How to Drive Sales and Create Brand Loyalists During the Holidays

Both in-store and digital retail offer valuable lessons

There's much to be learned from both in-store and digital retail during the holidays. Getty Images

Looking back on holiday shopping season, it’s important to recognize that retailers must be prepared not just to inspire consumers, but also to exceed their expectations, drive sales and build long-term loyalty. While these are daunting challenges, they can be overcome if merchants give people an experience they’ll enjoy while serving their needs.

The path to purchase has never been more complicated, with consumers using media in an increasingly fragmented fashion. The internet is the top channel when it comes to product discovery, as 80 percent of shoppers search for products online before purchasing them offline. On the other hand, consumers’ store visits drive online purchases as often as 55 percent of the time. And retailers can no longer afford to rely heavily on Google to drive sales as 49 percent of online shoppers visit Amazon first, with search engines taking 36 percent and retailers getting 15 percent.

Retailers need to use all the cross-channel tools at their disposal leading up to the purchase and beyond. Even in this complex environment, I believe success the holiday season can be broken down into two key moments.

Build anticipation that works offline and online

Holiday shoppers have an incredible amount of options from traditional and startup retailers alike.

Buzz is a huge part of marketing during the holidays because the media landscape is ridiculously cluttered due to retailers trying to maximize sales while consumers are busy getting their shopping done. In the U.K., holiday TV ads are akin to Super Bowl commercials, generating massive amounts of online chatter that push sales for brands with the winning spots. In the States, thanks largely to traditional media coverage, we get up in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday to take advantage of epic discounts at places like Walmart and Best Buy. Digitally, we do much of the same on Cyber Monday, a 24-hour period that reached $6.59 billion across ecommerce last year.

Retaining these customers—keeping those eager shoppers coming back in January and beyond—has always been a major challenge for brands. Fortunately, there are tactics that retailers can borrow from that will help not only attract first-time purchasers but regular patrons.

In September, Nordstrom teamed with Arielle Charnas, a social media influencer behind the fashion blog Something Navy. The effort was so popular that on launch day, Nordstrom’s site crashed in the first hour. The retailer then encouraged frustrated customers to go into a store location if they weren’t able to get what they wanted online. Charnas made visits to Nordstrom stores in Toronto and Dallas during the same week of the launch, in what a rep for the retailer later called “the most successful collaboration we’ve had.” While it wasn’t an ideal online customer experience, Nordstrom still showed the power of using online and offline channels together to find new customers and make them fans of its brand.

The same kind of tack could be applied to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The Nordstrom-Charnas duo underscores how retailers can combine digital messaging and offline retail into serious foot traffic and how this traffic can set the groundwork for brand loyalty.

Helpful follow-up

After building interest and making a sale, it’s imperative to follow up with new customers, whether they buy in-store or online, and provide helpful information that’s relevant to their purchase. A follow-up email doesn’t have to be fancy, especially considering that 61 percent of people said “a simple thank you” matters most, more so than including personalized recommendations, information on how to use the product better or examples of how others are using the product.

The post-purchase customer experience is more critical than what happens between consumers and brands beforehand, according to IBM research. This idea is backed up by additional research that stays that 54 percent of consumers will give repeat business to a retailer that accurately predicts the date their package will arrive. Also, the age-old business concept known as service recovery remains important, as 77 percent of consumers will return to a merchant that resends lost or damaged items with expedited shipping.

Rent the Runway, the subscription-based fashion clothier that lends out its items, has the post-purchase game down pat. When a customer returns a dress or a garment, the brand’s website asks her how many times she’s worn it, to what kind of occasion, whether she enjoyed wearing it, etc. These answers help personalize the homepage for the next time she visits. This powerful tactic should be applied to the holiday mindset, which too often has been about moving the sales needle instead of starting customer relationships.

Provide the experience customers want

In today’s marketplace, holiday shoppers have an incredible amount of options from traditional and startup retailers alike. When it comes to making a strong impression on consumers, think about two moments of truth.

First, attract new customers by giving them a branded introduction that stands out from their day-to-day experiences with your competition. Second, be customer-minded by offering helpful communications such as timely order updates, delivery confirmation and relevant, personalized information after the purchase, which is a critical moment in the customer experience that can be even more important to building brand loyalty than the sale itself.

By combining these two moments of truth, holiday shopping season can be transformed into a lifetime relationship.

@amitbol Amit Sharma is CEO and founder of Narvar.