Comment: Beating the post-Christmas blues

Christmas can sometimes feel like a mixed blessing for many brands. On the one hand, they welcome a surge in consumers ready to open their wallets for festive purchases that can be supplied as quickly, painlessly, and cheaply as possible. On the other, they risk being drawn into a race to the bottom on special offers and super-low prices. And when it’s all over, they can find they’ve done little to engage meaningfully with new customers, or build more profitable relationships for the long haul.

With the full impact of Brexit still unknown, this year brings added worries for UK retailers. But the latest Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey should give them a welcome pre-Christmas boost. While it found a majority (61%) of UK consumers who said Brexit would affect their spending to some extent, 89% said they plan to spend the same or more on Christmas purchases as they did last year.

The survey also shows digital is set to drive the festive rush more than ever. Four in every five consumers plan to do their shopping online, and the same number will check Amazon’s prices before shopping elsewhere. And it’s the convenience of online shopping that’s at the heart of this trend – 40% of consumers say it will provide the single biggest boost to their spending (more than double the number who cite a good in-store experience, for example).

What’s more, it seems shoppers of all ages are ever more comfortable with the latest technology, whether that’s making mobile payments at the checkout (88%), using AI-powered voice-based services like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home (81% and 46% respectively), shopping via chatbots (46%), or even using virtual mannequins to visualise clothing before buying (34%). And, when it comes to delivery, 28% say they’d actively choose the speed and convenience of drone delivery as and when it becomes available.

So what does all this mean for your brand? How can you use this enthusiasm for new technology to turn fickle festive shoppers into perennial customers – or even brand ambassadors?

First, be authentic. If your brand has a long heritage and a strong story, draw on it to the full. That’s something newer competitors can’t match, even if they’re competing strongly on price. The key is consistency. Successful brands communicate their story across all channels – website, mobile, social, stores. They also turn their retail employees into brand storytellers – after all, the story is often why they liked working for the company in the first place. One leading sports footwear brand has shown the way by offering consumers the same, clear, inspirational story at every entry point, from YouTube videos, to in-store products, to the choice of sponsored events.

Second, be transparent. Honesty is an increasingly important part of retail, especially for ethically minded millennials and Gen-Z consumers. So why not build their trust by having the confidence to share insights into the sustainability of your supply chain? One way to do this is price transparency. By revealing information about the cost of production, some retailers are able to create discounts based on transparency. They might, for example, show the impact of customer returns on their margin, and offer a ‘no returns’ price reduction accordingly.

Above all, don’t forget the human touch. Customers are often happy to use AI through a digital channel. But sometimes they need to speak to a human too. That’s especially important during the Christmas rush, when the volume of web traffic and store visits, and the influx of temporary retail staff, can make meaningful personal interactions all the more challenging. So, ensure all your employees are inspired, engaged and on-brand. Striking the right balance between human understanding and sensibility and technological prowess is what digital retail is all about.

Technology might be more essential to retail than it’s ever been, but it’s the brands that celebrate their purpose with a personal touch that will ultimately beat the post-Christmas blues – and build the long-term customer relationships that persist into the New Year and beyond. 

Jill Ross is the managing director in Accenture’s retail practice.