3 Ways to Take the Brand-Consumer Relationship to the Next Level

Focus on experiences over perishable gifts this Valentine's Day

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Valentine’s Day, with its history of phone orders for flower delivery, can be called the original direct-to-consumer holiday. And the 24-hour festival of affection captures modern retail’s challenges, chief among them the urgency of a very specific delivery deadline in addition to the customer’s need to be kept apprised of the order’s progress.

In the age of customer experience, ecommerce players in particular need to rethink Valentine’s Day. It’s a massive opportunity for retailers to build loyalty and create lasting memories. The National Retail Federation reports that Valentine’s Day is celebrated by 51% of Americans who spend $143.56 on average, which adds up to being the fourth largest shopping holiday, at $27.4 billion. But today’s marketers aren’t leveraging all the tools and tactics at their disposal.

Ecommerce players need to head into this decade with a new customer experience mindset, starting with Valentine’s Day. Here are three ways brands can impress these shoppers this year.

Turn self-induced stress into loyalty

Many folks worry about making their significant other feel underappreciated on Valentine’s Day. Customers want to have peace of mind with their gift purchase, even if it’s made at the last minute.

Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year, giving customers four business days to get their last-minute shopping done. But ecommerce players shouldn’t expect a rush of orders on Monday or Tuesday. History shows that shoppers are procrastinators—in 2018, for instance, orders from FTD.com, ProFlowers.com and 1-800-Flowers topped out on Feb. 13 while generating more orders on Feb. 12-13 than on the previous five days combined, per Edison Trends. No matter what they sell, brands should expect the majority of orders this year in a similar timeframe.

Valentine’s Day customers are likely going to put pressure on order fulfillment systems while stressing themselves out about the delivery’s timeliness. The most popular Valentine’s Day gifts—flowers, wine, chocolates—are all either perishable or fragile. Therefore, at every step of the way, it’s especially important for brands to keep customers in the loop on where the package is in the delivery chain. Such tactics will build loyalty and arm online retailers with a customer experience that works year round.

Have an experience-first mindset

Valentine’s Day presents don’t have to be all about bouquets of flowers and boxes of sweets. Last year, 40% of consumers preferred an experience gift such as tickets to a concert or sporting event, an outdoor adventure, a gym membership, a hotel getaway or a meal-kit subscription.

With that in mind, nontraditional brands are tapping into Valentine’s Day. For instance, two years ago, Blue Apron teamed with influencer Aaron Marino to publish a video on his YouTube channel about his top five tips for gifts that won’t break the bank. Marino included Blue Apron’s meal service as a final piece of advice. That gesture is definitely romantic, and the video garnered nearly 900,000 views.

Experience-based gifts are powerful because the customer journey involves a real-life relationship between the recipient and the brand. But whether the product is ephemeral or physical, brands that obsess over the experience across every touchpoint in the customer journey have the most loyal customers.

It costs five times more to gain new customers compared to keeping existing ones. So during Valentine’s Day and other retail events on the calendar, your CX mindset should lean into attracting future brand loyalists rather than just one and done shoppers. Giving customers as many options as possible for delivery and returns is one way to build such loyalty.

Focus less on couples, more on values

A Valentine’s Day phenomenon that brands in any category can jump on is celebrating the day with your best friends or by pampering yourself. On Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, tens of millions of social media users create posts with hashtags like #GalentinesDay (for women friends only), #PalentinesDay (for any friends) or #LoveYourself (for those focusing only on themselves that day). There are real people’s values in these hashtags.

MeUndies puts its values front-and-center by creating content that doesn’t shy away from topics that matter to their customers, such as LGBTQ+ rights, slut-shaming and body positivity. This creates loyalists that show up for the brand on social media. A couple of years ago, the DTC player asked Instagram users to snap a photo of themselves in the brand’s skivvies and post it with the hashtag #MatchMeUndies. Remarkably, more than half of the contributions generated by the MeUndies’ fans garnered more than 1,000 likes, with the top 10 posts garnering an average of just over 12,700 likes each. And almost half of the posts were from LGBTQ+ members or non-couples, underscoring the need for brands to always consider inclusivity.

Nearly 50% of Valentine’s Day shopping now happens on smartphones. So, these efforts are particularly smart because MeUndies targets young adult consumers who use mobile-first platforms like Instagram.

Indeed, always thinking with a customer-first mentality and focusing on creative experiences can help marketers—particularly those in ecommerce—separate themselves from the pack this Valentine’s Day and beyond.