What Today’s Parents Want from the Store

 

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Retail has been reinventing itself for quite some time. No longer is it a mandatory part of our week to spend time in a store, though many of us still do particularly when shopping for food or sundries. But more and more purchasing has moved online, and if digital retailers succeed with the next big step, much of our future purchasing may be on a subscription model. So, where do stores fit in, and what indicators do we see about what consumers want from the in-store experience?

“Retailtainment” is one of the big attractions for today’s shoppers, according to the National Retail Foundation (NRF), and retailers are looking for new ways to offer both product and brand experiences. The NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, with members in forty-five countries ranging from wholesalers and online retailers to individual Main Street shops. In 2018, they issued a trends report on the buying habits of millennial parents – observing after monitoring this age group for over a decade that “millennial parents shop differently than other parents.” Key findings included that they have a “wealth of information” available on demand and use their phones at almost every step of the buying process. Quality matters, as does customer service and brand knowledge and having shared values with the brand.

But often what brings them to a store, and what makes them more than twice as likely to return, are events. And, an added benefit is that they like to gift or share events with others, so they can serve as influencers as well.

Retailers are responding in kind providing immersive experiences that can be specialized, personalized, or even tailor-made. And, knowing that they have consumers who like to share their experiences on social platforms, retailers want well-designed events that look inviting and photograph well. Multifaceted events are also sought after because they attract a broader audience and can provide a longer and more immersive experience.

Consumers like to feel part of the buying process, be educated about what they buy, and have the ability to engage and have input for future purchase. They also like to make local connections and have an ongong connection with what they buy and support.

While this is newer to many areas of retail, publishers and booksellers have lots of experience running these kinds of events – and bookstores have extensive experience serving as community partners and places for creators, fans and community to come together. Authors and illustrators also have much to offer in this area – with rich content, the ability to create a narrative for events, broad audience appeal, and (in the case of illustrators) the skill to make them visually compelling.

This trend offers opportunities to partner with other kinds of retailers and to learn from what’s going on elsewhere. Authors and illustrators can think about the kinds of events that they can engineer – since retailers are hungry for these ideas.

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Customer-centric marketing: How close is too close?

 

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Making business more personal is all the rage right now, and significant resources are being put toward gaining a thorough understanding of customer predilections and preferences and to cultivate those accordingly. There’s nothing new to recognizing the value of doing so, but a key driver now is that customers themselves are more apt to demand it. This can take many forms, but some of the most common expectations are that communication will be personalized, contacts will be quick to respond, and that knowledge of the customer will accrue over time. In return, consumers are willing to respond by being loyal and supportive.

Authors and illustrators have understood this consumer desire for a long time and have in various degrees engaged personally with their readers. But those who are experienced have learned that relationships between themselves and their readers can be complicated, and that knowing where to draw boundaries is crucial.

Individual contact can take the form of face-to-face engagement at events, responding to personal inquiries, or can be more extensive for authors who actively cultivate fan involvement. In each case, preparing ahead and evolving a consistent way to behave will help ensure that you respond in ways that are thoughtful, respectful and appropriate to the situation.

The first things to consider are your time constraints, your resources for connecting with your readers, and your own comfort level with fan engagement.

Then map out a plan outlining what you are willing to do and listing any challenges you think might arise. This can include deciding how to respond to requests for referrals, what to say to fans who ask you to read their manuscript or talk in-depth with you about their books, and how to manage people who may become rude or critical if you don’t respond in ways they expect. Being patient and maintaining a sense of humor are helpful as is conveying understanding and empathy. But knowing ahead what you’ll say will also help you to be firm and to be consistent.

Some authors and illustrators find it easier to keep their engagement less personal and to respond to an audience as a whole rather than to engage individually. If that is your preference, you could still incorporate personal stories others have shared with you and look for ways for the group to engage with each other to create a more intimate experience. If questions arise that you can’t or don’t want to address immediately, you can offer to respond to them afterwards in writing or via your publisher. Another way to provide fans a more personalized experience is to add interactive components like surveys and other interactive components to your website or social media platforms to provide opportunities to give input to you or to other fans.

There are many creative ways to cultivate fan relationships and to engage meaningfully without setting unrealistic expectations or getting forced into uncomfortable situations. But it’s helpful to recognize that consumers are being treated differently than in the past, and as they become more accustomed to that, they are likely to evolve their expectations in this industry as well.

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