Insights 2020: Our 3 Most Popular Blogs - Medallion Retail
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Strategy, In-store Experience, Signage, Display, Brand Building, In-Store Signage, Print Signage

Insights 2020: Our 3 Most Popular Blogs

POSTED ON: 11/30/20

To say that 2020 was a year of endless challenges and accelerated changes would be an understatement.  However, in the face of such tumult, one core truth has remained consistent:  that those retailers best able to identify and meet the evolving needs of their customers will continue to succeed.

With the holidays upon us, and a new year just beyond the horizon, we thought we would take a moment to reflect on 2020 by sharing our 3 most popular blog posts of the past year.

Wishing you and yours a safe holiday season!


Unique Times = Unique Marketing

A funny thing about being housebound is that even routine activities can rouse new interest. Take the daily mail. In normal times, consumers would likely flip through it and set it aside. But these days, postal workers are considered essential and people are going out of their way to thank them. That can make deliveries from the outside world seem that much more compelling. And that means these unique times could be the perfect time to reach your customer with a new approach.

While consumers are ingesting a huge amount of online exchanges, some brands have found a renewed interest in more traditional methods for their marketing outreaches, citing their ability to tell the brand’s story with much more depth and range.

These strategies aren’t replacing the online experience. Rather, they’re enhancing and reinforcing it. Especially when an old-school marketing technique — like direct mail — is married with technology that has found success on other media platforms like television or social media.

Take, for example, a recent social media and TV ad from Mount Sinai Hospital that appeals for COVID-19-related donations. The ad prominently features a round QR code to the side of the screen. Viewers are prompted to open the camera on their smartphone and scan the code, which brings them directly to the donation page.

Another commercial that makes use of a QR code comes from Pray.com, which encourages viewers to “decompress with uplifting content” simply by downloading the app via the code on the TV screen. And in a commercial from Tezza, a photo and video editing app for iPhone users, an eye-catching QR code brings users directly to the App Store for a seamless download.

In each of these cases, brands figured out that the television experience need not be static. Instead, they drew on interactive marketing to increase consumer engagement. You could use that same approach with direct mail. A QR code could be overlaid onto a marketing piece, providing a seamless and immediate connection that takes the consumer to a whole host of destination points. These journeys are all about telling a more in-depth and compelling story about your brand, your offerings and your value.

The idea is to give consumers a choice about pulling information about a brand and its offerings, rather than being bombarded with it. Online is fine but having a choice is important, even under “normal” circumstances. Right now, at a time when your audience might feel it doesn’t have many choices at all, it becomes especially important. And more brands are recognizing this.

Vuori, a California-based men’s and women’s performance apparel brand, got its start in ecommerce but quickly expanded to brick and mortar stores. The online presence drove traffic to retail locations and vice versa. But the company wanted a way to increase traffic and tell its story without the limitation of the one or two screen images that come with paid social ads.

In a recent interview with emarketer.com, Vuori’s Joe Kudla, founder, says a direct mail catalog really conveys the brand’s message.

“[It’s] what sets you apart,” he says. “There’s a lot more storytelling. Being a company with a lot of items that we’re proud of, we love the catalog for that reason.”

And again, the catalog — the tangible marketing piece — can employ a QR code to bring consumers right the brand’s website. A code’s destination points could also include videos demonstrating your brand in action. Or it could provide special promotions like a discount with first purchase. Additionally, it could bring users to contest sign-ups, games or seasonally driven campaigns.

This type of engagement not only turns one-way messaging into interactive marketing, but it’s virtually limitless in its capacity to tell a story and engage with targeted customers in ways that are both meaningful and measurable. Each time consumers engage and scan the QR code, they’re immediately confirming receipt of the mailing. Beyond that, effective analytics can track the factors that are most important and resonate with them. Finding out what is really relevant is almost as important as the sale because it offers the opportunity to grow and develop your customer relationship. In the end, that connection is necessary for increasing traffic, improving and optimizing your conversion rate, and growing your sales.

Clearly, print need not be one-dimensional. It has the capacity, when combined with technology, to turn a one-way encounter into a two-way engagement — and relationship. And in a climate where consumers may very well be bleary-eyed with digital fatigue, print can be viewed as another channel of opportunity. Medallion Retail has been in the retail marketing business for more than 56 years. And there’s a reason for this. Let us show you how we envision print evolving into a two-way conversation with your customers.


