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Watch out, Amazon: Walmart could be the comeback story of the COVID-19 era

“The multinational retailer has clearly been doing something right,” says the latest FutureBrand Index.

Watch out, Amazon: Walmart could be the comeback story of the COVID-19 era
[Photo: Natalie Grainger/Unsplash; rawpixel (box 1) (box 2)]

One thing about a deadly pandemic is that it really forces you to reassess your priorities. Imagine if you could travel back to January and explain to your past self that everyday things such as seeing a movie, taking a trip, or even visiting your favorite pub would not figure prominently on your to-do list for most of 2020.

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As priorities shift, so do the brands we gravitate toward, and we’re starting to get a deeper window into which brands will benefit from a world radically reshaped by COVID-19, at least in terms of consumer perception. The latest FutureBrand Index, from the global consultancy FutureBrand, is a ranking of the world’s top 100 brands based on in-depth research and interviews with 3,000 consumers across 17 countries.

The 2020 list, some of which reflects shifting consumer preferences during the coronavirus pandemic, reveals an interesting mix of brands rising in the ranks—and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect. Amazon, for example, fell three spots from 2018, which was when the last survey was conducted. It’s now No. 24 in the top 100, despite becoming far more integrated into the lives of most consumers over the last several months.

And yet it’s the opposite story for Amazon’s biggest rival, Walmart, which shot up 34 spots from its 2018 ranking. Walmart’s improved position is notable; it had been falling in brand perception for years, prompting the index’s authors to suggest in 2018 that it needed a brand reset. “The multinational retailer has clearly been doing something right since then, as it has shown a significant increase in all attribute scores,” the report states.

At No. 41, Walmart still trails behind Amazon, but its elevated position is no less a comeback story for a company seen by many as an underdog to Jeff Bezos’s e-commerce behemoth. What’s more, 64% of FutureBrand’s respondents see Walmart pulling even further ahead in the coming years.

“Part of this rise in goodwill may be due to its speedy response to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic including the implementation of an emergency leave program, providing time off for employees depending on the coronavirus threat level,” the report’s authors write.

Here are the 10 brands that have seen the biggest rise in ranking since 2018:

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  • Royal Dutch Shell (88 in 2018; 29 in 2020)
  • Roche (77; 28)
  • Oracle (74; 35)
  • L’Oréal (56; 20)
  • Walmart (75; 41)
  • Cisco (78; 53)
  • Broadcom (67; 43)
  • AstraZeneca (66 in 2015; 46)
  • Novo Nordisk (49; 31)
  • Sanofi (79; 61)

As the report points out, four of those companies are in the healthcare sector, and part of their positioning is likely a reflection of increased awareness around health-related issues. (Research for the index was conducted during the early lockdowns.) But the report’s authors also suggest that a more substantial shift is afoot. “In a nutshell, healthcare companies are doing what tech companies were once famous for—innovating for the good of mankind,” they write. “Looking ahead, healthcare brands that continue to rise to the challenge of the coronavirus should consolidate their high rankings on our Index.”

Some of the other big winners on the index are brands you’d expect to see in the COVID-19 era, including Netflix, which rose five places to edge itself into the top 10 brands on the index:

  1. Apple (up 3)
  2. Reliance Industries (NA)
  3. Samsung (up 6)
  4. Nvidia (up 6)
  5. Kweichow Moutai (down 3)
  6. Nike (no change)
  7. Microsoft (up 5)
  8. ASML (NA)
  9. PayPal (NA)
  10. Netflix (up 5)

In addition to healthcare, the report points out that the consumer goods sector—which includes retailers such as Walmart and Amazon, in addition to media and entertainment brands—is poised as a whole to see even more improved rankings. As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, consumers will continue to seek out brands to fill their most immediate needs.

“The perception is that these firms care about their clients and their staff and are able to give them what they want,” the index’s authors write. “According to our research, when it comes to an emotional connection with brands the consumer goods sector scores the highest—29% of respondents said they felt passionate about these companies.”


More from Fast Company’Shape of Tomorrow series:

  • Why performance reviews may be a thing of the past.
  • The leaders of the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Doctors Without Borders, and more tell us how healthcare is being transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Is advertising really dead? Here’s how the leaders of Droga5, TBWA, Wieden+Kennedy, and more are inching forward.
  • The retail Armageddon may have finally arrived. Here’s what top executives at Nike, Athleta, and more believe it will take for stores and brands to make it through.
  • Insiders at LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Jobcase tell us which companies will be hiring, what skills will be important, and how the workplace of the future will change.
  • How COVID-19 has changed investing, according to VCs at Sequoia, Insight, Forerunner, 500 Startups, and more
  • Architects and urban planners from Gensler, Harvard, and Bloomberg Associates explain the changes coming to our shared spaces.
  • Insiders at Burning Man, Broadway, Meow Wolf, and more describe how the live events industry will emerge onto a new stage.
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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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