20. October 2021 | Interview, Retail Marketing, Shopping Today

How to give your customers a merry – and safe – shopping experience

by Elisa Wendorf (exclusively for EuroShop.mag)

The Christmas season is just around the corner – and this year it is once again a holiday like it used to be! We can celebrate with family and friends again, and it looks like this will bring good tidings to retail stores as well. However, retailers need to adjust and meet hygiene guidelines and changed customer expectations. Marketing expert Dominik Sedlmeier, CEO of the PR & MEDIA agency El Clasico Media GmbH, revealed the best holiday retail strategy for this year’s Christmas season.

Mr. Sedlmeier, how has the pandemic shaped customer expectations?

Dominik Sedlmeier: We are seeing changes in consumer behavior with customers being more hesitant and reluctant to make casual purchases. Job-related income losses have also prompted greater frugality in consumer spending. In uncertain times like the pandemic, human beings crave security. It is an enormously important aspect that businesses should consider and communicate accordingly. The goal is to regain consumer trust.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have also identified themes such as sustainability and regionality as new needs. Given that especially local companies suffered financially from lockdowns and business closures, society has taken on an increased awareness around the notion of regionality. Meanwhile, the crisis has also spurred more online shopping at the same time. This will leave lasting marks on consumer behavior – even long after the pandemic is over.

How can retailers meet these changing customer needs and expectations as it relates to holiday shopping?

In the upcoming holiday season, online retail will play an increasingly important role. It is thus advisable for brick-and-mortar retailers to also have an online presence. Trust is an issue that must likewise be clearly and effectively communicated, especially in marketing. When it comes to Christmas marketing, this means that promises made to customers must also be kept. Examples include retailers guaranteeing a before-Christmas delivery to their customers.

Sellers must also address the new factors that influence the purchase decision. This isn’t about portraying your venture as the perfect company, but rather about taking these factors and expectations seriously and outlining the steps your business is taking to this effect.

Regionality offers promising prospects for this year’s Christmas marketing: retailers can advertise and market on the regional level and encourage customers to purchase Christmas gifts locally. This is also where sustainability comes in because shopping in brick-and-mortar stores tends to be better for the environment than ordering countless items online.

Should retailers pursue a multichannel strategy for their Christmas marketing campaigns?

Man in blue suit and with his arms crossed looks at the camera

Dominik Sedlmeier, CEO of El Clasico Media GmbH, © El Clasico Media GmbH

Absolutely. It is most beneficial to advertise online where consumers are more likely to be and make their purchases. But not all online advertising is the same, as different channels provide different settings and conditions. That is why advertising should be adapted to match the respective platform.

For many, Christmas is a season of reflection that can also be stressful at the same time. Throughout the holiday season, retailers must therefore create a customer journey that spans across multiple channels. Consumers must be approached at different times on various platforms. For example, the start of the Christmas season tends to be shaped by anticipation, which means marketing can capitalize on emotional aspects and the festive feeling. Meanwhile, towards the end, many feel stressed when they have not yet purchased all the Christmas gifts they need. This is where guaranteed Christmas delivery or sales and discounts can prompt consumers to buy from a specific retailer.

What’s more, you should also not forego email marketing this year as it is a simple tool to keep customers informed about the latest news, Christmas promotions and sales.

Is there a difference between online and offline marketing during the Christmas season?

Yes, there are some major differences. The world of online marketing is incredibly fast-paced, dynamic, and influenced by trends. It is shaped by fierce competition as many consumers continue to buy from large corporations. Creativity in marketing is essential to stand out as a seller and prove to a customer why your product is a better choice. Meanwhile, marketing in the offline setting can rely on tried-and-true strategies that have worked for years – particularly in the Christmas season.

What is especially important when it comes to online marketing?

Retailers must use online marketing to create added value for their customers and highlight why they should buy from them, instead of the competition. Corporate social responsibility or exclusive sales can create added value in this setting.

Businesses must also communicate values and emotions. This calls for retailers to truly know their target audience and address the segment at the individual level. Online marketing offers a distinct advantage thanks to targeting, a process that enables the targeted placement of advertising to address the specific audience. There is no such functional equivalent in the offline world.

How far in advance should retailers start their Christmas marketing?

Sooner rather than later – retailers should have a rough strategy in place at this point. When it comes to the online sector, they should already be in the process of creating content, devising plans, and developing strategies, which should be based on an integrated customer journey. Many companies already have an active presence on social media channels, which they must populate with Christmas content during this time. After all, people on these channels are already interested in your business and its products, making it easier to persuade these potential customers to buy.

Brick-and-mortar stores must also stay on the ball. Unlike in pre-pandemic seasons, hygiene measures require greater planning this year. If a store plans a special promotional campaign, it must organize things well in advance to be successful.

colorful wrapped christmas gifts

© Unsplash/freestocks

How do current hygiene regulations for brick-and-mortar stores impact the success of the Christmas season?

To ensure that hygiene practices have the least possible negative impact on their Christmas business, retailers must continue to communicate with their customers and keep them updated.

For example, if there is a mask mandate, your store should provide additional masks if the consumer does not have one. If December brings a limit to the number of customers who can be in a store at once, retailers must plan ahead on how they will handle this situation as shops tend to be overcrowded during the holiday season. One idea is to provide hourly or daily updates via social media channels to inform customers about longer waiting times in front of the store. Another idea is to allow customers to schedule appointments online during which they can then visit the store.

Should the so-called 2G or 3G regulation be adopted in Germany during this retail holiday season, customer must be notified in advance and asked to have their required proof of vaccination or testing ready before they enter the store (Editor’s note: the 3G rule means that certain public spaces in Germany are only accessible to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or tested. 2G means the option of barring anyone who is who is not vaccinated or recovered). Retailers should have additional staff available to verify these documents.

(How) can a successful Christmas marketing strategy help build long-term customer loyalty?

Christmas marketing is a perfect vessel to create long-term customer loyalty, because the holiday season evokes emotions and feelings of nostalgia in most people. Family togetherness, anticipation, the joy of giving and receiving presents are at the heart of this festive time. Emotive marketing strategies are highly effective in addressing and reaching consumers and allow businesses to build relationships with moments of identification. Shared values mean customers feel a connection to the companies they do business with, which builds stronger brand loyalty.

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