By Deb Gabor, Sol Marketing
From Mother’s Day to Cyber Monday, retailers are notorious for creating shopping holidays. Case in point: Amazon Prime Day, or Black Friday in July.
In their 2018 Back-to-School Spend Report, banking rewards program administrator Cardlytics Amazon’s 2017 Prime Day generated more than $1 billion in sales for the online retail giant and pulled back-to-school spending forward by nearly a month. Every year, this critical shopping season seems to start earlier. Prime Day 2018 is happening two weeks before it happened last year, and Amazon is launching Back-to-School and Off-to-College online stores and special teen shopping services to capitalize upon the timing.
But Amazon isn’t the only retailer standing to benefit from record numbers of consumers in the back-to-school shopping mindset around the time of Prime Day. Other online retailers hope to get their piece of the action, timing their own promotional activities to coincide with Amazon’s. The ripple effect of the price battle between Amazon and everyone else will likely be felt all over the Internet. However, the Internet isn’t the only battleground on which to compete for customers’ hearts and minds during back-to-school season.
Retail’s Secret Weapon
Back-to-school shopping accounts for nearly 20 percent of all non-holiday retail spend. While online retailers are banking on Amazon Prime Day to give their back-to-school promotions a boost, most back-to-school purchases still happen in physical stores. According to Cardlytics, 73 percent of shoppers made a back-to-school purchase in-store in 2017. Physical stores may be retailers’ secret weapon in driving customer loyalty, giving them a fighting chance against Amazon. During this important shopping season, retailers can attract customers to their stores with experiences they can’t get on Amazon or any other online retail site. Physical stores offer a 360-degree experiences that can activate all five of shoppers’ senses. But it’s puzzling that most retailers choose discounting and price promotions over unique customer experiences to remain relevant and competitive during this important time.
A Unique Opportunity To Bond
Consumers continue to value in-store experiences when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Retail marketers should ensure that at a minimum their shopping experiences feel modern and stress-free. Make it easy for customers to find what they want. Enable them to make quick transactions to lower friction around physical store shopping. Add cash register lines and arm roving sales people with mobile product research and check-out capabilities. Deploy technology that makes the shopping experience seamless between online and offline by allowing customers to research products online and reserve them or purchase them online with in-store pickup. Make sure customers can find reviews of the retailer and the products it sells online easily so that purchasing is a no-brainer. Since most physical retail shoppers like to use their smartphones while they’re in stores, use software and applications that deliver mobile deals in store.
None of these ideas, however, are groundbreaking. They’re just the minimum consumer expectations that brick and mortar stores need to meet in order to compete in an Amazon world. Retailers who want to attract and earn customers for life should ascend to a higher level of value for in-store shoppers by emphasizing experiences that can never materialize on a website.
Christmas In July
Retail brands with physical stores are in a unique position to create deep connections with shoppers through singular experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Back-to-school is an unusual time of year, when consumers are excited about what’s next. They’re optimistic and open to new ideas. When positive emotions are at a high, it’s a great time to charge full-force in an effort to woo loyal customers. Retail’s holiday season gives us lots of in-store experiences that Amazon – or any online retailer – can’t imitate: photos with Santa in his workshop, in-store personal shopping events, store-only gift-with-purchase promotions, holiday parties and parades. But retailers have been especially uncreative during back-to-school time.
If retailers want to survive in an Amazon world, they need to focus on delivering experiences that Amazon can’t. What can traditional retailers do to compete? It’s time for retailers to reach further up their sleeves to pull off some real retail magic. Create services and experiences shoppers can only get in-person. Move beyond sales and promotions to activities and exclusives that engage shoppers with all their senses. Capture the holiday Santa-land sparkle with back-to-school focused events and experiences. How about a pep rally in the parking lot of the local department store featuring the local high school marching band, cheerleaders and football team? What about school supply bundles in backpacks branded with the local school’s crest and mascot? Consider an in-store school supply donation drive to help students in underserved areas. Give early-morning or late-night access to busy parents too stressed to make shopping work during regular business hours.
If retailers hope to have any chance against Amazon, it’s going to be by inspiring customers before they go to the stores, elevating the in-store customer experience with activations they can’t get anywhere else, and giving them a reason to come to the stores beyond just discounts. And retailers, you’re welcome for the free advice.
About The Author
Deb Gabor is the author of Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.solmarketing.com and connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.