COVID-19 continues to upend our lives in new ways. Though the virus disrupted its second holiday shopping season, retailers once again showed their resilience with U.S. retail sales growth of 8.5% year-over-year this holiday season, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse. What is perhaps more impressive is the fact that this sales growth was accomplished in spite of supply chain problems and shipping delays due to myriad pandemic-related shortages.
Holiday disappointment due to products being out of stock is nothing new; just mentioning the words “Cabbage Patch Kids”, “Tickle Me Elmo” or “PS5” to any parent can trigger emotional (and even physical) trauma. But this year, it was the retailers which experienced that well-known human fear of missing out, leading them to lean into the neuroscience behind outperforming their rivals.
For example, it might have seemed odd at first to see the likes of Amazon, Target, Best Buy and other large retailers rolling out Black Friday deals in October, before stores had even been fully stocked for Halloween. But their continued messaging around shoppers getting an early jump on their holiday wish list due to the fear of items running out led to a record high for retail sales during the month of October.
Keeping Customers Merry and Bright
While fear is the most powerful of the six basic human emotions, neuroscience teaches us that you can gain a consumer’s trust through the emotion of joy. During these somewhat uncertain times, consumers are seeking out brands that provide relief, not just in their products but within their marketing experiences. It’s one of the reasons why so many people wait with bated breath for John Lewis’s Christmas adverts each year: They instill a sense of joy in the season, and, yes, happy shoppers spend more.
Another way to build trust with customers is through transparency. While October messaging started with doom and gloom, it was the retailers exceeding consumers’ ever-changing expectations that kept the sales momentum going through November and into December as supply chain troubles dragged on.
Retailers that communicated with consumers quickly and consistently when inventory of popular items was running low, made shoppers aware of delays ahead of time, provided updates on merchandise availability and gave realistic time frames around when they could expect to receive their items were the most trusted and shopped.
Creating a Smooth Experience Across Channels
We know that the human brain craves the simplest path forward. Millions of years of evolution have made us very good at figuring out ways to avoid wasting our energy. This means that seamless, friction-free experiences will always win—often over price and other more rational arguments. A Deloitte survey conducted this holiday season found that 45% of shoppers consider ease of checkout while choosing a retailer. Remove the hoops, and consumers are less likely to abandon their carts midway through the shopping experience. Even if that does happen, don’t worry: All is not lost as long as you create a means to follow up with abandoned carts and improve the purchase process through triggered communications or surveys.
In the wake of last year’s lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, most retailers now offer curbside and in-store pickups. This option has continued to allow consumers to deal with the fear of contracting the Omicron variant while delivering convenience to overburdened shoppers. Retailers that made mention of this option in their marketing materials, highlighting how it can allow for more time to spend with loved ones and less energy wasted rushing around a store in search of a deal (or even decent parking or the shortest cashier lines, for that matter), again outperformed their rivals.
This propensity for simplicity overlaps with another neuroscientific fact: The response to personalization occurs deep in the primitive brain. The concept of “me” is a shortcut to triggering action. That is why personalization has also become essential, not just during the holidays but throughout the year. To keep up with connected commerce, retail brands will want to reach consumers across all segments of the customer journey with content tailored to their distinct needs. A robust CRM platform and customer database can help identify preferred communication channels, recommend product preferences, determine the next best action and save your brand time and money while strengthening customer advocacy and loyalty.
Now is the time to take the learnings from the past holiday season and apply them to a year-round strategy. By answering fears, driving convenience, and doubling down on personalization, we can build continuous, sustainable, and profitable relationships with consumers during the holiday season and beyond.