This week, I noticed something scary happening (and yes, Halloween is already over). Retail stores have exploded with wrapping paper, bows and garlands. Radio ads proclaim “Outdoor light sale, get a jump on your decorating!” And two days ago, one of my social media acquaintances proudly boasted that their Christmas presents were bought, wrapped and already placed underneath the decorated Christmas tree.
It was November 4th.
For those that are bothered by this, it’s easy enough to ignore the premature festivity. But there is one aspect that is harder to tune out, and you can bet it will be starting soon, if it hasn’t already.
The Christmas music.
Some love it. Some hate it. Marketing wisdom tells us that it puts shoppers in the “right frame of mind”, and encourages them to buy more. It’s hard to argue with this business strategy and its bottom-line results (see last year’s post Deck the Malls for an overview).
For this reason, I’ve been waiting for someone to take Christmas music to the next level. Now that the holiday season officially runs from November to January, the next logical step is to write a new carol that reflects our modern reality. The “61 days of Christmas” seems like an appropriate title. By my calculations, it would take several days of continuous play to reach the end, and it could be placed on an endless loop in retail stores. And think of the possibilities for product advertising! “On the 49th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Windows 8 Surface Tablet!” It could be changed up every year to reflect the hottest products.
Then, to my relief, I came across a news article that dissuaded my fears of a 24/7-carol-o-thon. This week, Shoppers Drug Mart found itself in hot water after pumping out the Christmas tunes on November 1st. Customers complained that the pharmacy giant had overstepped the unwritten rule of “No Christmas before Remembrance Day” and the soundtrack was yanked “until further notice”. I skimmed through the 100+ comments on the article and the consensus was overwhelming: “No Christmas before December 1st please”.
Will retailers hear the message? Or will it be lost in the chorus of “fa la la la la-s” and register “cha-chings”?
Do you think the Christmas hype starts too early? Or should retailers use every sales tool at their disposal?
Our very first blog post “Get it in their hands: the power of demonstration” was written by Meagan, detailing her experience of buying a new camera. She told us all how it wasn’t until she had the camera in her hands that she knew it would be the one for her. Ever since that post, I’ve actually put thought into why I buy the things that I buy. If Meagan shops based on the feeling of holding that item in her hand and trying it out, what is it that drives me to the cash register?
It wasn’t until two months ago that I knew the answer. I went to a yearly sale at a well-known Nova Scotia yarn store, and as I was wandering through the rows of yarn and wool and books and people, I realized that for me, it’s all about appearances. I would pick up the yarn and get a sense of the weight, the texture, the comfort-level. But it wasn’t that overall need to touch that drove me to a particular aisle. It was the appearance. The décor. The display. It was only when I was attracted by the look of the aisle that I would actually walk down it and pay any attention to the wares that it held.
I’m well aware that I’m a very visual person, but I never really stopped before to think about how that particular trait has influenced my life outside of school and work. Now that I’ve put two-and-two together, I can see how my shopping habits are influenced by the visual cues that I get from the stores that I walk into.
All of my favourite stores – from clothing boutiques, to book stores and craft nooks – have very distinct similarities. They’re all laid out in a way that is very organized and easy to navigate; nothing crowded or hard to walk through. They’re all bright and well-light, and I get a feeling of comfort as soon as I walk through the door, like it’s a safe environment to spend time in. There are a lot of clean lines and displays are put together with a lot of care and thought. And there’s colour. So much colour. No matter which direction I’m facing, there’s something for me to look that invites me to take a closer look. I have a hard time walking out of these stores without buying something, even when there’s nothing that I went in to buy, just because I felt like I should make a purchase.
Now at this point in the post, you’re wondering what this has to do with you. So I like to judge stores by their cover. What does this matter to everyone reading this?
Most people probably don’t care why I buy the things that I buy. But a retail store owner trying to get my business is going to have to put a lot of thought into what she or he can do to get my attention. And now, all of a sudden, I’m starting to feel bad for that store owner. Now they not only need to appeal to me and my visual signals, but also to Meagan, the kinaesthetic shopper. And what about people who take in information through auditory cues? Now your store needs to be visually appealing, people need to want to pick up your wares, and you need good tunes to listen to. What happened to the good old days when you put an item on a shelf and if someone wanted to buy it they did, and if they didn’t they moved along? Now, with so many other stores in the mall, you need to put a lot of extra effort to get my sale, and Meagan’s sale, and everyone else’s. Retail has always had an element of competition. Now it’s just a competition for attention.
How do you appeal to different types of shoppers? What influences you to make a purchase?
In the next few years, augmented reality (AR) is poised to take over retail. For the uninitiated, AR uses computer-generated sensory input to alter your perception of the world in real-time. Already we are seeing its potential being harnessed in all areas of retail, including in-store, online, and through advertising.
In-store Customer Experience
Retailers have introduced AR in-store in an attempt to improve the customer experience.
Starbucks Holiday Cups
In 2011, Starbucks introduced their entertainment-focused “Holiday Cups” campaign. After downloading an app, customers could use their smart phone to make their coffee cups come alive.
AR’s in-store usefulness goes beyond entertainment. Intel has developed an AR digital display, which has interesting implications for retailers. Installed at the store entrance, the 7ft transparent display shows customers a digital floorplan and recommends products after assessing their gender. Product location is superimposed on the screen, and products can be placed on hold and brought to the cash register for payment. The aim of the technology is to help customers shop more quickly and easily.