New Norms/New Pathways to Purchase

As Stores Reopen: 5 Points of Consideration

Sometimes out of crisis, there arises opportunity. COVID-19 forced a shutdown for most retailers across the nation. Now, as many brick-and-mortar stores plan their reopenings, they’re realizing just how much of a whole new world it really is out there. Merchants have to assess their own situations and then prove to consumers theirs is a safe and inviting environment in this new physically challenging and restrictive world.

report from Cowen, the financial services firm, found consumer sentiment toward most establishments has fallen into negative territory, according to Adweek.

“People feel less safe about reentering pretty much every category we track,” Cowen’s John Blackledge, managing director and senior research analyst, told Adweek.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating the lowest sense of safety and 10 being the highest, Cowen found concert venues have decreased from 4.5 in mid-April to 3.5 in mid-May. Restaurants and bars slipped from 5.4 to 4.6. Gyms went from 4.8 to 3.8. Retail stores, though, remained relatively flat, ebbing from 5.8 to 5.2 which means shoppers are about evenly split on whether or not they feel safe returning to stores once they reopen.

Addressing consumer concerns is made all the more hard because the pandemic took everything the industry knew about the typical shopping journey and threw it out the window. Identifying the latest effective methodologies is limited because not only have so few stores been open or reopened for business, but also the new “best practices” are being created, shaped and tweaked as we speak.

Medallion Retail has identified five points of consideration in what we’re calling the New Pathways to Purchase. Each reopening approach will likely vary a bit, with some executing it better and more effectively than others. But to be successful, it’s imperative that innovation and agility be at the forefront.

Currently, the only guidelines most stores have to work with are from the CDC regarding mask-wearing, handwashing and maintaining social distance. That leaves merchants on their own to rethink and recalibrate the shopper experience, something that may be particularly challenging for sectors like apparel and beauty, where touch is so fundamental to the shopping journey.

To get started on establishing your own best practices, Medallion suggests stores consider the New Pathways to Purchase:

1. Know Your Customer (And Which Approach is Best)

Stores need to understand the mission of the shopper. Shopping used to be an enjoyable experience, but now many people are looking to just get what they need and leave as soon as possible. A recent article in Chain Store Age points out how the coronavirus has changed shopper behavior at the grocery store. The foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai ran a study that showed consumers are more “mission-driven” and use each store visit to get as much done as possible.

The Placer.ai study also showed that shopping has shifted, decreasing on the weekends while increasing Monday through Thursday, according to the CSA article. The company also found that shopping has clearly shifted to the morning, between 6am and 11am Shopping from 11am to 4pm stayed fairly level, but evening traffic between 4pm and 9pm saw a significant decrease.

Changes in shopping behavior were reported by 83% of consumers, according to a recent survey by Field Agent, the on-demand, in store shopping insights platform. The firm reports that 51% of consumers say they’re shopping in grocery stores less since the outbreak, while 27% are actually shopping for groceries more. Among apparel shoppers, 70% say they’re shopping less in-store for clothes than before the pandemic began. And among those shopping for household consumables, 40% are shopping less in store.

Field Agent also reports that slightly more than half of all consumers (51%) say they’re making fewer store trips in general. Another 50% say they’re keeping their distance from other shoppers in store. And nearly half (49%) say they’re spending less time in stores, with 45% saying they’re spending less time browsing in stores or shopping as a leisure pastime.

Being that consumers seem so averse to going in store, merchants should work double time to turn as many guests as possible into repeat customers. For example, floor patterns or displays could be arranged to appeal to those heavy repeat shoppers. While stores are making the effort to better know their customer, they should find out if shoppers generally buy new products or if they’re looking at their standard go-tos. During the pandemic, when retailers seemed to regularly run out of entire categories of name-brand product, many customers were exposed to store brands they may have never noticed before. After discovering these private label items, shoppers likely noticed they cost up to 30% less than a name brand. This exposure to store brands is an opportunity for retailers to connect and develop a new relationship with an established customer.

2. Ease Their Fears

Considering the CDC is still recording COVID-19 statistics on a daily basis, it’s not surprising customers are still worried about shopping in nonessential stores. But their fears can be eased if retailers are transparent about their safety protocols. In our blog titled “Signs of the Times,” Medallion detailed how in-store and outdoor signage can soothe the skittish soul. Retail signage can calm customers before they even enter a business by advising what is expected of them as far as mask requirements, distancing rules and new occupancy regulations. The signage can help further by informing shoppers about what they can expect inside, from traffic patterns in the aisles to contactless payments.

This is also an opportunity for stores to develop branded safety standards that can be promoted everywhere—in store, online, in advertisements and on shopping bags.

Store reopenings also offer the chance to develop staff training that weaves safety standards into behaviors. For instance, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have store ambassadors who stand at the entrance and inform customers where items are and what to expect regarding safety protocols. This brings a human factor to the stores and lets customers know they can rely on these retailers for their safety and hygiene measures.

