Left On The Shelf: Why Some Brands Are The Last To Go

By Ryan Donovan,
Account Executive

You’ve seen it by now – either on social media or overtop of your homemade facemask: an almost completely bare shelf, save for one product sitting all by it’s lonesome. It’s straight out of a 80s power ballad video. All it needs is a spotlight, some wicked hair and a shredding guitar solo.

So we asked ourselves – why?

Why are some brands being left on the shelves while all the others seem to be continuously out of stock? Is it branding? Customer loyalty? Pricing? Corona-Brain (which we’re hearing is a thing now)?

It’s a complicated question for sure. We see it being the result of a different-but-related factors that stem from the current COVID shopping situation.

Shopping Habits

It all starts with the shopping experience. Buying habits have changed. Probably forever. It used to be simple: make a list, wander around the store till you get everything on said list and check out.

Now, with limited quantities and lots of empty sheves, grabbing what’s needed is a luxury. If an item is out, there’s a thought process that goes into getting a replacement. Is it substituted with a different brand? If so, which one? Is it scrapped and swapped with a different item altogether? Is a replacement even worth hunting for?

There’s a lot going on there. Most of these decisions are made on the fly in the store. So here’s what we see as the major influencing factors in how a brand ends up on the shelf by itself.


Donovan Left on the Shelf COVID-19

The first thing people look for when their item is out of stock is the same item from a different brand. The second thing they look at is price. Sticker shock in the grocery store is real, and it’s why a lot of these brands are being left behind, even when people are desperate.

From what we’ve seen, it’s premium-priced items that are left behind. Organic eggs for $5.99 are a no-go for someone use to paying $1.99 for the convention option.

It’s the main issue we’re seeing for lonely brands. And it’s absolutely going to become more of an issue as millions of Americans are filing for unemployment every week.


This is also a big one. Consumers are just fed up with not seeing the items they need on shelves. So fed up, they’re not even looking for alternatives – they’re just straight up walking out of the aisle.

Not much can be done about this. As we’ve said, availability is king right now. But even if you’re available, some frustration is insurmountable.


There are two different and distinct problems that are occurring when it comes to how shoppers are viewing products in-stores today.

The first is if a brand looks like it’s worth buying. If a product carries a premium price for the category, its look needs to reflect that – doubly so when a consumer’s preferred product is out.

A lonely brand’s packaging might not be doing its job. It needs to convince shoppers it’s replacement worthy of the premium pricetag, especially as budgets tighten. Ingredients, health claims, benefits and general aestetic all come into play here.

The other problem is, when shelves are nearly empty, the products that remain are judged for WHY they’re the only ones still available. The mindset is: “There must be a reason this is the only one left. I’m passing on it too.”

We see this a lot in produce – the sad head of romane or kale bunch left by its lonesome – and it’s trickling into products on shelves as well.

How To Combat This

The shopping mindset isn’t shifting back anytime soon. If price and perception are leaving a brand lonely, there are tactics and strategies can be deployed now even as the nationwide lockdown drags on.

A total rebrand is probably out of the picture (but should be a priority once things go back to normal), but on-pack stickers are a simple way to communicate a stronger call to action for consumers to buy, such as the ingredients, health claims and/or benefits we listed above.

Point Of Sale (POS) pieces also offer additional space to highlight claims and reasons to buy. These take longer to produce, though, and may be tricky to implement given the stay at home orders.

To combat both price and perception, IRCs (instant redeemable coupons) offer a way to showcase messaging and savings to get more consumers to put a brand in their cart.

Shopping apps such as ibotta offer another way to combat a premium pricepoint. Their reach is limited to current users, but they offer more ways to get a stronger call to action to consumers out there.