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Walking the Talk
The Cost of Convenience:
Is Holiday Shopping Undermining Our Communities?

Yes, Virginia … There is a way to deliver both convenience and community this holiday season. It requires brands and retailers to lead with purpose, knowing that profit — both short- (i.e., purchases) and long-term (customer loyalty) — will follow.

The holiday season is traditionally the most commercial time of the year for retail — an opportunity to indulge consumers' increased spending; and in some cases, atone for prior missteps and salvage marketing plans in hopes of meeting annual targets.

Ironically, the holidays are also a critical period for nonprofits and charitable organizations, with 30 percent of annual charitable donations taking place in December and 10 percent in the last three days of the year!

A season unlike any other

No surprise, then, that 2020 offers a slightly different outlook, as consumer spending is down significantly; with many shoppers — particularly older cohorts — upping their savings given the uncertain economic, social and political climate.

Support from donors is especially critical for nonprofits during a crisis such as the pandemic. Thankfully, 74 percent of US donors plan to maintain or increase their giving levels this year — opting to contribute financially, as volunteering their time is no longer an option.

Creating the best holiday shopping experience

Influencing sustainable consumer behaviors ... how's that going?

Read the latest Sociocultural Trend Tracker research from our Brands for Good collaboratory and The Harris Poll — which examines consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, as well as brand trust scores during this unprecedented confluence of societal crises.

Faced with the challenges of COVID-induced shutdowns and reduced spending this holiday shopping season, how should brands and retailers rethink the customer experience?

Three core shopper needs motivate purchase behavior, especially during the holiday season: availability, convenience and value. Hit the mark on all three and you've delivered a consistently amazing customer experience and are generating sustainable revenue.

Assuming (and hoping) that strained supply chains around the world can get packages where they need to be on time, let's focus on the last two elements: convenience and value. On the surface, it appears that they're diametrically opposed to one another — the first focused on immediate benefit, while the other is a longer-term shift in consumer preference — making it seemingly impossible, as some experts believe, to deliver both profitably.

If that's the case, how should brands and retailers adapt to this new reality? Let's explore each side of the argument to tackle this challenge.

Convenience conquers all

Over time, the e-commerce experience has conditioned consumers to shop on "auto-pilot" — prioritizing convenience and efficiency (e.g., fewest number of clicks) above all else, sacrificing experience and leaving little opportunity to "surprise & delight" shoppers through product discovery or curation.

With digital sales projected to represent 30 percent of total retail sales globally this holiday shopping season*,* expectations for hyper convenience are even higher. Store closures, desire to avoid shipping fees and delays, and avoidance of in-store trips for health reasons have carried these expectations over to the growing number of orders fulfilled through curbside pickup.

Sustainability has changed how consumers define value

While the need for convenience primarily delivers a personal benefit, today's consumers — led by Gen Z and millennials — have redefined what value means to them. It goes beyond their own individual needs, with extra consideration as to how their shopping behavior impacts the environment, their community and society as a whole — for example, the amount of waste created from product manufacturing and packaging. Holding themselves accountable to this new standard, they also demand impact-oriented brands that represent who they are and what they believe in — seeking alignment with their own values when making a purchase — and are quite happy to punish those that don’t.

This holiday season, for many that means supporting their communities — particularly local businesses and essential services personnel — through donations and targeted spending at local shops hit hard by the pandemic.

Balancing purpose with profit

Personal benefit vs. societal impact, immediate vs. sustainable gratification … How do brands and retailers balance convenience and community to deliver a winning customer experience for shoppers this season?

Brands and retailers must adapt their standard holiday practices, embedding sustainability and connecting brand purpose into their value proposition. By connecting purpose to profit, help shoppers escape the ordinariness of today's shopping reality — largely filtered through the lens of utilitarian e-commerce experiences — creating moments that matter across the customer journey by guiding them to discover small, but meaningful ways to make the world a better place.