3. Make It Easy

An article in the Washington Post described American Eagle’s new approach to aligning merchandise practices with safety standards. The retailer’s strategy includes an infrared machine that takes customers’ temperatures before entering, greeters who offer disposable masks and hand sanitizer, pared down and rearranged shelves that separate categories like jeans and T-shirts into different areas, and plexiglass dividers at checkout. The clothes have also been folded differently, “to encourage hands-off browsing.” As a final safety measure, it offers curbside pickup for those who don’t want to go in store at all.

Since both stores and customers will be hyperaware of how much clothing items are touched, apparel retailers could also consider multi-arm wall racks to display various sizes of garments like T-shirts and hoodies. Such a display would give shoppers the ability to compare different fits without having to physically hold up the item.

Retailers could also consider posting QR codes as part of their window displays to help shoppers before they enter. Amorino, an international gelato dessert boutique, posted a QR code outside its shops. It began the practice when customers couldn’t go in store due to the virus. But it still works well to limit store occupancy, as customers can pre-order through the code. And according to Modern Retail, QR codes on Lacoste’s store windows enable customers to see what merchandise is available in store before entering.

4. Human Interactions Still Count

After all this time alone, human contact might prove very soothing to today’s consumer. As such, stores might create concierge services that can be accessed online to expedite in-store transactions. For example, if guests relate they prefer to limit their time in store, an e-concierge could tell them where the merchandise they’re seeking would be located within their specified location. Such a service could also inform guests as to what they might expect regarding line delays, no-touch try-ons and sampling.

Stores could also improve consumer engagement with online consultations. To make up for a lack of in-store services, Glossy reported beauty companies like Huda Beauty, Bare Minerals and Clarins launched virtual consultations. Store associates could handle the online appointment, or retailers could choose to work with a third-party platform like Hero, a video chat startup whose client roster grew during the shutdown.

“Beauty has been one of our standout categories since Covid-19 hit, due to a confluence of several trends at once: a growing interest in self-care, a surge in online shopping and a craving for human interaction at a time when most of us are limiting our time outside of the home,” Hero co-founder Adam Levene told Glossy.

5. Incentivize Them to Come Back

The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” comes into play here. If already anxious shoppers walk into a store that doesn’t look clean, organized or isn’t following safety protocols, they may not come back. On the other hand, considering how tough current circumstances are, stores that reopen with a well-executed retail strategy that incorporates in-store safety practices will convince consumers to return.

If all is done well, stores can offer even more incentive to come back with loyalty programs, coupons or promotional giveaways like logoed facemasks, small keychain hand sanitizers, samples, etc.

As retailers prepare for the “next normal,” as it’s been called, some are bound to adapt better than others, inspiring those that follow to imitate and build off those practices.

But by then, things may be ready to change yet again.

For more insights and ideas on all things retail, you can tune in to MedallionRetail.com or download our free Returning to Retail brochure: Download Medallion Retail’s “Returning to Retail” brochure now.


Old-School Marketing Techniques for Today’s Covid-19 Weary Shoppers

“At present we are in a period of massive disruption and it is not clear how shopping patterns will evolve…”

—Neil Saunders, GlobalData Retail Managing Director    

While life certainly has been different over the past seven months thanks to Covid-19, we are all afloat together in an ever-shifting current of unpredictable change. It’s ironic, though, how some points of this evolution recall the “what’s old is new again” adage. Honing in on some of those established approaches might be the salve that connects your brand with skittish consumers—and helps pull you through to the other side of this pandemic.

Consider that American consumers in the early part of the 20th century relied on delivery services for things like milkgroceries and prescriptions. For some reason, those conveniences largely disappeared for decades. But the onset of the pandemic saw millennials and Gen Z consumers—as well as Gen X, baby boomers and the Greatest Generation—paying premiums for delivery of everything from alcohol to Band-Aids, thanks to businesses like Drizly, Amazon Prime and Instacart.

Another redux? Drive-in movie theaters. When it was impossible to sit in an air-conditioned multiplex, malls got creative and turned their parking lots into pop-up drive-ins. For older viewers, it was nostalgic. For the younger set, it was a cool, new experience.

The unrelenting pandemic has meant traditional retail has become more creative, responsive and flexible than ever before. But one thing that remains timeless is the consumer desire for human connection and interaction.

Drawing Them in—Directly

While sequestered at home, the consumer’s primary connection with shopping has been online. And while their retinas are growing weary, their desire to interact in a physical way is beginning to supersede the immediacy of clicking a key.

