How Local Retailers Can Reach Mission Shoppers this Holiday Season

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For retailers, 2020 is messy, to put it mildly. They are struggling to best serve their customers while keeping up with evolving regulations and health recommendations. This holiday season, there is so much more on the line. Many brands are counting on Q4 2020, which may very well prove to be the most consequential quarter in retail history.

The good news is consumers are ready to shop. As of September, 71% of shoppers felt comfortable returning to stores. But their behaviors have changed. Sixty percent of U.S. consumers are nervous about catching Covid-19 while shopping. This nervousness has led to new trends in on-premise behavior and the rise of the mission shopper.

The mission shopper is focused on getting in and out of stores as quickly as possible. They spend less time, and less money, in stores, and their mindset is different from the lighthearted holiday shoppers of yesteryear—or even last year. Understanding this consumer archetype will prove critical to retail success. Sure, online sales are rising, but brick-and-mortar will still account for a projected 81.2% of U.S. holiday retail sales, according to eMarketer. Retailers must make every visit count.

Here’s how you can ensure holiday season customer experiences meet the needs of mission shoppers, and traditionalists: choose the right music, ramp up communication, and even rethink the concept of a store.

Choose the right holiday music

Despite the nervousness, consumers miss retail therapy. They are craving in-person experiences and human connection. They may see this holiday season as an important time to not only show loved ones they care but to seek out some of that interaction. They are entering stores with a purpose, not just to browse; but if retailers can make shopping experiences pleasant and safe, they will be more likely to come back. 

Nothing sets the mood like music. Music connects people to emotions of comfort, familiarity, and especially during the holidays, fond memories. Local retailers should strive to create familiar-feeling environments reminiscent of holiday celebrations with friends and family or that classic trip to Grandma’s house. Choose melodies that spread cheer while helping shoppers relax—song versions rooted in tradition rather than the latest pop remix. These selections should be instantly familiar to listeners or at least sung by familiar artists. 

Whether you’re pivoting some of your focus to the mission shopper, or super-serving that longer-dwelling more traditional shopper, understanding the cycle of the in-store experience during the holidays is critical. Most media brands base programming decisions on time spent listening or time spent viewing. Retailers must think in that same branded environment perspective. Look at experiences through the lens of time spent shopping, or dwell times. Shape the experience to match the cadence of your end customer. If the average customer dwell time is 30 minutes, ensure that you have created that experience you intend to create works in 30-minute increments; otherwise you miss your target. 

Understanding how to mix in holiday music and when to start it is crucial to creating that right experience. While it is generally best practice to take an incremental and scaled approach to introduce holiday songs, keep in mind consumers started shopping earlier this year, and they might not be in-store for long. Be sure you have a strategy for ensuring every song you play is contributing to your desired atmosphere and perhaps creating small moments of joy for your visitors.

Communicate on an intimate level

The majority of consumers feel reassured by store safety measures, so tell customers what you are doing. (Show them, too, by ensuring shoppers see cleaning methods taking place in-store.) Consider things like overhead and digital signage messaging that inform shoppers of the steps you are taking and remind people of safety protocols, like mask wearing and staying socially distanced.

You can’t guarantee customers will read end caps and window displays, but they will always be able to hear in-store voice messaging. Use voice messaging to reassure customers that you are taking Covid safety precautions, and, furthermore, to let them know you appreciate their time and business. 

Making visitors feel safe is most important, but in-store communication is also a chance to strengthen customer relationships and establish what type of business you really are. It is a chance to share your values by perhaps publicly thanking your employees or by briefly sharing ways you are giving back to the community. 

Your stores have to be clean, but that doesn’t mean messaging needs to be sterile. Your tone of voice should reflect who you are and not simply the content of the message. It’s another opportunity to connect at a time when we are all seeking greater connections. 

Create differentiated, Covid-friendly experiences

From crisis arises ingenuity. Consider creative, Covid-friendly ways to connect with shoppers on the go, such as launching smaller outdoor stores or even sidewalk sales and creating exclusive events for your most loyal customers. These “invite-only” opportunities could be in-store or strategic “pop-ups” that use sensory experiences—sound, smell, and visuals—to create an enjoyable and productive shopping memory that rewards brand loyalists while driving sales.  

Think practically, too, finding ways to get people in and out quickly. This is at odds with what we have been taught as retail marketers; but safety is paramount, and the more efficient the shopping experience, the more likely a mission shopper will be to come back. These methods include touchless checkouts, seamless curbside and in-store pickup practices, and common-sense things, like being sure aisles are clear and your store is easy to navigate. 

Depending on the size of the store, you might want to take a page from big-box retailers and allow shoppers to look up where to find certain items before they come to your store. You must certainly consider how your digital presence and in-store experience work in tandem to create a holistic brand voice and to deliver safe, yet festive holiday moments.

This holiday season is different from past ones, for retailers and for customers. But by adjusting strategies to meet the new needs of shoppers, stores can still drive sales and repeat visits, and perhaps forge customer relationships that last long beyond the pandemic. Most importantly, say thank you to your customers.

Danny Turner is Global SVP, Creative Programming, at Mood Media.