What does Christmas mean to you? Fun with the family? A garish jumper at the office party? Hearing the same four or five songs on the radio over and over again?
If you’re in retail, or working for a big name brand, it probably means your busiest time of the year. One that you’ll see backed up with a huge consumer advertising campaign that aims to position your business as the high street embodiment of Christmas spirit. A place where dreams are made, mulled wine flows like water, and where every customer is met with a big smile and a mince pie.
The Christmas advertising showdown is becoming a bigger deal every year. Some brands are now spending more on their annual festive story than others do on their entire year’s marketing efforts. The 2015 John Lewis ad (the one with the man on the moon) cost double what it took to make It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s easy to forget that in the midst of the heartstring pulling and turkey toting, the in-store experience needs to match the sentiment expressed on the telly. It’s no use suggesting that the store feels all warm and fuzzy, only to give consumers a lump of coal when they make the journey in – which is certainly a risk if all the Christmas marketing spend goes on the advert, rather than the experience.
Instead, the shop floor has to be every bit as engaging, emotionally positive and cheering as what’s shown on screen. To do that, businesses need to put the effort in to ensure that Christmas cheer exists across their brand, something they can do by listening to customers and acting on their feedback.
All I want for Christmas, is queues
Emotions run high at Christmas. Even with the rise of online retail, our shopping centres and high streets are busy with consumers seeking out gifts, spending money and trying to figure out what to buy Auntie Nora. For businesses, that means queues and bustling shops; and while the Brits are famously good at standing in line, there does come a point at which the waiting might turn into whinging.
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The trouble is that businesses want and need the queues. Christmas is responsible for a disproportionate amount of profit in every industry (even if it does now begin in July). High demand means that things are working and the ad campaigns are bringing people in.
But these businesses also need to keep people happy as they navigate a frenetic and festive environment of long lines, and perhaps even disappointment at the checkout when the must-have toy of the year is sold out. In short, it’s a challenge of keeping customers happy in what would at any other time of the year be unhappy conditions.
This is where customer emotion over a company survey really triumphs. The blunt metrics and questions of a survey can’t really tell a business what it needs to know about shopper satisfaction during Christmas.
Just think about a questionnaire asking people if they were served quickly and got the product they wanted. The answer to both of those questions could well be negative, but the customer might have had a positive experience nonetheless, because of great customer service and a cheerful atmosphere. On the other side, it may be that the customer left with what they wanted but found their experience to be so fraught and uninspiring that they wouldn't come back again.
For these reasons, it’s common sense to partner the ad spend with some investment around the in-store experience, plus the ability to measure it. Not least because Christmas is the ideal time of year to catch the sentiment of hundreds of customers – including the ones who usually keep their opinions to themselves.
Silent (shopper) night
By its nature, Christmas brings all sorts into shops and retail spaces. With that comes the
opportunity to hear from the people a business might not regularly interact with, and to
understand more about what they loved and loathed during their experience.
Using listening posts, businesses can allow shoppers to feed back in their language whenever it's convenient – be that emoji, pictures or jingle bells – and on their channel of choice, which could be anything from Facebook Messenger, to Snapchat, to SMS. In doing so, businesses can open up a dialogue with their customer base and gain a better understanding of what’s working and what might be done better in the future.
Listening posts are ideal for the festive period because there'll be a huge influx of customers engaging with you at different touchpoints and in different ways. By strategically placing them across each journey you'll be able to remove any effort or friction, for example, if the Christmas temps are filling in the surveys by asking customers about their experience, it's going to be incredibly taxing. This allows businesses to focus on providing a great experience, then use the data they’re gaining from their customers to tweak and refine things over time (or even in time for the Boxing Day sales!).
Raving home for Christmas
There’s no underestimating the importance of Christmas. A good year can make a business. A bad one can break it. So, it’s vital that everyone leaves work on 24 December secure in the knowledge that their customers are Raving about their visit.
That’s why the big promises made in Christmas ads and marketing have to be backed up with equally joyous and engaging in-store experiences, developed and honed through solutions that tell businesses what they’re doing well and what needs work. But businesses have to own doing this, embracing technologies and mentalities that will help them to understand and engage their customers. It’s up to them to make sure that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.