Stores and brands should not underestimate the effect digital burnout can have on consumers. Of course, emails, texts and social media have their place. But according to McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate, “The problem of digital burnout specifically refers to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, depression, or diminished interest in a job stemming from too much time on digital devices. Physical signs include sleep disorders, decreased energy, and even chest pains.” The pandemic has compounded the use of screens, whether for Zoom meetings, Facetiming, social media use or endless texting.

Remember the good ‘ol days when you actually “felt” an advertisement? If you liked these tangible pieces of mail, apparently you are not alone. Research shows younger generations actually feel the same way and are receptive to advertisements via direct mail. Findings show that they trust it and associate it less with junk than they do email. These days, physical mail isn’t typical for Gen Z’ers, so when they do receive it, it’s both memorable and something they can hold on to (literally). And it’s also shareable, having an average life span of 17 days, according to a U.S. SBA article.

All things considered, direct mail has its advantages over the digital world and is something worth exploring again for brands and retailers. Particularly, it is able to make an immediate and haptic impression on the recipient through a physical form—something that’s been missing while our digital inboxes have grown larger and larger.

Once in-Store—Keep Them Informed, Engaged and Curious

Consumers are now so used to shopping online that the in-store experience can seem almost confusing. This was actually a quandary before the pandemic. Now, it’s likely been exacerbated, especially if interiors have been changed to accommodate social distancing protocols. Retailers need to make sure in-store signage and displays are not only visible and easy to comprehend, but also expand on a customer’s online experience. Bring your omnichannel retail platforms closer by making sure products are easy to find with aisle signage or clearly marked departments. Let your shopper know you’ve made changes because it may have been a while since they last visited. Give new releases some love with specialty signage that stands out—much like you may have done on your opening website page. But most of all, take advantage of reintroducing yourself to your shopper and make their return a new and memorable one.

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” (…and Maybe the Mother of Quick Pivots)

Many businesses have found that they have needed to reinvent themselves very quickly. Take, for instance, Tilda, a tiny wine bar in LA  which had only been open for six weeks before it had to shut down its dine-in service. In true entrepreneurial spirit, the owner transitioned the 450-square-foot space into a wine shop and reserved the courtyard out front for customer use. The shop also went beyond offering wine and beer to selling eggs, bread and fresh vegetables. Although customers couldn’t shop in the small space, they could browse at displays by looking through the store’s large windows. And if they wanted to order from the store, all they had to do was call it in.  The staffer would also answer any questions and give advice, providing a more human connection. This unorthodox purchasing process was mapped out via a series of amusing and illustrative, hand-drawn signs that were posted in the store windows. Their signs walked customers through each step of the socially distanced process in an engaging and entertaining way, making the signs a part of their branding.

Tilda’s owners replicated as closely as possible the true experience of shopping in person, in store.

“For many people just being able to talk to someone on the phone and be more or less in the same space with a stranger is an enjoyable experience and change to their everyday activity,” said Christian Stayner, co-owner of Tilda. “We felt that it was really important to be a place within the community, rather than become just another faceless digital kitchen or e-retailer.”

Promote Your Story and Your Offerings

Stores should also take advantage of signage that publicizes company details like a mission statement, as well as any sustainability or philanthropic initiatives. Such messages ensure the in-person customer has as rich an understanding of a company’s brand identity as an online shopper. The two channels can be drawn even more closely together by incorporating QR and AR technology in your signage, providing your customers easy access to online content such as product reviews, special promotions or product demo’s while they’re shopping in store.

Telling your story means taking the opportunity to demonstrate the many facets of your offerings and communicating this out on multiple channels. Take Madison Reed, for example. As hair salons across the country were shut down, this salon and hair color subscription service experienced an 800% explosion in its e-commerce business during the first week of the pandemic, and a 1,000%-to–1,200% explosion in the following nine weeks. The DTC company sells affordable, salon-quality hair color for at-home use. Simultaneously, they’ve also been opening Madison Reed Color Bar locations across the U.S. Customers can come in for a consultation and either have services done in store, or they can take their color home and do their hair themselves.

With giving the consumer both a digital and physical world, Madison Reed has created an almost pandemic-proof business model, one that clearly illustrates how brick-and-mortar retail can seamlessly support e-commerce within the same brand, while still offering a differentiated experience.

Throughout our 60-year history in retail, Medallion Retail has seen how financial, political and technological change causes shifts in consumer behavior. We apply our historical and strategic expertise to our work in helping retailers and brands remain relevant and customer-focused in physical retail spaces during difficult times such as these. Contact Medallion’s Chris Gordon @ 646.677.5618 to discuss how we can help your business.

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