Small Business Saturday bombed this year. While MSNBC’s J.J. Rathberg bragged on “Morning Joe” that sales on that Saturday reached a record $17.8 billion, she was largely reticent about the number of people who shopped or dined that day. That is because many fewer actually hit the streets this year.
Small Business Saturday has been on a downward slide. Only about 104 million Americans came out this year, down from 108 million last year and 112 million in 2016. Rathberg is the host of the “Your Business” show sponsored by American Express which is also sponsor of Small Business Saturday.
Instead of flocking to Main Street USA this year, shoppers were much more likely to go online or to the national retailers to take advantage of sweet deals, which were more plentiful this year, according to an analysis of 10,500 promotions across 17 major retailers conducted by Numerator, a market intelligence firm.
This year the average promotional discounts for Black Friday across a wide range of product categories was 48%, as compared with 45% in 2017. J.C. Penney and Target, in particular, slashed prices deeper to attract more customers, with J.C. Penney averaging 60% off versus last year’s 54% and Target offering 40% off as compared to 37% in 2017.
Retailers are pulling out all the stops to offer better discounts on popular gift items this year, with jewelry, pictures and frames, stationery and women’s apparel offered at more significant discounts than last year.
In-store traffic is down while online surges
While this is good news for shoppers, it suggests a growing level of desperation on the part of retailers. The thinking goes: When all else fails, offer steeper discounts to get people into the store or to the website. That strategy continues to work for ecommerce this year, but it isn’t enough to get people into stores.
The retail industry is bullish about prospects for this holiday shopping season, with National Retail Federation predicting 4.3-4.8% increase through the months of November and December, on top of 5.3% sales gain in 2017. But online ecommerce, not brick-and-mortar retail, will be the driver of this year’s sales growth.
RetailNext forecasts 15% increase in year-over-year sales through digital channels, while predicting, “brick-and-mortar store performance will likely fall short of posting YoY gains.”
So far this season, online has greatly exceeded those early expectations. Cyber Monday 2018 became the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, racking up $7.9 billion in sales, an increase of 19.3% year-over-year, according to Adobe Analytics. Black Friday online sales broke records too, growing 23.6% over previous year to reach $6.2 billion, outpacing earlier predictions by 5%.
On Small Business Saturday, online year-over-year growth was even higher, 25.5% to $3.02 billion in sales. But wait, isn’t Small Business Saturday about bringing customers out to independent shops across America, stores that primarily depend on foot traffic, not online for sales?
On that score, specialty independent retailers were disappointed not just on Small Business Saturday but for the entire weekend, according to data compiled by RetailNext. “Shopper traffic to stores was down 6.6% for the four-day holiday weekend as compared to one year ago,” said Ray Hartjen, RetailNext’s director marketing and corporate communications. Further, mall-based stores did better in drawing customers than standalone stores.
The winning stores, according to Hartjen, are the big ones that “worked tirelessly to create enterprises that mirror consumers’ new shopping journeys – a seamless navigation online, in-app and in-store. Those that can deliver friction-free experiences within the brand will win. Those that don’t, or that don’t have a good value proposition, will not win.”
In other words, the well-funded, tech-savvy omnichannel retailers that have the flexibility to slash prices deeply are at a distinct advantage this year. Small specialty independent retailers are left out in the cold.
But rather than try to fight the battle for shoppers’ attention and dollars online or through deep discounts – the competitive strategies favored by the national retailers – specialty independents need to use their heads, that is consumer psychology, to prosper in the rapidly changing retail environment .
Make shoppers happy, don’t just make a sale
At holiday time, people need to buy gifts that will delight those the gifts are intended for. They need to extend their gifting budgets across a wide range of gifting items. They need to buy gifts with the least amount of hassle. They need to save time so they can take part in other holiday celebrations. These needs drive shoppers online and to a lesser extent to the malls and big-boxes where a wide assortment of gift items are on offer and often at a discount.
These are powerful drivers for shoppers, so how can specialty retailers compete? By making shopping in their stores a delight, not a chore or another item on people’s overloaded to-do list. That takes psychology. The creative consultancy Lippincott provides scientifically-informed and tested ideas about using psychology to make shoppers happy in a study called the “Happiness Halo.”
While omnichannel national and ecommerce retailers like Amazon focus primarily on driving the actual purchase interaction, happiness research finds that retailers need to activate people’s emotions both before and after the purchase experience, not just during the interaction.
“Happiness researchers find that upwards of half of someone’s happiness is built in moments of anticipation and remembering,” the report authors write. “Radiant brands [and radiant retailers] exude the joy of anticipation and the warmth of remembering, making them glow in the hearts of customers.”
