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The golden quarter: A time to forget the excuses

24th Nov 2021
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As we enter the ‘golden quarter’ for retail, we also approach the first big test for retailers post-lockdown. It’s time for brands to take everything they have learned during the pandemic – the blurring of physical and digital, customers changing expectations and new shopping formats – and put them into practice. While these challenges were present before the pandemic and many retailers had already fallen victim before COVID-19 struck, brands continue to make the same mistakes. This time last year we had no idea what we were up against but this year will be even less forgiving because we know what to expect. So what can we take from the last 18+ months so we get it right this year? 

The Christmas come back  

A post-pandemic bounceback is well underway. Pent up consumer demand could provide a chance for retailers to emerge stronger in 2022. The key is going to be merging the convenience of online with the special experiences of in-store. This isn’t a new phenomenon. For example, on the Christmas of 2016, John Lewis set up a VR experience in its flagship store so customers could experience its popular Christmas ad first hand. This not only encouraged people in-store but also helped to complement other marketing material – creating a more joined-up experience for customers. 

The last 18 months have seen a rise in the use of digital and in today’s world, everyone has a flagship store in their hand. Mobile phones offer a gateway into people’s homes but, especially during Christmas, the mobile experience needs to go from being a functional user experience to one that resonates with consumers emotionally. Social media is the best way to achieve this. A recent study from Facebook found that social is driving shopping spontaneity and two thirds (66%) of spontaneous discoveries are gifts. By getting the social strategy right, retailers are opening themselves up to significant revenue streams. But social doesn’t just have to sit online. 

Live stream it

The retailers that do well this quarter will be the ones that follow in the footsteps of John Lewis and find creative ways to offer an omnichannel shopping experience. One of the most popular ways of doing so is through live stream shopping. Not to be mistaken with QVC-style shopping, although sharing many similarities. Live stream shopping enables brands to deliver a more personal experience for those tuning in from their phone or tablet – replicating the in-store experience from the comfort of home. It is mostly hosted on social media and includes a one-on-one or one-to-many live broadcast from a brand, direct to the consumer. Brands from Gucci to Amazon are already making the most of it. 

In fact, according to an Emplifi report conducted by Forrester, 70% of surveyed brands plan to invest in personalised and group/friend video shopping capabilities, as well as one-to-many video influencer events. To see success, with live shopping there are a few key factors at play. The first is creating meaningful, personalised experiences with live video streaming to sell products. The second is two-way communication. Live shopping allows consumers to interact with brand representatives in real-time to ask questions and add comments before making a purchase. Customers can see an influencer or spokesperson interact with the product and demonstrate its use, prompting immediate action and enhanced community participation.

To merge online and offline, these live shopping events can also be broadcast from store. Allowing people shopping in a physical location to be part of filming and get to experience the ‘event’ first hand. 

Making consumers feel special this Christmas

As well as using exciting formats such as live streaming, brands need to think very carefully about peaks. To execute effective campaigns, brands must plan to peak at the right times when consumers are most engaged with relevant content. And this will differ depending on everything from the product through the audience. While Christmas campaigns are normally planned in the same way each year, consumer behaviour is still very heavily influenced by the pandemic, uncertainty around future lockdowns as well as supply chain issues which all need to be planned for accordingly. 

Brands have to shift their holiday strategies in 2021. If not, many will miss out on key opportunities to reach engaged consumers – something that can be detrimental to a business given the current climate. Peaks are dependent on many factors but big ones include Black Friday. Social data can be used to find new peaks but can also help to understand the best way to target audiences during certain times. For example, which audience is more receptive to which ads and at what time. Or even, the types of experiences that will encourage a certain age range into store. 

The quarter of opportunity

While there is still lots of uncertainty around Christmas and exactly what it will mean for retailers and consumers there is also a huge opportunity. By marrying up in-store and online and always keeping customer experience at the heart of everything, retailers can excel this Christmas. We might still not be back to ‘normal’ but we know what we are up against. By taking on the learnings from the pandemic and understanding how consumer behaviour has changed, retailers won’t just survive this Christmas but will thrive.

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