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GUEST COMMENT What can retailers learn from traditional Christmas markets as they adapt to the digital age?

Traditional retail methods such as cash-only payments are no longer in line with today’s shoppers

Christmas markets are global events, spreading cheer and providing the perfect place for thousands of visitors to get that festive feeling every year.

Yet, as the world becomes increasingly digital and retailers move away from convention to stay relevant, it might be surprising that traditional German markets continue to be so successful in pulling in such large crowds, which seem to get larger each year. As such, many brands look to these events for inspiration, seeking to attract similar levels of consumer engagement, footfall and spend.

Some of the traditions we know and love from these markets can date back centuries. For example, the Dresden Christmas Market in Germany first began almost 600 years ago in 1434. Despite visitors continuing to return year on year, it appears that even traditional markets are beginning to see the need to adapt to our ultra-connected age, as they adopt new and innovative technologies that work both behind the scenes and front of a house to create an increasingly magical experience for consumers.

Some of the traditional retail methods, such as accepting cash-only payments, are no longer in line with today’s consumer demand. In recent years, there has been increasing adoption of what is seen today as ‘the basics’, such as credit card and mobile payments, helping to ensure a quick and efficient transaction process, catering to the needs of all customers. It is very easy for potential customers to abandon sales at the first sign of a long queue or a difficult purchase process, so having these basic procedures in place ensures efficiency.

There is also great potential to use new technologies to gamify traditional retail experiences. Last year, we saw the launch of the Manchester Christmas market’s first-ever augmented reality app. This not only allowed visitors throw virtual snowballs at elves that dodged out of the way and hid behind market stalls, but it also enriched the originality of the market, making up for the lack of real snow with virtual snowballs. This ability to create a magical experience for the market’s visitors shows how even more traditional events can create interactive, engaging approaches to enhance the customer experience.

What can brands learn from these traditional events? And where is the digital age beginning to catch up where customs once prevailed?

Always listen to your elders

To stand out against the competition, build brand loyalty and engage with the customer, digitising the customer experience is essential. Retailers need to enhance the customer experience if they want to seriously capitalise on the popular ‘pop-up’ or festival opportunity. It is about getting people back for repeat visits, week-on-week or year-on-year, tempting them into the flagship store and, most importantly, driving profits. All of this, while ensuring a cost-effective yet convenient approach to ‘taking a chance’ on setting up a stall at a short-term location.

Many of the famous Christmas markets are unique in having an advantage over other brands because of their heritage and prestige. And several are now embracing modern technologies – keeping aspects of their heritage but also making sure the customer experience lives up to consumer expectations today. Other retailers, particularly in the events and food industries, need to consider how to apply existing and emerging technologies to drive consumer engagement, footfall and spend in the same way that the Christmas markets have done. Likewise, brands today need to analyse consumer purchasing habits and interactions on social platforms through likes and hashtags. By using this level of customer insight, they can tailor their products and services even more, increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Differentiating the experience will support their on-going profitability and growth.

Even for the very highly regarded Christmas markets, delivering superior customer service is critical amid increasingly heightened consumer expectations to keep the tradition and Christmas magic alive.

Year after year, Christmas markets attract customers from all over the world to partake in their traditions and experiences. Other (more recent) brands cannot rely on the prestige and heritage that these markets enjoy, nor should they. Retailers have an opportunity to use a wide array of innovative and emerging digital technologies, from augmented reality to virtual mannequins, all of which can significantly improve the customer experience, drive loyalty and continuous brand engagement, even after the market stalls have been packed away. It seems that even a highly regarded and well-attended market, like the one in Manchester, understands that it needs a digital helping hand to keep customers coming back for more.

Author: Scott Clarke, chief digital officer and global consulting leader, retail, consumer goods, travel and hospitality of Cognizant

Image credit: Fotolia

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