A handful of periods each year are vital money-spinners in retail, but they are fleeting. How can firms convert these spikes in shopping activity into plateaus?
British consumers may have been in the midst of another lockdown in November 2020, but that didn’t stop them splashing out roughly £2m per minute on Black Friday deals.
In total, about £6bn was spent during this annual festival of consumption, as household brands slashed prices on items ranging from cosmetics to electronic goods. This year, the figure could be closer to £9bn, according to PwC.
Black Friday – which arrived on these shores from the US in 2010 – is one of a small number of key seasonal events that retailers rely on to boost sales and attract new customers.
During December, the average UK household spends 29% more than it would in a typical month, thanks to gift-buying and extravagant grocery purchases for Christmas, according to the Bank of England, while research by Barclaycard has found that Valentine’s Day generates an extra £36 of retail expenditure per person in the UK.
But, while these temporary upticks are welcome, how can brands and retailers capitalise on the interest generated in the longer term? After all, continuing to offer the sizeable discounts that have made Black Friday so attractive to bargain-hunting shoppers is hardly a sustainable strategy.
“Major shopping events such as Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday can naturally create a sudden influx of new customers, which is brilliant for boosting sales,” says Neil Debenham, an entrepreneur, investor and business troubleshooter. “But too many businesses focus purely on getting new customers through the door at these times and overlook the importance of building a strategy for retaining them. This can often result in excessive costs for customer acquisition and a lack of loyalty from arguably ‘expensive’ customers.”
According to research by ecommerce software firm LoyaltyLion, 64% of retailers report that shoppers attracted to them during big seasonal events have a much lower customer lifetime value (CLV) to their business than those acquired at other times of the year. There is only a 27% chance that a customer acquired during these periods will make a second purchase.
“Offering otherwise unattainable deals to get customers through the door is a good tactic,” Debenham says. “But, if you don’t have a retention plan, the likelihood is that these shoppers will resign themselves to a one-off purchase and become part of a rapid churn cycle.”
Wellbeing brand Neom Organics operates five stores in the UK and is also stocked at John Lewis, Selfridges and Space NK. Its co-founder and CEO, Oliver Mennell, says that Black Friday is an “important time of year for customer acquisition”, but he stresses that his company is well aware of the need to convert this increase in interest into customer loyalty.
“Our strategy for acquiring customers during Black Friday is focused on product discovery and trial. For example, all our offers include gifts with purchases, so that newcomers can experience more of what we have to offer,” he says. “This means that we can introduce them not only to our products but also to our unique holistic approach to wellbeing. This encourages them to take a longer-term view, adding manageable steps into their daily routines beyond the peak buying periods.”
Discount shoppers who sign up for online updates will receive content such as wellbeing advice and invitations to exclusive brand events. To ensure that it doesn’t alienate its existing customers, Neom uses social media and email to keep them informed of any major customer acquisition activity before it happens.
Online consumer goods retailer Buy it Direct takes great care to ensure that the right authorisations are sought to ensure ongoing communications with customers after a seasonal shopping event has passed.
“During the period itself, it’s important to have a visible email sign-up facility, ideally tested and optimised beforehand,” says the company’s head of retention, Laura Robertson. “You need to ensure that permissions are sought for marketing communications, along with any other relevant data capture.”
Once these are obtained, a retailer can take a new customer on that crucial post-purchase journey towards long-term loyalty.
“At this point, it’s important to engage customers with your wider offering and demonstrate why they should keep coming back,” Robertson advises. “It might be appropriate to offer a discount on a second purchase, but it would be wise to showcase a full-price offering. This could be a bestseller or part of a new range, for instance, or another item that tells the brand’s story. This ‘welcome journey’ is also a good opportunity to introduce new communication channels, such as a social media platform or an app.”
Data analytics and artificial intelligence systems can support this effort, she adds, by using behavioural data to offer customers personalised marketing communications and identify the most profitable cross-selling opportunities.
“For even greater insight, consider actually asking customers for more information about the type and frequency of communications and offers they’re most interested in receiving,” Robertson recommends.
Debenham suggests that retailers should also consider using a major shopping event as an opportunity to persuade new customers to sign up to a loyalty scheme.
“This could be a programme that encourages them to spend a certain amount in exchange for further discounts,” he says. “Or you could reward loyalty by offering a discount every three or six months, say, so that shoppers feel valued. Such tactics will not only increase your CLV; they will also dissuade recurring shoppers from visiting your competitors.”
It’s also vital to take as much stress as possible out of these big seasonal holidays, he advises, by tweaking all post-sale communications, offering a great delivery service and “ensuring that shoppers are wowed by both the product and its packaging when it arrives on the doorstep”.
The overriding message to retailers, then, is to treat these peak shopping events as a starting point from which to engage with newly acquired customers and, ultimately, form far more lasting – and lucrative – relationships.