GUEST BLOG: STUART GALVIN: How marketers can reap the rewards of an effective seasonal shopping strategy

Stuart Galvin, business director, smp

From January Sales to Shrove Tuesday to Singles Day to Christmas, more than ever marketers are run ragged by a brimming calendar of seasonal shopping events and trends.

Some brands are avoiding the big events completely, some are creating their own, while others are getting in there earlier and earlier just to achieve cut-through. Christmas displays in August sound familiar?

Tools are being created, such as Google’s Marketer’s Almanac, to help marketers navigate this ever-changing landscape. The digital yearbook leverages data, insights and consumer trends around key dates to help marketers get ahead with their planning.

However, while these tools are useful, they are not the be-all and end-all. Marketers need to take stock – and take charge – of their seasonal strategies.

First and foremost, timing is everything. This might seem very basic, but it’s something marketers often forget as they rush to pip their competitors to the post. With each and every shopping event, marketers need to know their target audience, understand what will motivate them, and target them with the right message at exactly the right time. Does a shopper really want to be prompted to stock up on Easter goodies when they haven’t even made it into Lent?

As such, rather than jumping on the band wagon of every event and risking ostracising audiences, brands are becoming savvier with their seasonal strategies. Bigger brands like Amazon, for example, often perform well during hyped-up shopping phenomenon like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In 2015, the e-tail giant experienced its best Black Friday sales to date; so, in 2016, it cleverly extended the sales period from a day to “Black Friday Week”, scooping up even more shopping activity.

But brands also need to think about context. Amazon and big, bold online shopping days make sense; but sometimes events just won’t work for certain brands. Asda, Ikea, Next and Homebase have all abstained from Black Friday. An Asda spokesperson said this was because its particular customers “wanted low prices throughout the festive season and not just for one day”. Its customers crave stability and strategy to help with their Christmas planning.

If the likes of Asda recognise some events simply aren’t right, no matter how economically prominent, smaller brands should take heed. Do they have the resources to take on certain events? Are sales and promotions competitively priced? Above all, what’s the point? Brands needs to ask what each shopping event would mean to its customers and their relationship with the brand. Consider the explicit Valentine’s Day cards pulled from the shelves of Paperchase this year. It was a step too far for the stationary stalwart.

That isn’t to say brands can’t have fun with seasonal shopping events. In fact, creativity should be encouraged, perhaps by exploring alternatives that fit better with the brand. In 2015, the Scottish Butcher held its biggest promotions in the run-up to Burns Night, while operating in-store tastings in Scottish branches of Tesco and Morrisons. The engagement was incredible, upping in-store sales by 40 per cent. Could this experiential approach be carried across borders, either by Scottish brands or non-natives, to surprise customers and generate buzz in other parts of the British Isles?

One of the biggest challenges in retail today is the explosion of channels through which people can shop, and through which brands can communicate with their customers. Physical retailers are often in the firing line, as ecommerce continues to grow at pace. However, seasonal shopping events are about capturing the spirit of the occasion, no matter the platform. Whether it’s Valentine’s rosy hues or the strawberries-and-cream Britishness of Wimbledon, the experience needs to be consistent and done with conviction.

The new shopping calendar can seem daunting to marketers, especially as retail becomes more global. Who knows where the next disruptive event might come from? No one knew, for example, that a Chinese celebration of singledom would, thanks to Alibaba, grow into the world’s biggest online shop-a-thon.

Rather than rolling out the same, timeworn strategies or getting blindsided by newcomers, now is the time to take stock. By assessing the landscape, cherry-picking events based on their value to both shoppers and for brand building, and planning accordingly, brands will ensure they play a more meaningful role for their customers, year in, year out.

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Toby Cruse

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