John Lewis reported 4.8% like-for-like sales rise in the five weeks to 27 December. This was partly due to the success of Black Friday week which has been the best in the year for the retailer. Even though the week’s sales were 22% higher than last year, Andy Street, the CEO, warned UK businesses against this imported retail phenomenon. He noted that although the sales were really good, the profitability wasn’t so high.
The business argument is sound but we need to think what the consumer wants. From the crowds, the spike in sales and sometimes even inhuman-like behaviour from shoppers during the sales, we can clearly see that discounting is here to stay. The tough economic times and rising awareness among consumers will only contribute to the already high demand for good deals. And although the consumers will still come to the stores when the sales aren’t on, they’ll most likely buy one item that they really want and browse the rest of the merchandise.
However, that one single item that the customer really likes can prove very beneficial to the retailer. The fondness of the product will ensure frequent use and most likely positive experiences and feelings related to the product. These positive associations will be then subconsciously transferred to the retailer as the purveyor of the pleasant times. That can yield long-term benefits in terms of being the first in the consumer’s mind when looking for specific merchandise or having much stronger pull when the sales are on than other retailers.
But to be on the top of the consumer’s mind retailers have to work hard all year round. It’s not only about establishing that first position but more so about keeping it. It’s like an athlete; if he doesn’t exercise all the time, he will lose his position. What should retailers do throughout the year to ensure that they are the first choice for the Christmas shopping at the end of it?
We must not forget that shopping isn’t so much about buying but about an experience per se. The ability to touch the merchandise, to bond with it on a subconscious level (there are studies showing that once we touch a piece of merchandise, we feel like it belongs to us and it is harder not to buy it), to watch what other people are doing, to connect with others, to experience the brand’s world.
We might think that it doesn’t happen online but it does. We are still going to look at the reviews, ask our friends about their experience, scan all the brand expressions on the website and maybe even read/watch some of the content.
Those retailers that are able to create a unique world and experience that will lead to their unique mental model in the consumer’s mind are likely to win the battle for the consumer’s wallet.
Humans are social animals. We need human connections to survive. We learn from each other, we build friendships, safety circles, and families. The simple fact that the worst type of torture for us is isolation shows how fundamental the need for human connection is.
As a retailer you are naturally providing that: your customer service employees, others shoppers passing through the alleys, people sitting in your cafes and restaurants, reviews on the websites, conversations with your customers on social media and so on. Imagine what you can gain if you are the architect of these connections rather than an accidental creator.
Get your employees to be especially proactive and converse with your customers. Not only the basic ‘Hallo. How can I help you?’ but the old-fashioned shop clerk attitude who knew exactly what you wanted, when, how and for how much. As we go deeper into the technology, we will be longing more and more for real human connection. Some restaurants can already see the signs of it and retailers will start very soon. It’s better to be prepared and jump ahead of the trend.
There are numerous scientific papers showing us that we remember certain content and brands better if more senses are involved in its communication. For example, a study published in Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2010 showed that participants were able to recall more information about a brand after 2 weeks if the scent was present during the information acquisition. It goes hand in hand with other studies showing how incredibly long we can remember information associated with a scent whereas any image or words can be forgotten quickly.
So not only the shopping experience can be more wholesome if the retailers introduce a consistent brand communication through all the sensory channels but it can also be more memorable therefore placing the retailer as the first choice in consumer’s mind.
I’ve recently read an article about store personality by researcher Pierre Martineau from 1958. There were a number of comments that resonated with me but one especially fitting in here: ‘the advertising, windows, merchandising events, restaurants, architecture, store policies, and attitudes of the sales personnel – all say the same thing symbolically’. Or at least they should.
For our subconscious mind, the only mind that should really matter to the retailers, consistency in behaviours and communication means trust. The above quote illustrates the variety of elements that can communicate to consumer’s mind who you are and what they can expect from you. Each of these elements should communicate exactly the same message to all your consumers at all times. Only then you can win a long-term trust of your consumers and establish that longed for loyalty.
So walk through your store, look at your website, marketing, advertising and social media with the eyes of the consumer and see whether you’re truly consistent.
The Christmas 2015
You’ve done what you could last year. Your sales were better than the year before. The customer loyalty seems to have improved. Your online stores are better and deliveries faster. You’ve participated in Black Friday which proved successful in terms of sales. You’ve revamped or opened new stores. You’ve connected with your consumers on a deeper level. And looking at your overall sales and profits you seem to be doing all right.
But the New Year has began which means a lead up to next Christmas that will either make you or break you. That will all depend on where in consumer’s mind you will place your brand. So create unique experiences, meaningful human connections, and sensory stimulation. But even more so be consistent in all that you do at all times and you have a chance of winning the battle for consumers’ wallets during lead up to Christmas 2015.
Wish you all to be the first choice next Christmas!