Here are five recommendations to win with purpose this holiday shopping season:

  1. Expand from behavioral to values-based audience segmentation

Faced with the new reality of a cookie-free digital world, brands and retailers must react to reduced precision from targeted advertising based on cross-site behavior. In response, ramp up the importance and application of consumer values — articulating what really matters to consumers, beyond product or service, to include relevant issues such as sustainability, social responsibility, and environmental impact — into their data analytics practices. Capturing and integrating this data into existing data platforms, then using it to segment their target audiences, can go a long way in easing the sting — by providing a clearer view on consumers' passions and creating engaging customer experiences that positively influence their purchase behavior.

  1. Personalize your cause portfolio with "thoughtful purchasing" options

Given their lower budgets for spending this year, charitable giving offers shoppers the perfect means to increase the value of their holiday gifts through donations, in the name of loved ones, to causes that matter to them. As a result, they'll seek out brands and retailers that will enable that sharing; and also demonstrate a commitment to those causes, increasing value through social impact.

We talk about personalization with regards to product and advertising content, so why not look at causes and charitable giving in the same fashion? Aligned to consumer values and your own brand purpose, explore opportunities to expand the portfolio of causes you promote, allowing shoppers to choose the cause that's important to them and support through their purchase.

  1. Be authentic and transparent

Brands and retailers must ensure that the connection to these causes feels credible and authentic; otherwise, they risk being accused of "greenwashing" and causing shoppers to tune them out.

Offer transparency into funds you've collectively raised by sharing tracking information, demonstrating the projected impact for society. Platforms such as Pledgeling can help automate fundraising efforts, visualizing and sharing impact with consumers in real time.

  1. Activate purpose at the digital shelf

Digital will continue to play a growing role this holiday season across all phases of the customer journey, as more shoppers plan to browse for gift ideas online. However, as mentioned earlier, the online shopping experience is designed to deliver speed and convenience, not inspiration.

Consider the typical product detail page (PDP) on online marketplaces — the place where most online shoppers get their product content. It follows a pretty standard formula: product image, price, description, ingredients, size & weight at the top of the page, with key visuals and supporting copy relegated to "below the fold." While this approach works well once shoppers have made a decision to buy, it does little to help them discover and learn about new products earlier in the customer journey, or inspire them to purchase again and share the experience with others. 

Leverage purpose-led messaging — articulating what you stand for — to connect these disjointed touchpoints. Ladder up from messaging focused exclusively on the product and the benefits it delivers, to tell a story about the societal value shoppers can create through their purchases.

From there, optimize elements on the PDP to introduce related products, bundling into a holistic solution that supports this story — simplifying shoppers' lives and bringing joy into their lives through their purchases (buy + do good).

Check out companies such as Salsify and Rich Context to create interactive and shoppable experiences online using enhanced content.

  1. Reimagine the curbside customer experience

It isn't just about online. Knowing the massive role that curbside pickup will play this holiday shopping season, showcase your commitment to causes by creating participatory experiences that allow shoppers to get directly involved in the issues they care about, while picking up their purchase. It can be as simple as a clothing or food drive, as long as it creates an emotional connection. Repurpose your allocated exterior space, adapting point-of-purchase merchandising inside or outside the store (front entrance, parking lots) to create an interactive experience for your shoppers, aligned to the key cause. Use it as a means to educate shoppers on your brand purpose and how that supports the cause selected, while involving them directly through volunteering on-site if they choose.

Yes, Virginia …

There is a way to deliver both convenience and community this holiday season. It requires brands and retailers to lead with purpose, knowing that profit — both short- (i.e., purchases) and long-term (customer loyalty) — will follow.

To make this happen, ground your overall value proposition in brand purpose - getting crystal clear on what your brand stands for, how your beliefs align with consumers' values, and how collectively you can advance the causes you both believe in through action. That action can be as simple as what you sell and the experience you offer, giving shoppers immediate and sustainable gratification by helping them feel good about their purchases while making a positive change in the world.

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