With Halloween behind us, it’s full steam ahead! Columnist Katy Keim shares tips to help retail marketers prepare for the holiday shopping season.
It feels like we’ve just barely ushered the kids back to school, but the faint sound of “Jingle Bells” is already wafting through the air. Thanksgiving? An afterthought.
Some brands are already airing holiday-themed TV spots or putting holiday decorations on display in-store. The holiday season is approaching — and it’ll be here in full force before we know it.
At this point, you have two choices: 1) continue to fear the inevitable; or 2) make the necessary preparations to ensure that your brand, across all its customer touch points, is ready (and willing) take this very busy holiday shopping season by the horns.
Personally, I’d opt for the latter. So grab your pumpkin spice latte and get your brain into planning and preparation mode.
To get you going, here are a few tips to help your brand shine during this holiday season while simultaneously ensuring that your customers’ experience is the best it can possibly be.
Customers Will Do Their “Homework”
Remember those days when customers would come into your brick-and-mortar store simply to look around and explore? Well, I hate to break it to you, but with the rise of all things digital, we’ve made it very easy for customers to do their “homework” on us well before they ever even leave home — if they ever do!
In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) suggests that six out of seven consumers do research online before ever buying in-store. Needless to say, the first touch point your customers will most likely have with your brand is your digital presence. So make it good. Your first impression could be the deal-maker.
Word Of Mouth Still Reigns
Recommendations are incredibly powerful, carrying enough weight — if coming from influential or trusted sources — to sway a shopper’s purchase decision in a big way.
Home Shopping Network (HSN), one of Lithium’s customers (disclosure: Lithium is my employer), couldn’t be a more perfect example of this.
HSN is a business that revolves around personality-driven shopping. The deciding factor as to whether a potential buyer makes an impulse purchase ultimately comes down to who’s selling the product to them.
And while this may not be the most traditional definition of “word of mouth,” what it proves is that people are motivated by influence — equally from peers and experts.
So it goes without saying that the same applies when it comes to leveraging your on-domain social community to help customers along their purchase journey.
Just ask HSN — They’ve seen a 40-percent (and growing) uptick in sales by taking their word-of-mouth philosophy to their online community, making it easy for people to not only find information about clothes, cosmetics and products, but also to connect with stylists, fashion icons and more in highly personalized, easily accessible Q&A forums.
The moral of this story: During the holidays, your customer service teams are going to be maxed out, so why not enable your biggest (and most vocal) advocates to pitch in and help?
More often than not, they can answer questions a lot more quickly, and because they’re not employees, their responses are often viewed as more candid and credible. Engage your key influencers early on, set some flexible ground rules and reward them appropriately for their contributions.
Your community will be your biggest ally during the busy holiday shopping season — so don’t forget about them.
Just because there’s a lot more foot traffic in stores during the holiday season, it doesn’t mean your customer service representatives are getting a break. Quite the opposite.
Since more people are flocking online to do preemptive research before they dive head first into their holiday shopping, there’s a good chance they’re going to rely more heavily on your customer service and social support teams than ever before. So cover your bases.
Customers will have questions 24/7, and they expect near-instant answers. The longer you keep them waiting, the more likely they are to get impatient and seek out an alternative (i.e., your competitor).
So as you take the time to staff up your stores in anticipation of the increased foot traffic, don’t forget to spread the love — because your customer care and social teams are, in many ways, your brand’s first opportunity to make a good impression and potentially calm the nerves of a harried holiday shopper.
Act In Real Time
You should be doing all this already, but, if you aren’t, the holiday season is a good time to start. So much can happen in such a short period of time.
You need to find a quick and easy way to equip yourself with the knowledge and insights that will allow you to make decisions quickly and act fast — especially on digital.
By doing so, you will not only be able to better anticipate customer needs, but also, and even more importantly, you’ll be able to avoid the pain and suffering that could stem from a costly crisis.
For example, on digital, many brands have social media command centers or social media analytical tools to do this. Brands such as Comcast and Tesla are using the Lithium Monitor Wall to easily and visibly track and display what their customers are discussing in real time and what’s trending on social in relation to their brand. Radian6, Sysomos and others also offer social media monitoring and measurement.
Remember, your goal should always be to create the best possible customer experience at all times. By actively “listening” to what your customers are saying, doing, searching, wondering or questioning, you can achieve this — and you’ll get a few loyal customers and more revenue as a result.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)