For many brands, the holiday season presents a double-edged sword. Consumers flock to retailers with the express aim of buying goods as quickly, painlessly, and cheaply as possible. Retailers, meanwhile, want their fair share of holiday wallets, but they don’t want to get drawn into a race to the bottom on special offers and super-low prices.
For good reason, smart retailers are taking a longer-term view of the season. Rather than just striving to win new sales through ever-lower discounts, they instead view the holidays as an opportunity to engage meaningfully with shoppers who are new to their brands. By offering them a distinctive and memorable experience, they can lay the foundation of more profitable, year-round relationships, especially as many consumers are now buying holiday gifts throughout the year, not just when the holiday season is in full swing.
Yet converting shoppers into more frequent “perennial” buyers–or even new brand ambassadors–is far from easy. One big challenge is that today’s consumers are largely fickle and quick to switch brands. How can retailers create a brand that stands out from their rivals?
1. Be authentic to your story: New entrants can disrupt a seemingly cozy retail sector by offering low prices and enhanced convenience. At holiday season, these new arrivals have the opportunity to build further on their successes. In turn, established brands might try to compete on price–or they can take a bolder step by drawing more strongly on their heritage and the story at the heart of their brands. This is somewhere where newer entrants can’t compete.
The key here is consistency. Take one leading footwear brand, which has been providing sneakers to the skateboarding and surfing communities for several decades. At every entry point to its brand–from YouTube videos, to in-store products, to sponsored events–consumers are given the same, clear story about being an individual, self-expression, and the need for inspiration in the world.
While most brands will have confidence in their stories to some extent, the most successful communicate one message on their websites, on mobile, in their physical stores, and on social. And this story of purpose could be the very reason why store employees like working for the brand. If this is the case, why not have them be storytellers rather than merely cashiers? Without a strategy to convey your message across all channels, expecting customers to buy into your purpose could be an uphill struggle.
2. Be transparent: More and more, and especially as ethically minded Millennials and Gen Z consumers make their marks on the world, honesty is at the heart of any meaningful customer relationship.
In our view, brands become unstuck when they fail to be completely transparent about their businesses. Increasingly, successful retailers have the confidence to share insight into their business models, supply chains, and sustainability credentials–which builds trust by giving consumers the information they need to make an ethically minded decision.
One popular method involves price transparency. Some retailers are sharing information on their websites about the cost of production and the supply chain. This might involve showing the potential cost they need to pass on to the customer to protect their margins if that customer returns the product or just buys and ships one product. By giving a “no returns” or a “bundle” option, they can create a discount that is based on transparency. The customer knows why the item is cheaper than elsewhere and has greater trust than in a standard holiday-season discount.
3. Celebrate the human touch: Technology has revolutionized the retail landscape and continues to drive change by creating new opportunities around personalization and data-driven market insight. While brands can benefit hugely from such innovation, often the most successful don’t also lose sight of the human perspective.
Without the human element, there is a risk that a retailer’s online presence can get lost among the sheer volume of digital noise that consumers encounter every day. For this reason, some of the biggest retail disruptors have been those that balance human understanding and sensibility alongside digital prowess.
At holiday season, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining this human element despite the higher volume of web traffic and the greater influx of shoppers into physical stores. It is critical to make sure temporary employees are engaged and fully understand the brand’s values before they get to work–whether that’s through training, workshops, or inspirational videos.
The Perennial Brand Has A Purpose
For many reasons, traditional retailers cannot afford to be complacent, and these are magnified during the hectic holiday season. Despite the many advantages of digital and the disruption it is driving, we believe retailers that will be successful at building a loyal customer base define a clear purpose in the life of the consumer and stay true to what lies at the very heart of their brands.