How to create a magical customer experience this Christmas

23 November 2021, 07:43 AM
  • Ready for a merry Christmas? Stuart Gates, retail consultant at The Seasoned Grocer, tells Speciality Food how shop owners can make the season sparkle
How to create a magical customer experience this Christmas

For as long as I can remember (and even before that), the Christmas displays, the twinkling shop windows and festive features were an exciting and key part of the whole Christmas shopping experience. Last year, with all the uncertainty and fear around Covid, all the festivities were dumbed down, or certainly reduced, so perhaps this year some seasonal “sparkle” is needed to entice people back to shops, markets or online, and it will need everybody in the food retail sector working together to achieve it.

At the time of penning this article, the news is filled with worried parents stressed about whether they will get the latest Squeakee Dino, or other most desired toy. This has meant that Christmas shoppers are out and about already, so retailers must be ready to entice and delight them to spend.

December will be as busy as ever for food shopping. We hear of anticipated shortages of certain favourite seasonal items but, if this turns out to be the case, that can create opportunities for interest in other ranges. This is where bricks and mortar shops and markets have an advantage over online shopping. Be ready to host tastings, create and share recipes, build eye-catching displays, suggest pairings, offer up your experience and create a safe and joyful space for shoppers. In short, bring some seasonal pizazz and entertainment to the shopping experience for your customers.

Entertaining at home will continue to be a trend, so people will be wanting bright ideas and solutions. Foodie cheese boards, charcuterie platters, nibbles, sweetmeats and, of course, a variety of drinks that they can impress and delight their friends and family. It will be a retailing sin to run out of these items.

Producers should contact their retailers in advance to check on stocks held and to help with ideas to attract browsing shoppers. This planning applies to everybody. I always say, “success is planned, failure just happens”. I once got in huge trouble as a young buyer for running out of key items in December and got some sharp, but helpful, advice from the Merchandise Director: “Can I remind you it’s Christmas and I am giving you 12 months’ notice to get ready as it will happen again next year”. Lesson learnt!

Producers need retailers and customers and vice versa. As in all relationships the danger can be that things can get a bit too predictable. Great producers (no matter what size they are) should always put themselves in the retailers or hamper companies’ shoes and look to create that key buzz – sparkle that will attract a shopper. Clever NPD, varying product size, seasonal flavours, tastings, offers, competitions, social media support, the list is endless, but my advice would be for producers and retailers to communicate and see what can work for each other. I have had both the pleasure and pain of working with hundreds, if not thousands, of producers over some 40 years. Meetings come and go, but those producers who put extra thought or planning into keeping the relationship fresh are the ones that build an enjoyable and enduring business relationship.

Christmas or holiday shopping events have always been about the customer experience, and this creates an opportunity to allow customers to meet producers from artisan food companies. The retailer can offer the space and venue, and while it is no longer a unique event to meet the maker it is one that works time and time again. Shoppers appreciate it when producers can talk to people and offer samples, and I absolutely believe it is worth the time and effort. Yes, people are busy, but I suggest producers and retailers try and factor in the time. It all adds to building the entertainment factor for the shoppers and, once again, this is an area where real-life shops and markets have an advantage over online.

Something that may not add to the magic to the customer experience, but will certainly bring joy to a business relationship, is being a good efficient partner. Take care with stocks or dates, advise of any delays or shortages and always offer solutions to problems foreseen, as this will pay dividends. Christmas Week is a long week, and nobody wants to be left with excess stocks, but nerves must be held and there will be last minute requests, so everybody needs to be prepared and ready for that Christmas Eve rush.

Lastly, do not forget about New Year. So often, producers let out a huge sigh of relief and relax after all the Christmas running around, but the period leading up to January 1st is always a busy time for food, sparkling drinks and celebrating! Producers need to be proactive about whether they plan to open or remain closed between Christmas and New Year.

Do let everybody know your timings in advance, see how you can help your retail stockists with advance deliveries and plan, plan, plan. Have a great Christmas season, and may 2022 sparkle brightly for you!

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