Richard Corps, MD & co-founder of Ads Reality

Any and every seasonal period, whether this is Christmas or Valentine’s Day, is fraught with competition from opposing retailers. It’s a metaphorical pile-up in terms of brands clambering over each other to reach the purse strings of their prospective customers.

The truth is, customers buy because of their need – the art of persuasion is really eroding away at a rate of knots, and even the annual Christmas ads only real appeal aesthetically; something that is treated more as a feature film and a measure of creativity rather than a wooing technique.

Marketers are constantly grappling with ways to ramp up the experience that they offer to consumers, with many falling short of the immersive preferences that ‘smart’ consumers are now accustomed to.

Seasonal shopping periods lend themselves so well to immersive experiences. Whether this is augmented reality or virtual reality, shoppers really have a chance to engage with the brand they’re thinking of purchasing before they hand over the money – it makes the entire experience less transactional and more entertaining.

So, what should retailers be looking at to engage consumers over the seasonal period and what are the benefits of using this immersive technology during the peak shopping periods such as Black Friday and Christmas?

In September, Adobe released a report which found that brands using innovative forms of engagement, such as Augmented Reality (AR), are well-respected by consumers with half saying they appreciated the brand in question.

The emotive feeling towards a brand is largely dictated by the experience the consumer receives. Brands that don’t offer engaging experiences might be bought from but this will be out of necessity, not a feeling of desire on the part of the consumer – a transactional experience rather than an enjoyable one.

Peak shopping periods put brand loyalty firmly in the spotlight. Images of consumers fighting over TVs and other electrical products are frequently circulated each year, after the US-adopted Black Friday sales bonanza hits, but how many shoppers are actually looking at the brand logo on the front of these products?

Probably very few – a 40-inch TV is a 40-inch TV, isn’t it?

Well, the likes of Panasonic and LG would beg to differ. The millions of pounds they’ve spent on marketing and advertising throughout the retail calendar year is, for one day at least, eroded as sale-hungry shoppers lower their expectations and forget any brand affinity in favour of a bargain on a big flat-screen.

But, Black Friday paints a very different picture to Christmas shopping where, typically, people will plan a day in the weeks preceding Christmas where they have time to browse the shops and look for presents for those family members who shrug their shoulders when you ask them what they’d like.

The Christmas shopping period is therefore the perfect time for retailers to look at how they’re engaging with their consumers and the experiences that they deliver to them. There’s a reason why retailers invest time and money on shop front design and props around Christmas; they know that people will notice.

But shop front design is too static for today’s connected consumer. The shopping experience around Christmas should be one of creativity on the part of the retailer, and should leave consumers coming away from their day’s seasonal shopping trip feeling that it was worth taking the day off work because I got something extra, aside from ticking off people I needed to buy presents for which, let’s be honest, you could just do online.

If you look at AR windows that an increasing number of retailers are starting to deploy as the centrepiece to their store front, the engagement factor is clearly there but it’s done with purpose; it’s not just a showpiece that people look at and walk away from, it’s an enticing advert for buying from that retailer, with a natural element of ‘try-before-you-buy’ about it.

Brands face the same problem each year when it comes to the seasonal shopping periods, such as Christmas; the sheer scale of product and service that every other brand also offers. Consumers now expect a shopping experience, to accompany them down the path to purchase and brands that don’t offer this, and settle on the same store fronts they erect each year, will find themselves shunned by experience-demanding and constantly-connected consumers.

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