened up space for new lines.

Georgia-Pacific stopped selling 164-sheet rolls of Quilted Northern toilet paper because its larger rolls were better for consumers who valued longer-lasting rolls, said Kim Burns, senior vice president of supply chain for Georgia-Pacific’s consumer products group. Burns said the company has subsequently invested more time and money in new product lines, such as toilet paper with a scented tube that acts as a bathroom air freshener.

For other companies, the supply-chain shock provided a real-life experiment in how trimming product lines could improve productivity without hurting customer satisfaction. “It was quite shocking as we parsed it out to see we were using a lot of our buying power to really not get much of a return on investment,” said Nick Jensen, vice president of product at Malouf.

The Logan, Utah-based furniture company has reduced its lines to about 3,500 product choices, down from almost 11,000 items before the pandemic. Jensen said the company is adding new items more carefully these days.

“If we have 15 different colours and three shades of grey, it’s a paralysing choice,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of forced us to be much more intentional versus throwing a lot of things at the wall and hoping that they stick.”

—Suzanne Kapner contributed to this article.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Three-quarters of business leaders from across the Group of 20 nations said the push to invest in renewable energy is being driven mainly by their own corporate boards, with 77% of U.S. business leaders saying the pressure was extreme or significant, according to a new survey conducted by law firm Ashurst.

The corporate call to decarbonise is intensifying, Ashurst said, with 30% of business leaders saying the pressure from their own boards was extreme, up from 25% in 2022.

“We’re seeing that the energy transition is an area that is firmly embedded in the thinking of investors, corporates, governments and others, so there is a real emphasis on setting and acting on these plans now,” said Michael Burns, global co-head of energy at Ashurst. “That said, the pace of transition and the stage of the journey very much depends from business to business.”

The shift in sentiment comes as companies ramp up investment in renewable spending to meet their net-zero goals. Ashurst found that 71% of the more than 2,000 respondents to its survey had committed to a net-zero target, while 26% of respondents said their targets were under development.

Ashurst also found that solar was the most popular method to decarbonise, with 72% of respondents currently investing in or committed to investing in the clean energy technology. The law firm also found that companies tended to be the most active when it comes to renewable investments, with 52% of the respondents falling into this category. The average turnover of those companies was $15.1 billion.

Meanwhile, 81% of energy-sector respondents to the survey said they see investment in renewables as essential to the organisation’s strategic growth.

Burns said the 2030 timeline to reach net zero was very important to the companies it surveyed. “We are increasingly seeing corporate and other stakeholders actively setting and embracing trajectories to achieve net zero. However, greater clarity and transparency on the standards for measuring and managing these net-zero commitments is needed to ensure consistency in approach and, importantly, outcome,” he said.

Legal battles over climate change and renewable investing are also likely to rise, with 68% of respondents saying they expect to see an increase in legal disputes over the next five years, while only 16% anticipate a decrease, the report said.


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