If Black Friday is the starting gun in the race that is holiday retail, this week and next amount to the home stretch, the pivotal time when final gifts are purchased and that "one last trip to the mall" gets hurriedly made. According to NRF, the season is off to a "solid start," with the organization making a positive revision to its holiday forecast.
For retailers, this is an all-hands-on-deck time of the year, but it's also a time when many of them are doing innovative things — some high-tech, some simple and old-fashioned — to get as much revenue as they can from shoppers. Here are four things that retailers are doing this holiday season:
Facebook marketing. One-fourth of all Internet traffic in the U.S. takes place on Facebook, so it makes sense for retailers to take the message to where the people are. Specifically, retailers are making savvy use of the fledgling Places functionality, which lets Facebook users "check in" to locations they are visiting on their mobile phones.
"I'm looking at things like Gap using Facebook Places to give away 10,000 pairs of jeans," said Jason Goldberg, vice president of strategy and customer experience for retail technology firm CrossView. "Macy's, H&M and American Eagle have also done major Facebook Places promotions."
As a communication platform, Facebook is flexible enough to let retailers be creative. Gap used it to give away jeans, while Lowe's uses it to offer "RSVP-only" private shopping hours, while Sears and K-Mart allow gift-giving directly from their Facebook pages.
A gift for them now, one for you later. It's been a mainstay of restaurant marketing for years, but this is the first year retailers have embraced the "now and later" gifting concept, according to AnnaMaria Turano, executive director of marketing firm MCAworks. Borders has understood the strength of this concept for some time, offering percentage-off coupons that aren't valid until a week later. For the holidays, it's going the free gift card route — spend $50 now, get a $10 card that's valid next year.
And Borders isn't alone. DSW Shoe Warehouse is offering a similar deal in its stores, and L.L. Bean is using the strategy online. Abercrombie & Fitch is giving customers a $25 gift card for each $100 spent in-store. Turano points out that the strategy is doubly beneficial to retailers — it gets shoppers to make the initial purchase, then drives them back into the store after the holidays to spend their loot.
The personal touch. Technology is great, of course, but there are times when the human touch is more powerful than anything else.
Take the story of Frankfort, Ky., resident Shirley Rodgers, who told the State Journal newspaper of her extraordinary encounter with Zappos earlier this year. When her beloved father passed away and she found a pair of slippers from the online retailer — still in the wrapper — she contacted them to see if they'd extend the window of their return policy. They did, but the person on the other end of the line didn't leave it at that. She sent flowers to the Rodgers home, with a note of condolence.
Zappos is legendary for that kind of above-and-beyond action, and it looks like more and more retailers are attempting to imitate their spirit. Micah Solomon, customer service trainer and co-author of "Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit," said he has been personally contacted recently by two representatives of stores where he has shopped in the past. "(They were) checking in with me in a very friendly way, and gently — and indirectly — asking why I haven't been buying lately. And reassuring me that it's not too late to get what I need in time for the holidays," he said. "As a result, I'll likely be stopping in there and making a purchase or two before the week is out."
Give people a reason to come back to the mall. Shopping malls took a big hit from the recession, when many consumers stopped using shopping as a type of entertainment and returned to a more utilitarian view. But that's changing, with a year-over-year surge of United States mall traffic of 16 to 65 percent on various weekends last month, according to a Thomson Reuters report.
Part of that can be attributed to the simple bounce-back in disposable income, but it also is due in part to a concerted effort by malls to once again become destinations. Some have added indoor ice-skating rinks. Simon malls offered free fresh-baked cookies to shoppers.
Turano pointed to a particularly creative — and heart-warming — example launched by WestShort Plaza in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month, the "Sensitive Santa" event. "With music and lights turned low, the mall opened early for 'Sensitive Santa' on a specific Saturday," she said. "The event allowed children with autism to visit Santa in a sensory-friendly environment."
(Photo by John Taylor.)
AnnaMaria Turano's Three Es of an Effective Holiday Promotion: