By Suzanne Balter | Posted on November 05, 2018
Some brands go into the holiday shopping season looking for a panacea for whatever issues they have encountered over the past 12 months. Stagnant annual sales figures can be revitalized and salvaged by capitalizing on the surge in shopping activity and enticing customers with deep discounts and generous promotions.
With consumers expected to spend more than $1,000 each on holiday shopping this year, there will be no shortage of opportunities for brands to bolster their sales numbers and year-end totals. There's a much greater opportunity here, though: By putting as much focus on their loyalty efforts as they devote to competitive pricing and sales, brands can strengthen relationships with their customers to provide value year round.
The holiday shopping season can sometimes feel like a race to the bottom, as brands repeatedly undercut one another on pricing and shipping to encourage consumers to buy from them over the competition. Some may argue that these trends are unsustainable, that businesses are lowering their margins to razor-thin levels.
The other issue is that perks like free shipping are quickly becoming expected offerings, rather than value-driving difference makers. Writing for Practical Ecommerce, marketer Armando Roggio recently predicted that more than half of all holiday shopping orders would include free shipping.
As such incentives become more commonplace, brands will be forced to take drastic steps to stay ahead of the competition. For evidence, look no further than Target, which recently announced that it would offer no-minimum, free two-day shipping on all online orders starting on Nov. 1. The move is clearly a direct response to Amazon and other e-merchants that routinely provide free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount.
Brands must also navigate the fractured retail landscape to engage customers at every touchpoint. Online channels continue to gain steam: A recent AlixPartners survey revealed that one-third of consumers plan to do the majority of their holiday shopping online in 2018. Brick and mortar still holds a great deal of strategic importance, whether as a primary point of sale or as a promotional outlet. Ninety-four percent of survey respondents intended to visit physical stores this holiday season, even if only to browse, return an item or try out a product before buying online.
Brands need to cultivate a more cohesive customer experience across all channels to not only drive sales, but build strong relationships during the holiday season. Creating a positive experience when a customer comes in to return a product, for instance, can provide long-term value even at the expense of the short-term loss of revenue.
Customer loyalty programs play a major role in the holiday shopping equation. A December 2017 Citi Retail Services survey shed some light on just how prominently rewards programs feature in consumers' purchasing decisions:
Loyalty programs present a built-in customer base that is primed for engagement if brands can provide more than mere monetary value. One great example is AMC’s The Walking Dead Fan Rewards Club. TWD’s official loyalty program awards points to fans for engaging with content, linking social accounts and making purchases; these points are redeemable for limited-availability merchandise and fan experiences - like set tours and personal messages from cast members. The compelling nature of experiential rewards is what sets The Walking Dead’s reward club apart from most discount-focused loyalty programs.
A personalized customer experience leaves a better impression with rewards program users, and offers a type of value that's more difficult than define than lower costs. Rest assured that creating a loyalty program experience that is both seamlessly integrated into every touchpoint and tailored to the preferences of each individual will pay off over the long run. Rewards program members are often viewed as the most valuable customer segment brands have since they tend to make more purchases, spend more per purchase and are more likely to actively advocate for the brand.
With mobile devices, virtual assistants, social networks and other sophisticated technology at customers' fingertips, there are plenty of opportunities to offer personalization through customized product recommendations. Salesforce's Rick Kenney and Vala Afshar recently predicted that as much as 35 percent of all holiday retail revenue will be attributed to artificial intelligence-based product recommendations.
Although AI software is on the cutting-edge of retail technology, brands can provide similarly tailored experiences even if they are not ready to just yet implement such platforms. Using advanced data analytics tools, brands can suggest gifts and products based on a program user's profile, shopping history and other behavioral data.
Customer identity management solutions support these kinds of engagement and personalization initiatives by allowing brands to capture a 360-degree view of the individual. With so many touchpoints to monitor (digital, physical, mobile, social media, etc.), it's impossible to connect the user with the person unless you have a customer identity and access management platform in place. By implementing a customer identity solution, brands can maintain a clear view of who their customers are, what they want and how to best engage them. Learn more about how leading global brands use the Janrain Identity Cloud to grow their customer loyalty programs.
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