Adapting For The Peak Season & Beyond

The Festive period is here and every retailer is gearing up for a rather different Christmas than we may have considered normal, the Christmas cookie-cutter approach is no longer relevant and adapting to your local audience is critical to success. We are living in a time of significant disruption and reimagined stability, requiring an updated approach to brand communication in sync with our times, a more cost and sustainable time. Established brand value propositions built up over many years are increasingly becoming irrelevant in a world reeling from a pandemic, a nonsensical war in Europe, embedded inflation and a recent economic crisis. The retail environment we all knew as recently as 2019 is becoming more like a faded memory of a bygone era.

The question is do brands and retailers need to redefine their appeal to stay relevant to a shifting consumer appetite based primarily on economic and environmentally, socially relevant trends? Particularly when facing a predicted period of prolonged economic downturn throughout the world, making the most of this festive trading period is essential in order to capitalise on the nation’s consumers’ appetite to shop either for themselves or as gifting.

A New Paradigm

Due to the change in how we lived that we experienced recently, the legacy lives on and our needs have been radically redefined. The pandemic’s cultural legacy has been a shift to a life where many of us are at home more and need products and services that cater to a new stay-at-home existence.

Meanwhile, the aftershocks of the pandemic and political instability and market fluctuations have caused enormous inflationary pressures impacting many. This has created a new economic reality where affordability trumps desirability in the purchasing behaviour of millions. Including those who perhaps considered themselves more ‘well off’.

The climate crisis is also front of mind and certainly hasn’t dissipated despite the more immediate worries. Events like COP 27 educate us to do more by increasing awareness and encouraging changes in living habits.

For every retailer, a new brand playbook is needed for this new age. Our understanding of consumer behaviours is understood better through research. A recent study we conducted with YouGov pointed to five key motivating factors driving consumers’ intent to purchase. These may assist to ring in the cheer for your store during this ‘peak’ period.

1) Affordability

In a survey of 2,000 consumers, we asked people what were the key drivers that would persuade them to make a considered purchase? The number one reason, perhaps unsurprisingly, was that it was within their budget. I recently spoke at the ERT Turning Point conference alongside AMDEA, the body that represents the white goods industry in the UK who did some research in relation to the Eco buttons on washing machines and dishwashers etc.

They revealed it was saving consumers on average £90 a year. They now really highlight this facet to drive consumers in-store to purchase their members’ products. Knowing that affordability is a critical criteria for consumers, brands can smartly promote the long-term savings they can offer. Perhaps paying back the cost of the appliance within five years. When you multiply these savings across several appliances in the home, you can see how the savings increase.

Furthermore, the energy-saving ‘eco’ modes can provide a win/ win of appealing to sustainability-minded consumers, particularly Gen Z, who also want to save money and the planet, as we all should be focussed on. Retailers can also benefit by highlighting appliances with these features as part of their promotional marketing as more and more consumers are having to rely on eco settings to reduce energy bills.

2) Essential Trumps Desirable

For 73% of consumers in our survey, the idea that a product was ‘essential’ was a key reason they would consider a considered purchase. Therefore positioning your products ranged as ‘essential’ items in the psyche of your target audience is important as part of the marketing mix.

Perhaps the days of assuming there is an implied need for the categories are no longer relevant due to changing consumer lifestyle and habits. Disposable income in all households, even middle earners, is becoming more scarce. They may want a product. That desire may be there. They may covet it. They may feel that they need it, but unless it’s absolutely essential and integral to their life, they are not going to buy it. At least not just yet maybe, unless you can convince them otherwise. Think about how you do this.

The lesson is therefore highlighting why your ranges are ‘essential’ to their needs. It is not so much that it may be that there’s an offer but more, how do they add genuine value to their lives? Why is it potentially going to be a product they can’t live without? Tapping into the primal needs of the user in these turbulent times is a way a retailer can craft their story and resonate honestly with their target audience.

3) Durability

As an extension to being essential, people will need to feel that the item that they are buying from your store is built to last for more than the lifespan of your average reality star.

Rather than offering a lifestyle associated with a brand, as retailers, you can focus on the quality of the products you are selling them. This should be the starting place for a conversation about a brand and how it will last for someone whose budget is going to be squeezed for some time. The hardiness of your product, particularly for those more expensive items you may range, is crucial. No one likes being mis-sold an item but people are far less willing to tolerate buyer’s remorse in a recession. Dob this at your peril, as it’s likely that you’ll never see that customer again

Consumers are also now genuinely asking, why do I have to pay more for quality? Surely, even if I’m buying at the entry-level of the range, it should still be a quality product. The craftsmanship of its build and robustness need to be communicated to the customer clearly and honestly by your staff to all without bias. 

Indeed we are now in a new reality where brands have to accept quality and durability is delivered at a more affordable price point. Certainly, if they want to maintain market share. Losing market share in a downturn can be very difficult to recover from when times return to being good. Long-term thinking needs to trump short-termism. This changes the way in which you sell to your customers of all demographics.

4) Sustainability

The longer something lasts, of course, the more sustainable it is. Sustainability is a huge driver for younger generations. In our research sustainability came through as a top driver of behaviour for 23% across all age groups and rising significantly to 38% for Gen Z. 

Far from moving away from this priority at a cash-strapped time, consumers are in fact doubling down. Indeed new research from SAP reveals that despite the cost of living, over half (52%) of UK consumers aged 18-34 are actively looking to shop more from retailers with strong sustainability credentials this Christmas.

They want to understand that a product is not destroying the planet. This is not greenwashing but also understanding this generation will do their research about the full life cycle of a product. The good news is the extent to which communication forms part of the sales process enables these factors to be included in the discussion. If something can save money by assisting less energy use or being more durable, it is therefore more sustainable and solves many current consumer concerns.

5) Innovation

Finally, innovation is the other key driver of consumer purchasing behaviour in the current climate. Indeed innovation plus value has also been a winning facet of the trend for air fryers. Indeed according to research by price comparison website PriceRunner, demand has soared by 3,000 per cent since 2021. This an opportunity to be understood and embraced to appeal to your consumers this gifting season.

However, critically the air fryer answers several other current consumer needs states. We, post-covid are eating at home more and it is a way of getting your family and your friends and getting your kids involved. It is also healthier. This addresses the growing trend for healthier versions of popular meals.

Most crucial to the surging trend though is the value proposition. The money that can be saved through cooking at a time of rising energy costs is significant and of course energy efficient. This is why we can be sure that this may be one of the most popular Christmas gifts this year as already on Black Friday it became a sell-out line in numerous brick-and-mortar stores and online with Curry’s stating they sold more than 18,000 during the week of Black Friday.

In summary, retailers do need to recognise changed behaviour and a new paradigm on the back of a series of interconnected trends and crises. These centre on changed lifestyles that are more based in the home, a growing movement for sustainability and most crucially the need to save money.

Consumers simply won’t invest in the way they did before, meaning retailers need a laser-like focus on their customers’ new needs. The narrative a retailer needs to highlight is value for money, why it’s essential, the product’s durability, sustainability and its innovation.

To remain relevant as we face an economically challenging climate is tough.  For some, this will require a radical step change. For others, it’s underway and the new normal.

To read the full article by Dan Todaro, Managing Director please visit ERT Online

Photo by Carl Raw on Unsplash

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