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A member or a customer?

Michelle Fenstermaker of WPP's Landor & Fitch in the US says, this holiday season, many brands are leaning into the idea of membership

“Brands in the ecosystem who are trying to entice people to their stores or platforms traditionally drop a preview of the savings for holiday season 2023 several weeks in advance,” says Fenstermaker. “But what is new is this concept of membership versus customer. When a member pays for the privilege of shopping with a retailer digitally or in store, they are given access to retail goods ahead of everyone else.”

For the retailer, the advantage of the membership model is that it gives them access to first party data with consent. But the membership approach also transcends the digital environment into the physical, and we are now seeing retailers and brands look for ways in which their members have a joyful experience of retail in the brick-and-mortar world as well as online.

“Programmes that start out as a purely digital relationship between the shopper and the brand can be used to elevate the member’s experience when they choose to shop in store,” says Fenstermaker. For example, one of the biggest pain points for in-store shopping is the checkout. “If I'm a member and I have a code, then the ability to bypass anybody who does not have a code, will elevate the member experience massively,” she points out.

What gets us off the laptop?

For many of us, the holiday season comprises a lot of activity on a laptop, scrolling through gifting options and arranging delivery to our homes. But Fenstermaker says retailers and brands are shifting things up a gear.

“They are moving beyond the transactional into the experiential,” she says. “This means the ability to not only quickly get me to what I need but also to inspire me with things I might want but not need. You do that through experiential retail – which is more of an immersive experience.” It’s also about being a more ‘services first’ organisation – providing additional services like gift wrapping or health services to help deliver a total customer experience.

While just a few years ago US retailers and brands were working on these shopping experiences independently, today, they are heavily influenced by the experiences retailers and brands are offering in the APAC region. “Our clients are very interested in the shopping experience in China, Korea and Japan. They want to understand the role digital plays in those countries,” she says. “The consumer base in those countries is so much younger, agile and willing to experiment. There are pockets of mobile-first thinking in the US but that thinking is much more prevalent in APAC.”

And while the QR code is nothing new, it is enjoying something of a renaissance now that so many brands are discovering how the simple QR code can connect an ecosystem, a community and especially a brand with its membership. “The humble QR code can take the shopper from a good experience to an outstanding experience because there will be value added, either through augmented reality or some other digital mechanism,” says Fenstermaker.

Getting the balance right

As with all things in life, getting the balance right is vital. For retailers, the balance is between front of house and back of house. “Does the shopper need to see everything the retailer has to offer? Probably not because, at the click of a button, they can have access to everything,” says Fenstermaker.

She goes on: “A lot of retailers are leaning into the idea of doing more with less on the shop floor and achieving more product space. They want to know how they can give products the space to breathe and customers the space to experience everything. Operationally, retailers are learning to get the back end so solid that they don't need to show the shopper everything.” It’s all about giving shoppers the runway to be inspired with great storytelling, more multi sensorial experiences and make it worth their time.

Fenstermaker reminds us that the brand is what differentiates products and services, and it's the brand that creates relevancy. After all, there's only so many types of customer a brand can go after so, how a brand delivers on that experience is the point of differentiation.

And being relevant will never go out of fashion. As Gen Z comes into their earning years, brands must figure out how to tap into their spending without alienating the demographics they are already targeting. “No brand can be all things to all people. But if you want to elevate the experience for the next generation and be relevant, there are certain triggers you can pull that your core existing customer would also gladly welcome,” she says.

For the holiday season, joy can most definitely be the overriding experience for the shopper – if the retailer gets it right. Fenstermaker concludes: “That joy comes through the experience – there is no need for us to transact in the old way any more.”

Michelle Fenstermaker

Landor & Fitch

published on

01 November 2023



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