Retail sales declined 1.1% during the holiday season, missing estimates and setting the stage for weak expectations in retail in 2023. As uncertain economic conditions cloud the business, retailers are taking a back-to-basics approach to marketing focusing on value and personalized human experiences over flashy new technology in 2023.
At Brand Innovators Evolution of Retail event in New York, marketers from leading brands including Pearle Vision, Toys‘R’Us, 1-800-Flowers, American Eagle, CVS Health, Target and more talked about the importance of delivering value to customers.
“The most important thing is to meet the consumer where they are,” said Kim Miller, chief marketing officer at Toys’R’Us, who is focused on building in-store experiences, social media dances and online buying guides, which show the importance of play at each developmental stage.
1-800-Flowers is all about relationships and delivering value to customers. “It’s not necessarily about the gift, it is about the reaction of the gift,” said Jason John, chief marketing officer at 1-800-Flowers.
The brand relies heavily on customer feedback loops and listening to understand its audience and deliver value based on their needs. “We need to provide tools and recommendations that provide value over buying products,” said John. “We are trying to understand the consumers through constant feedback loops.”
Richard Honiball, chief marketing officer at Nexcom, said that an important word this year is “vulnerability,” as no one knows what is coming this year. He said that people in retail are admitting to this vulnerability right now, “which is healthier for the industry and healthier for the consumer. When you admit that you don’t know and you start to listen to those around you,” he said.
Focusing on human experiences is good business. In uncertain economic times, this approach is table stakes. “Creating human experiences is critically important, more and more we are using data to create real surprise and delight and moments of joy that don’t require the customer to do something,” said Erin Condon, vice president, front store and omnichannel marketing at CVS Health. “We are challenging ourselves to do this more often.”
American Eagle has been winning at TikTok and Twitch, but Ashley Schapiro, vice president of marketing, media, performance & engagement at American Eagle stressed that brands should not chase trends and should only be playing in spaces that bolster customer relationships and feel authentic to the brand. “Everything you do should have an objective,” said Schapiro. “Is it where your customer is spending their time? Make sure it is where your customer is.”
Doug Zarkin, chief marketing officer at Pearle Vision concurred that investing in employees, especially those in stores, will help build a better customer experience. “People who work on the front lines are the single most important folks in your model,” he said, highlighting that Pearle Vision is not a transactional business, it is a relationship business. “The human connection that exists in a brick and mortar establishment cannot be matched by ecom,” added Zarkin. “To get the perfect fit in eyewear, you have to try it on. A mm of fit is the difference between seeing well and having a headache.”
Sales associates at Men’s Wearhouse are trained to interview customers about what they are doing in their lives to help serve them better. Tailored Brands, owner of Men’s Wearhouse, Jos A. Bank and Moores, dresses men for the most important event of their lives – their weddings. That involves a lot of trust. The brand wants to build on this customer trust to dress men for non special event attire for occasions. “The most important day in most people’s lives is their wedding,” said Carolyn Pollock, chief marketing officer at Tailored Brands. “You trusted us for the most important moment, what about the other moments like a big interview or a first anniversary. Instead of a tuxedo, here’s a suit. It’s about meeting them in moments.”
Target has been trying to compress the moment from inspiration to conversion. The brand has been investing in its media channels to more effectively reach consumers. The company has been focused on segmentation and data to build loyalty. In 2023, Amy Spiridakis, vice president of marketing at Target, said that in 2023, she is focused on “staying close to the consumer and the guest and understanding what their needs are. That is always important but with the uncertainty in the economy and the social and political things going on, it is more important than ever.”