The seasonal nature of shopping always presents a multitude of problems for retailers. The back-to-school season (not to mention the fall and winter holidays) are still months away but for retailers planning what to stock, how to display it and how to get shoppers engaged, it’s just around the corner. Shoppers are looking for ways to save money – but it’s important to remember that they see seasonal shopping as more than simply buying goods.
Like all shopping, it’s wrapped in cultural and behavioral practices that represent a host of emotions and beliefs. If costs and savings were the only factors considered, shoppers would buy exclusively from warehouses or online. Only part of a retailer’s value lies in the cost of products, much more of the perceived value lies in the intangible. And since seasonal shopping is usually more hectic (both at the store and in our daily lives) success means rising above the competition shouting how inexpensive their items are. Following suit only adds to the noise shoppers are struggling with and does nothing to differentiate brands.
Reducing stress is a central element of creating shoppers that seek out a retail space. This means, in addition to the consideration put into the initial design of the space, retailers have to think about the space as a destination – a place of pilgrimage. The goal should be to produce a sense of devotion with shoppers by turning the retail environment from a “space” into a “place.” Retailers can do this by thinking of how the retail environment can be used as a stage to heighten/counter a feeling. Creating an experience is key to winning more seasonal sales.
- Create Safe Zones : Hallmark’s mass-channel displays are a great example of safe zones where shoppers can escape the frantic nature of shopping in big-box locations. This is true at any time of year, but especially during the holidays. Entry into the space has a gateway signifying a transition, the aisles are slightly wider than the aisles in the rest of the store and the high shelves isolate people from the chaos “outside.” All this suggests comfort and stability, associating your brand with a sense of tranquility. The space counters the external process even as it plays up the Hallmark image of emotional well-being.
- Embrace Opposite Day: School shopping is always something parents meet with mixed emotions. On one hand, it signals a return to a normal routine. On the other, it’s a stressful hunt as tense parents search for items on a list before they sell out. This is when it makes sense to take a position in clear opposition to the norm. Staples has done a tremendous job in this regard, stressing that rather than chaos of the big-box stores, the environment is well-structured, well-organized and filled with all the items that don’t make the school list. Not only can you pick up pencils and folders, but you can also pick up a new PC for your child entering middle school. The design and the messaging stress the store isn’t just about getting things, but getting the right things – all in a way that is stress free.
- Remember the Family: Creating an environment that goes beyond a single shopper to address the entire family is another effective strategy for retailers. Shopper families that are encouraged to interact with the store are more inclined to interpret themselves as part of the storyline, and more likely to make a purchase. Bass Pro Shops does this by creating an environment that speaks to the underlying aspects of the holidays and encourages people to interact more directly (as individuals and as groups) with the entire store. Traditional Christmas decorations are re-couched in an outdoorsy motif and specials are marketed with a tongue-in-cheek way that celebrates the outdoorsman (or woman). Furthermore, Bass Pro is extremely talented at creating or speaking to seasons that are outside the traditional holiday scope – hunting season, fishing season, etc.
- Indulge a Little: Little luxuries are important when making shoppers feel at home. It’s important to remind shoppers that shopping is about more than the transaction – it’s about feeling special, spoiled even. Dean & Deluca does this by making little, unexpected treats available to shoppers as they look for gifts. Sharing food is a primal trigger and we are hardwired to respond positively to this highly intimate act. Remember, getting shoppers in the store is only half the battle. It’s okay to push big-ticket items, but pushing little luxuries will be more likely to get people in the door than telling them big-ticket items are on sale. Once people enter a space they trust and enjoy, they are significantly more likely to move from small indulgences to big-ticket items.
A sense of place is a social phenomenon that exists independently of any one individual’s perceptions or experiences. It puts shoppers at ease and turns them into both buyers and advocates. Remembering that an experience is worth a thousand words will help retailers take advantage of whatever season it is they are designing for.