2013: The Year of Deal-Seeking

Google released its top-searched items of 2013, and Kohl’s, JCPenny and Nordstrom graced the top spots on the apparel brands and retailers list.  Following the top three included Forever 21, Old Navy and Macy’s.

What do these retailers have in common?  All were searched along with terms that indicated shoppers were looking for a deal or price reduction.  For example, Nordstrom shoppers were most likely looking for Nordstrom Rack in their searches.

But this trend of looking for good deals is not exclusive to online retailers.  Shoppers are also more likely to negotiate prices in-store, thanks to multiple resources.

Brick and mortar shoppers now have an arsenal of never-ending resources in the form of smartphones.  Price-checking in-store, or showrooming, has quickly become the norm, and retailers have had no choice but to find creative ways to fight back and ensure in-store sales remain strong.

Best Buy is one of those retailers and is offering a price-match guarantee this year.  What does this mean?  Customers can bargain.  Prices are no longer set in stone.  If a shopper finds a cheaper price online, Best Buy will work with them to keep that sale in-store.

The future of retail is changing rapidly and with each new technological advancement, shoppers get smarter about what they are willing to pay for products and services.  Brands and retailers will also have to continue to get smarter, adopting new technologies and policies that will ensure both in-store and online channels thrive.

Retail and the Weather: An Ice Story

This Fall season has been one to remember. Here in Dallas, like in many parts of the country, we experienced a severe ice storm last week that pretty much put the brakes on everything. Though we’re a big city, we’re not equipped to deal with not only the initial snow/sleet fall but the subsequent refreezing as temperatures stayed in the freezing range for the next week. And as luck would have it, this ice storm occurred during an already shortened Christmas shopping season. All this got me thinking, what are retailers and brands to do when Mother Nature throws a wrench into the busiest shopping season of the year? Here are my top five recommendations to retailers and brands for not getting blindsided by unexpected weather.

Be Prepared (Online)

Weather happens, from snow and ice to unforgiving heat waves and everything in between. In Dallas, it seems like we get one good pummeling snow/ice storm about every three years or so (just my personal estimation). Before this most recent storm, the last one happened the week Dallas was hosting the Super Bowl and that was a doosy. All that to say, weather is bound to happen sometime/somewhere, so retailers and brands should be prepared with how their products can remain strong when it does hit. Like any other day, your website is up, running, easily accessible via mobile and checkout is easy (where applicable). A no-brainer here, but confirm with your providers that weather will not or should not interrupt your web service. Aside from the basics of web site functionality, the easiest thing, in my opinion, is to be prepared with web content, which is especially helpful for all those potential customers stuck at home surfing the web. For example, a home improvement store chain could create self-help videos that instruct the proper method for shoveling snow or for removing fallen tree limbs. A fashion brand could create a pinterest board with the best snow apparel that its target audience could use to feel inspired during a time that normally leaves us all looking like overstuffed marshmallow men. A food brand could post comfort food recipes using ingredients found in the pantry mixed with their products. A major retailer could have a social media weather plan in place to allow it to quickly adapt with a consistent hashtag across messaging and be on the forefront of the conversation. All in all, it’s a way to preemptively think about how your store or brand can still be productive online in spite of the weather.

Be Prepared (In Store)

Luckily, with events like snow storms, we usually can see them coming thanks to all of the newfangled meteorological technology at society’s disposal. As such, retailers can be proactive in the ways they react to such news in store. For larger retailers, this may be easier said than done because it takes a lot of energy and time to shift the sails of such a large “ship.” That’s when I say you should empower your boots on the ground to help make the calls for their area. Have a protocol in place for not only taking care of your employees in the area impacted but a plan for how they can keep the lead office informed and adapt the store to the needs of shoppers. Maybe for a grocery chain, it could be switching out a front display containing Christmas day meal solutions to one that’s driven with bread and batteries or push coolers up front for milk.  Or it’s creating an impromptu storm bundle offer that combines necessities like food with fun activities like books and magazines, which not only help shopper Mom feed her family but could keep them entertained, even if they lose power. Perhaps a clothing retailer puts its cold weather clothes, coats and accessories in their strategic selling spots and empowers employees to push these items at checkout as pre-storm basket builders. But again, don’t forget the basics, like having rock salt on hand to put at your store entrance should it ice over and proper mats for wiping off icy boots so as to avoid slip-and-falls.

