In an era of connectivity and hyper-personalised engagement, shopping today has been revolutionised. Recent research highlights that 90% of UK shoppers buy from a combination of retailers, brands and online marketplaces. Shoppers are moving targets, jumping across physical and digital destinations as they browse, purchase and request service and support. For retailers, pinpointing the demands of their customers is increasingly challenging.
Black Friday has become a significant day for shoppers and brands alike, offering retailers a way to increase spend and brand awareness. This year, the UK saw an increase in Black Friday sales on 2018, demonstrating continued consumer appetite for the event. Recent consumer trends have made one thing crystal clear: shoppers have higher expectations than ever before – and for brands looking to stay ahead, it’s time to rise to the challenge of meeting them.
Globally, we saw an average discount rate of 28% on Black Friday, yet increasingly, consumers are on the hunt for shopping deals all year round. While Cyber Monday and January sales are still popular, calendar events also resonate with shoppers.
Events like Valentine’s Day and back-to-school are important milestones. In a saturated market, customers want meaningful, frequent interactions with the brands they love. Calendar events represent the perfect touchpoints to engage with customers throughout the year – to the extent that many now expect their favourite brands to participate. More than ever, consumers look to retailers to meet their needs as and when they arise.
There’s no question that discounting is an effective way of driving sales and general customer engagement. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the duration of discount events extended from single days to long weekends and even weeks of sales as retailers try to make up for weaker trading across the calendar year.
While this approach has shown positive results in the short term, there’s no question that you can have too much of a good thing. Increasingly, discounting has become a double-edged sword, with sales growing stagnant when products return to full price.
Even more crucially, frequent discounts undermine building meaningful, long-term relationships with consumers. To counter this, brands are having to brainstorm creative ways to win customer advocation – initiatives like sharing exclusive offers, hosting events, creating product tours, or even launching campaigns around social responsibility. For example this year, Allbirds emptied its flagship store to raise awareness around “conscious consumerism”, whilst high street video games retailer, GAME, has partnered with a gaming LAN specialist to launch a new gaming arena in London.
In a highly saturated market, it’s these noise-cutting initiatives that give brands a real competitive advantage.
We saw over half of all purchases during Black Friday made via mobile, with mobile traffic share monopolising almost three quarters of all traffic, demonstrating how crucial ease of access is for consumers shopping on-the-go. Customer experience is no longer a nice-to-have – it has become a become a competitive necessity. More than ever, retailers are looking to technology to give them the leading edge.
Today’s CRM systems enable brands to get to know their customers more than ever before. They can answer key questions like is a demographic more likely to be found on Facebook or Twitter? Would they rather be reached through live chat, social channels, or by phone? What special offers would entice them?
Armed with this information, brands can build unified, 1:1 customer journeys with a laser focus on customer needs. They’ll know how best to reach out to customers, what products to recommend to them, what content to direct them to, and even when is the best time to offer assistance to clinch a conversion. Customers expect brands to know them and in turn, experience a fully personalised service. Retailers must act accordingly and deliver a tailored customer experience.
Brands willing to innovate and onboard the necessary technology will deliver a more personalised experience to match the exact needs of their customers – keeping them engaged from the first click right through to purchase and beyond. For instance, Lakeland, a more than 50-year-old retail chain, recently launched a loyalty programme to keep customers coming back; whilst Decathlon created a sports platform to connect customers, brands, fitness providers and experts in a ‘sport ecosystem’.
The face of retail is changing at such a rapid pace that it’s almost unrecognisable from how it was just 10 years ago. While discounts are undoubtedly useful – even essential in many cases – they aren’t enough to enable retailers to flourish in the age of digital transformation.
Retailers must strike a balance between short-term sales and long-term success. While Black Friday will continue to be a key consumer event, that momentum should try to be sustained over the whole year. Customers save their advocation for those that offer the deepest, most meaningful relationships. It’s up to brands to equip themselves with the tools so that they can rise to the challenge.
Michael Green is senior area vice president at Salesforce
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