Brick-and-mortar retailers have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride this holiday season as early expectations of strong consumer spending were weighed down by the uncertainty prompted by the election.
That’s on top of the usual jitters about the slow demise of Black Friday and more consumer cash gravitating to online retail.
That has made projections about this year’s holiday shopping season more of a guessing game than usual, but one aspect has now become clear: The rush by retailers to deeply discount merchandise will likely not prove to be beneficial to these retailers in the long term.
My research in “business to business” marketing suggests that instead of enacting ever-steeper price cuts that erode margins, both major retailers like Macy’s and small mom-and-pop stores would be much better off leveraging their physical presence as a source of strength rather than weakness by focusing on the personal touch that only they can provide.
Some of you might be old enough to remember the milkman – the person who delivered dairy products to your home every few days. Or you might recall the Columbia Record Club, which regularly brought music to mailboxes. And then there’s the venerable and still-going Book of the Month Club, which keeps subscribers abreast of trends in literature.
Let’s keep that history in mind as we consider the soaring popularity of subscription services in which boxes of products or food or goodies appear regularly at your door. Companies like Birchbox,Blue Apron, Club W, OwlCrate,BarkBox, and Bespoke Post are among those leading the way in services that let consumers sample beauty products or exotic food or young adult books or other specialty items without leaving the house. “Best of” suggestions for subscription boxes are also popping up this season as hot items on numerous holiday gift guides – which would certainly lighten Santa’s sleigh.
Yet the basic concept is as old as the cheerful man in white who left bottles of milk in the box on your front step. What’s new about subscription boxes is their use of Internet technology, in which consumers can order subscriptions online, customize the items they want in some cases, and record and upload their reactions to social media. And then there’s the emotional effect that the milkman didn’t spark – the experience of opening the box, that anticipation of the surprises inside and the sense of gift giving … to yourself. It’s like Christmas every month without the standard rejoinder of: “Oh, you shouldn’t have.”
In 1895, John Deere, the agricultural machinery company, debuted a slight publication called The Furrow targeted at farmers and ranchers. Back then, The Furrow was a simple newsletter containing pen-and ink-drawings, articles about farming techniques, ads for new plows, and a section tailored for women readers that featured products like cream separators. Fast-forward 118 years to today: The Furrow is still published – albeit in glossy form, complete with its own website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It has circulation of 1.5 million.
The Furrow is one of the earliest examples of content marketing, an approach that involves creating, distributing, and exchanging information to attract, engage, and retain a clearly defined audience, with the ultimate goal of driving sales. According to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 91% of North American B2B marketers use content marketing as part of their current marketing strategy.