Looking back to move ahead.
Throughout the 2016 holiday season, brands hustled to find the best ways to engage their customers. Those that succeeded did so by re-evaluating their customers’ physical and digital experience, in anticipation of meeting customer demands. Where some retailers were reluctant to separate from a “comp” mentality (comparable sales growth year-over-year) and relied on promotional strategies and doorbusters to entice holiday shoppers, a select few trendsetters were bravely rethinking their holiday approach. As we ring in 2017, let’s take a look back at a few of the most noteworthy strategies from holiday 2016.
1. Full-service omnichannel
Customers aren’t thinking about how to engage with a brand in one channel or another — they’re thinking about a singular brand experience they want to have. Several savvy brands were able to create a better customer experience during the holiday season, regardless of how their customers were shopping, by simply removing channel nuances. Full-service omni has replaced more traditional omnichannel marketing, refocusing how particular channels are used based on how customers are most likely to use them. Others approached inventory management from a channel-agnostic mindset, using RFID to track inventory and cut back on customer disappointment due to unavailable products. Brick-and-mortar brands contended with online giants by using in-store showrooming and elevated experiential moments, engaging their customers in a high-touch way. In-store pick-up and click-and-collect options helped get products into customers’ hands faster and reduced back-end shipping costs, and retailers benefited from impulse buys and last-minute sales generated by the additional foot traffic.
2. Tech-enabled everything
The buying power and influence of millennials and the iGen has become increasingly critical to holiday success. Plugged-in brands adopted technologies that could provide faster navigation and product searching. This holiday saw artificial intelligence and machine learning firmly embedded into many brands’ marketing strategies. Branded chatbots provided customers with human-like interactions online and supported them through in-store search, product recommendations, and reviews. More advanced chatbots engaged customers with “psychographic” gifting solutions, ideas personalized to a recipient’s likes, interests, and personal preferences. It goes without saying that smartphones have allowed brands to connect with many (if not most) of their customers in real-time; the rise of text-based brand engagements took “concierge commerce” to a new level. With augmented and virtual reality, users experienced their favorite brands remotely. “Smart assistants” and virtual reality headsets dominated gift lists in 2016; these technology-enabled platforms are loaded with new ways for brands to connect and engage in 2017 and beyond.
3. Checkout simplified
The rise in frictionless payment solutions dominated marketing conversations this holiday, with brands looking to reap the benefits of more simplified checkout processes. Mobile optimization has been the focus as brands look to improve their checkout flows and cater to customers who are researching product reviews in store on their mobile devices. From one-click type payment solutions to all-inclusive mobile wallets, brands and customers alike are seeking solutions to make the checkout journey quick and hassle-free, but just adding a responsive design on a website doesn’t guarantee a smooth mobile buying experience. The optimal solution includes a simplified checkout process that uses supported payment methods, loyalty tracking, and a mobile-friendly experience. Branded mobile wallet solutions provide retailers with extensive customer data and engender loyalty by directly connecting them to their most reliable customers — all while reducing costs associated with transaction fees. Plus, the app-based mobile wallet provides customers with a simple solution for storing credit and loyalty information, organizing rewards and offers, and reducing the time spent at checkout.
4. Smarter marketing
For the 2016 holiday, we saw several brands create more meaningful interactions and relationships with their customers by embracing the customer point of view, rather than relying on more traditional or standard promotional practices. They stayed competitive with online retailers throughout the holiday season by employing price-matching strategies and early notifications about promotions. Similarly, the biggest online retailer used member-only (and, in some cases, device-specific) promotional strategies and up-to-the-minute shipping to differentiate themselves. Nearly all retailers offered free shipping and free returns for all online purchases. Some brands capitalized on the e-gift card push by offering an “e-gifting meets e-gift card” solution designed to engage last-minute shoppers. It provided givers with a convenient and personalized gifting option, and gave recipients the option of accepting or exchanging the item, or of receiving the item’s value as a traditional e-gift card.
Don’t get left behind.
Since the need for better customer experiences is clearly here to stay, forward-thinking brands need to be peering through the lens of the customer — it’s in her moments of dissatisfaction and bliss where real insight is found. We know customers are willing to share their data, as long as they see value in what the brand is offering in return. Let those customer habits that are already ingrained define your holiday strategy; they’ll take you much farther than any one-size-fits-all approach. Convenience and experience are rapidly becoming as valuable a commodity as money, and it’s the brands that can stay focused on what’s most important that will move in the right direction through 2017 and beyond.