Be Insightful

Being able to target your shoppers is key at any stage in this retail game, but it can be even more important when you add weather to the mix. This not only means being prepared with content but having the capabilities to push it to the right shoppers and when with geotargeting. I know I’ve been getting anywhere from one to three emails a day from certain retailers keeping me updated on the latest sales in store during this busy shopping season. By adding an additional level of geotargeting to these emails, retailers, large and small, could help to keep their shoppers engaged and informed. Whether it’s pushing an email to promote a pre-storm bundle along with their store hours or sending a text message to shoppers to let them know “We’re Open!”, getting this granular with your shoppers lets them know your store or brand is coping with the weather as well. I saw small businesses doing this really well during our Dallas ice storm, from email to social, by clearly communicating with their shoppers so as to advise as well as to gauge demand. Bigger brands and retailers can do this too, with the help of geotargeting.

Be Aware

This season is not only the busiest for many brands and retailers but for their shipping partners as well, which is why is so important for brands and retailers to be aware of how shipments may be impacted due to the weather. With the possibility of shoppers being stuck at home and doing more shopping online than they had originally planned, the number of shipments required escalates quite rapidly even while shipping centers are dealing with the same undriveable  roads and shortage of staff that everyone else is dealing with. Shipments can ultimately be delayed and perhaps, even lost, in the additional traffic. Shoppers may be lenient to a certain degree, but they still want to receive what they’ve paid for and before Christmas, if it was well within the time period for Christmas shipping. So be aware of regional delays that could ultimately impact your shoppers’ experience and be on top of how this should be managed. While it’s never ideal for a package to be late or never arrive, empower your customer service team to use this “opportunity” to give your shoppers the best experience possible and build loyalty. Have a plan in place for dealing with packages delayed by weather and if time is of the essence for the customer (ex. it’s a gift ordered for a charity that has a deadline for submission), have a protocol in place for either reshipping or refunding their purchase so the shopper can choose the best option for their situation. As a brand or retailer, you can only control so much when it comes to the shipping process, but having the right attitude and approach when shipping mishaps happen due to widespread weather will turn a negative into a positive.

Be Human

It’s the weather and it’s beyond all of our control. We are all human. When a severe weather situation occurs, a brand or retailer should be showing their shoppers they are human, too. For this to be successful, it all needs to be done genuinely and with absolute authenticity, or else it comes across as opportunist. The success in this again lies with the boots on the ground, your store employees, to know what kind of outreach is appropriate, needed and can be addressed. During this last storm, I saw news stories about employees from a home improvement chain making rounds in neighborhoods helping people take care of fallen trees. A chain movie theater that offers dining and movies, knowing that the neighborhood behind one of its theaters did not have power, offered warm soup, coffee and free movies to those local residents who could walk to the theater. Just simple acts of kindness go a long way. Empower your employees and brand ambassadors to be human during these times, in store, online and out in the community and I have no doubt your shoppers will remember the kindness.

So let’s discuss. What retailers and brands have managed weather snafus really well? Who rose to the occasion?

Photo: Associated Press

Amazon Takes Instant Gratification to the Next Level

The internet went wild.  

Wild with chatter, speculation and even disbelief. 

But it didn’t stop there. 

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, well into Cyber Monday, and beyond- everyone is still talking about it.

Ever since Amazon announced it’s plans to deliver packages via drone in the next several years, there has been a flurry of commentary, speculation, and in some cases, even fun-poking (oh, Groupon…).

But what does it mean for retail? Ever since Amazon stepped on to the retail scene they’ve been pushing the proverbial envelope. From Amazon Prime, to Fresh to Prime Air- they have continued to find innovative ways to delight loyal customers. CEO Jeff Bezos was quoted in Bloomberg Businessweek: “You have to ask what your customers need and want, and then, no matter how hard it is, you better get good at those things.” He said that in 2010, and it rings perhaps even more true today. 

Whether the announcement of Prime Air is a PR stunt or not (critics argue it certainly was and planned or not it turned out to be just that), the idea certainly got us all talking. The idea of a drone delivering your 5-pound online purchase in 30 minutes or less… Is it cool? Is it creepy? Will it ever really happen? 

It’s an attempt to bridge the gap between instant gratification and ecommerce, which is a big step forward for retail, and frankly puts a tremendous amount of more pressure on traditional retail to keep up. The benefits are mutual for consumers, brands and retailers. If the drone idea spurs some imagination, perhaps other retailers will come up with their own innovation. But I doubt any will be as cool as a drone delivering my new iphone power cord in the time it takes to get a pizza.

Whether drones ever fill the sky or not, we’ve got to hand it to Amazon. They continue to innovate, surprise and delight us. Who would have guessed that Amazon would be the ones to revolutionize not just how books were bought, but the publishing industry as a whole? Grocery looks to be next. Then maybe shipping and delivery (UPS, USPS and FedEx- you’ve been warned). It’s easy (and fun) to speculate, but one thing rings true—I just can’t wait to see what’s next.