There are a lot of considerations that go into crafting the perfect holiday spirit, and likewise, the perfect shopping experience. Shoppers engage with your brand through all of their senses, so it is important to utilize every opportunity to create a lasting impression. Mood Media creates immersive customer experiences through the right combination of sight, sound, scent, and social solutions. Danny Turner, global SVP, creative programming for Mood Media says oftentimes the holiday season is “the first brand exposure for a future customer, the very first impression that you’re creating.” First impressions can make or break your relationship with a prospective customer, so it is important to bring your customer experience A-game, especially during the holiday season.
Jaime Bettencourt, SVP of business development for Mood Media says the first step is determining your strategy. “What is your strategy and what are all the components you can use to help you create that branded experience?” Having a set strategy and vision for your brand helps keep your efforts authentic and cohesive. Danny explains, “Just because it is the holiday season does not mean that you should throw all other strategies out of the window because of the calendar.”
He continues, “A lot of times we see that holiday strategies are more reactionary and compulsory. The most important thing is to have a strategy and to be proactive in your drive to appeal to all the senses.” In other words, it may be July, but in order to craft the perfect customer experience for holiday shoppers, you need to start planning now.
“Visual elements are a great way to create emotional connections between brands and consumers,” says Jaime. Danny continues, “when you look at ways to make the store environment more inclusive, overhead messaging is a great way to reinforce pushes for interactivity whether that is promoting a campaign or loyalty program.”
Digital signage can be a great asset if right for your brand. “We want to have tech not for tech’s sake, it has to make sense and tell the right story,” says Jaime. Independent retailers, in particular, are great at using digital signage to engage with customers over classes, events, or “did you know” type moments. “Some brands lend themselves really well to storytelling,” says Jaime. “Displaying a curated selection, telling a product history, or a social good story behind an item — it all goes back to the essential questions: What is your strategy?” Digital signage is more adaptive than printed signage, so it is a smart investment as long as you can keep the signage fresh, relevant, and up to date.
“Sound is singularly one of the most evocative mediums we can use,” says Danny. “There are all sorts of direct connections with sounds and memories and there’s something magical that sound presents. Everyone has an associative memory for sound and everyone is looking to connect.” Visual merchandising probably receives the most attention. But, that doesn’t mean the other senses should be ignored. Putting thought into the type of music and auditory messaging you present is just as important.
When it comes to the holiday season, almost every store used to start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. But, “this perspective has shifted quite significantly over the last 10 years,” says Danny. “Now there are so many considerations. First, is holiday music part of my brand experience? From there, is it holiday music 100 percent of the time, or a measured methodology where you introduce holiday songs slowly?” asks Danny. Another consideration is the religious aspect. “We’ve seen a decided shift towards non-religious holiday music so the music is more reflective of the general season,” says Danny.
“Scent is heavily tied to memory so it’s a great differentiator for people,” says Jaime. The right scent can induce pleasant nostalgia, and help distinguish your store from the competition. “In terms of selecting the right scent, we go through a similar imaging process to make the sure the fragrance suits the brand. For example, you’re not going to put a heavy gourmand fragrance in a bank.” Jaime says one of the best things you can do is utilize a fragranced item you are already selling in your store, especially if it is a personalized fragrance. “From a holiday perspective you can go really literal,” such as pine or gingerbread, “or you can have a more standard contemporary scent. It’s about what will be most inviting and memorable for your particular space.”
Touch is so important because it is another sensory advantage brick and mortar has over online shopping. Savvy retailers know that displays with products that customers can touch, feel, and hold will perform better than products displays customers can’t physically interact with. Harvard Business Review says, “Physically holding products can create a sense of psychological ownership, driving must-have purchase decisions.” Holding products encourages shoppers to buy because they feel ownership over that thing. But interpersonal touch can play a role too. “Interpersonal touch, such as a handshake or a light pat on the shoulder, can lead people to feel safer and subsequently spend and consume more.”
Temperature control is another element to consider. Blasting the heat in the winter can seem like a good idea, but many shoppers packed into your store with bulky jackets and hats can lead to a stuffy and uncomfortable shopping experience. According to a New York Times article, one mistake retailers often make is catering the temperature to employees rather than shoppers. For example, your employees may be in pants and a sweater, but your customers will be lugging around more layers in the winter.
Relatively speaking, taste is one of the most underdeveloped human senses. We can only distinguish between bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and umami. Some retailers offer sweets for browsing shoppers, others offer a glass of wine or champagne. Sip and shop events are especially popular. Engage shoppers by offering an in-store happy hour while you debut new product collections. Whatever you decide, the most important part is making sense for your brand. Jaime says, “Have a strong position through all the five senses and a strategy that you can point back to and say ‘okay, this is what I’m trying to accomplish, this is my ‘why.’” For some retailers, it might make sense to go with a holiday theme and offer gingerbread or cranberry flavored items. For others it may not.
“Shopping has taken on a significant social component,” says Danny “especially socializing that experience of product discovery.” He explains that younger generations are likely to develop brand affinity and receive brand recommendations through social channels. “Especially around the holidays, tying together in-store social components with online to bring people into your store is so important. All of these things are interconnected.”
Jaime says, “Everyone is on their phone at some point” when in your store. So if you can find a way to interact with them while they are on mobile, it makes sense to do so. This can be an app that lets shoppers make store music recommendations or find products and search inventory, view customization options, or whatever makes the most sense for your store and your products. But, Jaime says, “from an independent perspective, it is more about using social media to drive people to your store.”
Overall, independent retailers have many advantages over chain stores when it comes to providing the ultimate customer experience. “Indies are better able to reflect the subtleties and nuances of a local culture,” says Danny. “There’s a lot more intimacy in terms of the customer relationship, and that’s really something you want to utilize.” Jaime continues, “Independent stores can pivot a lot quicker. Big brands set their strategy and execute and that is it. Indies can change, adjust, and move on the fly to evaluate what’s working and that’s an absolute advantage.” Start now to create a customer experience strategy to entice and retain shoppers throughout the holiday season and into 2019. There is a lot of creativity that goes into crafting an environment, but in the end, it is all about what is profitable. As Mr. J.B. Baxter says in Christmas in July, “After all, this is a business institution, not a cultural project.”