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A positive shopping experience plays an integral role in enticing consumers to spend time in your store over the multiples. Particularly during the busy and competitive festive period, and during a time when a safe and enjoyable customer journey is key to improving consumer confidence and brand loyalty, how can you boost this asset for Christmas 2020?
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen numerous businesses in the food and drinks sector get creative, from drive-thru PYOs, to recipe boxes. So how can retailers and brands use creativity to their advantage come Christmas?
“This year, more than ever, will be about recreating that emotional connection between our consumers and their food choices, and bringing to the fore how food is a wonderful way to spend time with loved ones, which is something we are all feeling has been lost somewhat this year with the pandemic,” Linda Barrie, founder and chocolatier at Choc Affair tells us.
While it’s a special time of year, this festive period we could see more of a “cautious Christmas”, as Linda says, owing to the uncertainty over employment and the state of the economy overall.
“I think that our consumers are going to make more careful purchasing decisions, spend less than they traditionally do at this time of year and delay that spending until closer to the date, trying to maximise on any potential sales,” Linda says.
“We need to look at how we can appeal to the customers we’ve served so well throughout the challenge of COVID-19, so they stay with us rather than to go back to old habits of convenience.”
Creating magical moments
We’ve seen various trends emerge as a result of people spending more time at home, including cooking from scratch, experimenting with recipes and exploring new cuisines – and these trends offer a unique opportunity for food businesses as Christmas rolls around.
“During the pandemic, food assumed an even more important role in day-to-day life,” George Fuller, chairman of Craft Bakers Association (CBA), says. “During lockdown, consumers started shopping locally more frequently and paying greater attention to the provenance of the food. Many of us also spent more time online, looking for information and inspiration on what to eat, as well as shopping online. All of these trends are expected to continue and offer businesses an opportunity to tap into over the festive season – whether that’s raising their profile online, ensuring that they are telling the story of their produce or offering ideas for festive bakes that can be bought locally.
“In a recent survey* carried out amongst members of the CBA, 60% of respondents said that ‘sweet treats’ were amongst their most popular products during lockdown, as people looked to indulge. This demand for small but affordable luxuries, such as handmade cakes and pastries with proven provenance, is set to continue into the festive season, so incorporate this into your seasonal offering.”
When it comes to being creative, it’s also worth thinking beyond the physical products you’re selling.
“As well as highlighting the great taste and quality of products, be sure to share the stories of the ingredients used, the products themselves and the people who make them,” George says.
“Nervousness around sharing food may continue into the festive season, too. For this reason, you could include individual or mini portions in your product selection. Christmas cakes and puddings all work well as individual servings, as do savoury options such as mini quiches and savoury pies and pastries.”
Spreading good cheer
During lockdown, many people will have missed being able to spend time with loved ones, so restrictions permitting, quality family time is set to be a big focus this Christmas. This brings with it some creative opportunities for those in the industry, from bakeries and food brands, to retailers.
George recommends offering food boxes for groups of different numbers. These could be filled with treats like rolls and mince pies, personalised and delivered to customer’s doors. In-store, consider a selection of sweet and savoury treats as well as Christmas-themed takeaways such as sandwiches with festive fillings.
Linda adds, “There’s opportunity for our food retailers to communicate that this Christmas is about sharing a meal together, rather than traditional gift-giving, so creating a message around making your gift one of buying the Christmas turkey, the wine, and so on, and then as a retailer, dressing it up with a big red bow and delivering it with a handwritten message on behalf of the giver.”
‘Tis the season to spend
The pandemic has had a big financial impact on many people, and the effects of this are likely to continue over the coming months. While industry insiders are predicting that consumers will still want to indulge in premium products, George suggests that highlighting promotions both in-store and online could help boost sales. It’s also worth putting a spotlight on product benefits – such as local specialities or products made with locally-sourced ingredients – to spread the message behind each item and increase the sense of value.
For Linda, adding value for customers is all about those unexpected treats that will put a smile on someone’s face: “It could be that we encourage larger basket values with a little giveaway with purchases over a certain monetary amount, that the customer can then give on as a gift, but it’s not actually cost them anything. Our small themed greeting bars, for example, are perfect to pop in with a Christmas card as a little treat to show someone you care, and as a freebie for our customers makes them feel valued and encourages them to increase their basket spend.
“We are also looking at ways we can do more with our loyalty scheme to encourage repeat custom. And for the first time in 14 years, we’re looking at a product range specifically for our online customers around experiences to share with friends and family. We’re hoping to be able to tell the story of some of our cocoa farmers and their families, and again, communicate this within each order we send out, so that we can engage our customers in understanding that their purchasing choices matter.”
A season to indulge
While many may be nervous about the uncertainty that still surrounds COVID-19 as Christmas approaches, keep in mind that customers will be as eager to keep a sense of normalcy and tradition around the festive period as you are – and this could help you gauge what types of products to stock and how to sell them.
“Consumers will be keen to indulge, so ensure you include a range of handmade sweet and savoury treats such as mince pies, Christmas cakes, pies and quiches and where possible, offer individual or mini versions,” George says.
“With everyone spending more time online, ensure your website and social media channels are kept up to date with both key information and inspiration. Highlight the great taste and quality of products on social media to tempt customers and ensure your social media channels are kept updated with great visuals. We know consumers are shopping more locally and placing greater emphasis on community, and social media is also a great way to celebrate the individual personalities and your place in that community.”
An e-commerce Christmas
Being creative goes beyond the products you offer and methods of sale. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, building up a strong digital platform can boost customer spend, help you reach new customers, and grow your brand image.
“For the majority of retailers, gaining and sustaining brand loyalty is particularly important over the festive period when consumers are spending big. And following a very challenging year for the retail sector, this Christmas is set to be particularly vital to win back some of the lost revenue,” says Courtney Roe, head of global content strategy at Widen.
“Reliability, value, availability, familiarity, and navigability are all crucial to building a special shopping experience and boost your brand following – and all can be achieved through effective management of digital assets.
“A Christmas promotion on your homepage, for instance, must be easy for a shopper to locate across other relevant sections of your site. The richness of the digital content you offer is also a key consideration and should include video, social media share buttons, detailed product descriptions, 360-degree product views, and — to stand out from the crowd — next-gen content like augmented reality and chatbots.”
This year, more than ever, the quality of your digital channels will be vital to your success. Many food businesses will likely have fast-tracked their online arm when lockdown hit, with some setting up a web store in a matter of days. While these changes may have happened more quickly than many businesses may have liked, as Courtney says, “the need for ready access to product information, straightforward management of accurate data and visibility of operations, has been a long time coming”, so any investments you make in the digital side of your business are likely to pay off. But your digital strategy doesn’t have to stop at an online shop.
“Retailers investing in digital transformation should consider the value of apps, which help to improve customer experience both online and offline,” Courtney says. “The benefit is consumer safety through social distancing, plus a bonus for retailers: they can gain more data and insights into their consumers. Retailers should also consider how they will meet customer demand in a market with a disrupted supply chain. If retailers can suggest alternative brands, or improve their estimates on when products will be back in stock, customers may be tempted to wait instead of looking elsewhere.”
The ways in which you use creativity to your advantage will of course differ. By identifying the strengths of your business and tapping into consumer trends, you could provide a memorable customer experience that will make this Christmas truly special.
*Craft Bakers Association (CBA) Member survey, June 2020. 40 respondents.