Traditionally, the problem with online shopping has been that you can’t truly get a sense of a product from a 2 dimensional image. With AR, customers are now able to hold products in their hand, and try them on virtually.
Tesco online shopping
Tesco has already made AR a large part of their online-shopping experience. Customers select a product online, and then print a copy of the AR marker. Holding the marker to their webcam, it is transformed into a 3d model of the product. As the customer turns the marker, the 3d image rotates on screen as well. In the video below, a customer views a TV, and is able to see the ports on the back of the unit as she turns the AR marker.
Holition’s AR is as luxurious as the products it promotes. Designed for high-end products, their AR experience allows customers to virtually “try on” jewelry and watches. Holition is also working on expanding their AR so that customers can smell, hear, and feel products.
Bodymetrics Virtual dressing room
Unsurprisingly, 50% of garments bought online are returned. But what if you knew how those jeans would fit before you place your order? Bodymetrics’ Virtual dressing room uses your in-home motion capture device (such as the X-Box Kinect) to assess your body shape and virtually project clothes onto your digital frame. If you like what you see, your purchase can be completed right through your console.
AR is also finding its place in advertising.
GoldRun has already launched several successful AR advertising campaigns. One of their most interesting campaigns was when they created a virtual shoe store for Airwalk. AR markers were secretly hidden in public places in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. Customers used their smartphones to locate the markers, and were able to view limited edition versions of Airwalk classic shoes. They could then place an order from their phone for the shoe that they found.
I saw the first signs on November 1st. I was at the grocery store, hunting for discounted Halloween candy when I saw the glitter. And then sparkles. And a tube of shiny coloured paper. Disbelief took hold. There was no way….was it possible…..were the Christmas products on the shelves already?! I still had a jack o’lantern on my front porch. I hadn’t even bought my Remembrance Day poppy yet. How was I supposed to get into the holiday spirit?
There used to be a very clear start to the holiday shopping rush. The day after American Thanksgiving meant the unofficial countdown to Christmas was on. When the stores opened on Black Friday there would be fancy decorations everywhere the eye could see, and the holiday muzak would start playing through the mall on a 24/7 loop. Parking lots and stores would get crowded and chaotic, and the line-up to visit Santa would wind around fake reindeer and big red SALE signs. But the last few years have seen a definite shift in the retail market in regards to when the season starts. More and more, store owners are trying to speed up the clock and get their customers looking to the end of the year. Forget Black Friday – several big-name American retailers started their seasonal sales in July!
There is sound logic behind the push towards a longer shopping season. Consumers have less money to spend, and retailers are fighting each other for every last penny. Impulse shopping is at an all-time low, and more consumers are focused on budgeting and necessity spending than ever before. Retailers need to work hard to make shoppers open their wallets. Malls and big-box retailers are being hit especially hard in recent years, with increases in local and online shopping affecting the amount of people who walk through the mall to work through their Christmas list. Spreading the Christmas shopping season over several months will allow shoppers to spread their spending out, thus spending more cash in the process. Stores are then able to spread their costs out over a greater period of time, which allows for more steady revenue over an extended period. It’s just good business sense.
As a retailer, when do you start planning for the Christmas shopping season? Is it possible to push holiday sales too early, or do you need every day possible to get the most bang for your marketing buck?
This may sound funny coming from me, a tech geek that suffers from serious ringxiety and is connected to the Internet 24×7, but I like physical stores better than I like virtual ones. Of course, I’m not talking about convenience. Or price. Buying stuff in my pajamas during a snow day for a few bucks less than I would pay around town is always great. Obviously.
Savings aside, something gets lost in that transaction. It is the difference between shopping and purchasing. I still have an affinity to be treated as a person and not account #189320. When I visit a store, or a restaurant or a veterinarian (ok, not me, my dog) I am actually looking for something beyond the goods or services that I’ve decided to purchase. I want the service. As in… from a human being; a living, breathing, real, live human being. Who wants me to be satisfied.
Now competing with online shopping, it shocks me that some retail companies still don’t get that. How they can’t recognize that I can make my purchase online but that I have decided instead travel to and visit a real place with real human beings in order to receive “service” is baffling. I recently had a couple of experiences that caught my attention.
One was at a restaurant where I was utterly ignored by the servers. My presence was not acknowledged for almost 20 minutes until someone finally asked if I was ordering from the menu or going for the buffet. In their defense, I’ve not had much luck finding online buffets. But I’m sure they’re coming.
Not too long after, I went to a huge book store where the salespeople just didn’t care about the people coming and going. In and out. In and out. In and out. Not so much as a simple “Can I help you”?
It shouldn’t get to a point, I don’t believe, where the “in-person” retail experience feels like you’re asking for a favour instead of paying for a service. It was shocking. How do those people stay in business? I, for one, will never go back to those places.
We can now buy pretty much everything over the Internet. From groceries to ATV’s to cell phones. Restaurants are everywhere and “food” is not what I’m looking for when I go to one of them.
When I go anywhere I’m there for the service. If I go to a book store or to a restaurant it’s not because I can’t buy online or can’t cook my own food. It’s because I want to enjoy some good service provided by knowledgeable and friendly people. I want to feel special.
It was Dale Carnegie who said: “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” and boy, the world was not that competitive during his time.