Here are ways specialty retailers can engage gift shoppers throughout their purchase journey – before, during and after the shopping experience – to delight them in order to drive more sales and create a happiness halo for the next time.
Tease, tempt and treat customers in anticipation of shopping
The anticipation phase along customers’ purchase journey is incredibly powerful to set the stage for greater satisfaction in the actual purchase. University College London researchers found that positive expectations influence a person’s overall happiness as much as actual experiences do.
But people also gain happiness by simply anticipating a purchase. “Most consumers get more pleasure during the ‘anticipation’ phase of a purchase than during the ‘acquisition’ phase,” the Lippincott study reports.
To activate anticipation in advance of shopping, specialty retailers need to tease them with compelling street-side window displays that invite people in. But most especially specialty retailers need to tease shoppers online, since many people start planning their shopping trips on their mobile devices and at their computers. The purpose of an independent retailers’ online display must first and foremost be designed to tempt people to visit the store.
Pictures of people in the store, engaged in shopping, will be more tempting than simply displaying product-as-hero shots. The “About Us” page is critically important to tell the story of the store and to make the store personally engaging and relevant to what shoppers’ can anticipate in visiting.
Another powerful psychological mechanism working in the anticipation phase is the promise of a special treat to be found in the store. The happiness halo likens this to the opportunity to connect with a “limited resource,” something only available in the place of business or for a limited time.
For holiday-shopping season, this might be the treat of offering complimentary professional-quality gift wrapping, or an advent calendar of daily gift ideas under $50, the sweet spot for most gift purchasers.
Immerse, direct and elevate the in-store interaction
During the in-store interaction phase shoppers gain greater happiness when they are directed and guided, rather than left to their own devices. Immersive customer experiences engage customers through all the touch points in the store to help shoppers achieve a greater level of happiness through a guided process. For example, Ikea’s showrooms illustrate best practices in how to guide shoppers in a self-serve environment.
Retailers must immerse shoppers through sight, sound, smells, tastes, signage, interactive displays and, most importantly, staff on the sales floor, who play host or hostess to the many wonderful things and experiences to be found in the store.
This past weekend I was surprised and delighted when a sales clerk locked up her cash register to guide me to the item I was looking for. It gave her valuable time to engage me in conversation and learn more about me. It left me feeling cared for and impressed with her willingness to help. That experience left a happiness after-glow and I am truly looking forward to visiting that store again soon.
During the interaction phase is when memories are made, and the happiness halo stresses, “Whether a person looks back on an experience positively or negatively will be the deciding factor as to whether they return.”
End strong, surprise and reinforce after the in-store experience
Sealing the in-store experience in the customers’ memory means leaving them with a favorable lasting impression. That calls for retailers to train their staff on elevating the customers’ final interaction, the goodbye, with as much emphasis as they place on the opening, welcome statement. The goodbye doesn’t need to be scripted, but it needs to be honest and authentic and, most importantly, memorable.
Perhaps nothing reinforces a positive feeling more than a hand-written thank you note after the shopping visit. Admittedly many retailers will have to do some research to find a customer’s street address, but the effort will be greatly rewarded by taking that extra step.
Tempting customers with anticipation of a surprise the next time they shop can reinforce the desire to shop again. Offering a surprise for customers who sign up for updates and news is one way to capture customers’ email addresses, but the tempting surprise needs to be more meaningful than just a weekly or monthly newsletter. For example, it could be a surprise gift with purchase for Valentine’s Day in anticipation of the next gifting holiday on the calendar.
Specialty retailers’ secret weapon: Make retail personal
The happiness halo defines the way to make retail personal by using psychology, not just retailing and selling tactics, to attract, engage and leave people more than satisfied, but happy.
In the “Happiness Halo,” the authors stress, “Appeal to customers’ reason and they’re yours for a day. Appeal to customers’ emotions and they’re yours for a lifetime.”
At no time of the year is that emotional appeal more important than in this holiday gift-shopping season. Selecting, buying and giving gifts packs a powerful emotional punch for the customer, either as a bad, stress-filled experience or one of delight and joy. Make sure the retail experience minimizes the one and maximizes the other.
The key to success in retail today is not just to be a place for people to buy things, but a destination for people to have meaningful and memorable experiences. Buying and selecting a gift is by its nature an emotional experience that carries so much more weight than just buying another thing to put on the shelf or hang in the closet. Specialty independent retailers will win by playing to their gift-buying customers’ emotions with psychology.