Tim Carter
Tim Carter 24 February 2017
Categories B2B, Customer Experience

How Marketers Can Weather the Storm of New Seasonal Shopping Trends

Christmas is coming. Or, at least, it could be very soon. Last year, Selfridges Oxford Street launched its 2016 Christmas campaign in August. Black Friday, too, is creeping closer. Amazon launched its 2016 Black Friday sales two weeks early. And what’s with new events like Singles Day?

As the days get lighter, reminding us that summer is on the horizon, marketers will no doubt start feeling the pressures of the changing seasons. Shopping events that come around yearly used to be the stalwarts of the retail calendar. Marketers could execute the same plans year in, year out.

But the erosion of shopping seasonality is creating a very confusing environment. While some brands and retailers are launching seasonal campaigns earlier and earlier in an attempt to keep up, others are turning their attention to new alternatives, further fragmenting the landscape. The impact? We only need to consider last year’s premature Christmas sales, which meant UK high street stores had to slash their prices by 70 per cent, to understand what it could mean on the bottom line.

To keep up with the times, marketers need to rethink their seasonal strategies. The following six tips help identify where new opportunities and common pitfalls lie.

Understand the bigger picture

Retail continues to change at pace. A problem in marketing is the tendency to home in on shopping trends without considering their position in – or relevance to – a wider long-term strategy. Instead of creating a buzz, it can knock things off course.

Consider Amazon Prime Day, formerly known as 15 July. Amazon launching its own shopping day in answer to the meteoric rise of Black Friday hasn’t damaged the brand, but it certainly didn’t generate the results expected.

While Amazon has the budget to try things out, less monolithic brands and retailers won’t have the same luxury. Instead, they need to be very considerate with the shopping events they pursue, including campaign minutiae like, are curated deals truly competitive? Will offers bring customers in-store and how do businesses then capitalise on this footfall? How will each shopping event drive sales and build loyalty in the long term?

Do it differently

Black Friday has taught us that nothing is fixed. If Amazon can turn one day into a fortnight, marketers should consider where else they might be limiting what they can achieve from shopping events.

Marketers would be foolish to try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to seasonal shopping events, but they can find ways to make them work better. How could non-confectionary brands grab a bigger slice of the pie during events like Easter and Halloween, for instance? For Valentine’s Day this year, Tesco ran a matchmaking scheme that brought couples together based on the contents of their baskets, proving there’s more to it than corny candy and chocolate roses.

Walk the path to purchase

We know the chaos some shopping events can cause. When Asda brought Black Friday careening into the UK in 2013, it taught a valuable lesson in what could happen to shopper experience when anticipation of a great deal gets the better of people.

Marketers need to establish a smooth-running shopping experience from the off-set, and that’s not just being able to manage what happens in-store on the day. It’s about people’s pre-purchase research, desktop, search engine, mobile and social media. The beauty of social media is that consumers can plan their approach to shopping events. Content therefore needs to be optimised to help shoppers navigate the path to purchase – and beyond.

Often, too little consideration goes into customer relationships after the purchase has been made. These events are seasonal – and marketers want to ensure they are maximising the chances of a customer coming back next year.

Make the online/offline divide a priority

Think of the frustration of hitting the high street only to find what you’re looking for is sold out. Thanks to ecommerce, this is less likely today. Consumers can browse, stock check and purchase without leaving the sofa (and who wants to when there’s leftover turkey to be had?).

But just as online shopping has its perks, we also know the in-store environment remains an important touchpoint, particularly during shopping events where experience is everything. Consider, for instance, how the vibrancy of Diwali or magic of Christmas can be amplified in the supermarket aisles.

Bridging the divide between online and offline shopping isn’t just about cross-channel, it’s about considering the unique offerings of each and trying to rebalance the discrepancies. For example, physical retailers should consider in-store shopper pain points remedied by ecommerce. At known busy times, this means being well-equipped to cater for customers. Meanwhile, online outlets should look to replicate the spirit of occasions online.

Be personal

Seasonal shopping events can be overwhelming; yet true customer-centric strategies should build insights along the shopper journey to personalise the experience for each individual. For example, where and when are customers making a purchase? Are they on a morning commute, lunchbreak or unwinding in the evening; and which device are they shopping on? Marketers should build on these considerations to ensure messaging is helpful and well-timed, such as reminding a loyal customer of an upcoming event-led promotion. Better still, by getting to know their customers’ habits, marketers could go one step further by helping them celebrate their own seasonal events, such as birthdays.

Think before you act on the next big thing

Driven by the Internet and ecommerce, new seasonal shopping phenomenon have been the greatest disruptors to the retail industry in the past few years, creating a feeling of uncertainty. Singles Day, for instance, seemed to come from nowhere. The reason its uptake has been slower in the UK than overseas is likely that it coincides with Armistice Day. But where might the next big thing come from? Valentine’s Day was much of a muchness in the UK this year, but who knows what the future has in store?

Marketers are right to continually monitor for trends, in their own country and overseas. The last thing needed is to be pipped to the post by a competitor.

But approach with caution. In a time when retail seems up in the air, there’s much to say for helping consumers stay grounded. Macro events like Brexit mean consumer confidence is already shaky. The predictable nature of seasonal shopping events – reinforced by a watertight marketing strategy – has a vital role to play yet.

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