Keep It Simple at Santa's Workshop

Bells and Whistles Can Confuse Holiday Shoppers, But They'll Relish Digital Aids to Ease Them Through the Crush

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This holiday season will mark the fifth consecutive year of e-commerce spending growth. ComScore reports that online shopping on Black Friday exceeded $1 billion for the first time this year, and with an array of options beyond brick-and-mortar retailers -- including smartphone technology that lets consumers easily comparison shop by reading reviews, comparing prices and snapping photos to share with friends -- brands will need to be increasingly savvy to secure consumer loyalty.

More than at any other time of the year, it's important for marketers to remember this mantra: Keep It Simple, Santa. While retailers should take advantage of technology and social channels to drive consumer engagement and loyalty, losing some of the bells and whistles might make for an easier, and more successful, consumer shopping experience. Make shopping simple and enjoyable, and consumers will reward you with their purchase dollars.

Here are a few recommendations for retailers to consider this holiday season:

Big -ticket items sold out in-store? Allow consumers to purchase the item from their mobile device while they're still in the store -– with an automatic waiving of shipping and gift-wrapping fees as a reward for their patience and loyalty.

Consider how many shoppers give up and head home after frequenting only a handful of stores, because they cannot physically carry another shopping bag. To ease the holiday-shopping experience, retailers can offer the option of gift-wrapping and shipping gifts directly to the customer's home. This would encourage consumers to spend more dollars in-store without the worry of carrying around heavy bags -- and would relieve consumers of the burden of unloading the car once they arrive home.

Simplify the consumer's shopping experience by providing detailed product information via apps. An advanced search function could help consumers identify products for family and friends through gift categories, such as wish lists for a significant other, best friend or parent. Helpful apps could offer exactly where to find a product within the brick-and-mortar store, helping to cut down on shopping time. A savvy retailer could even organize the parking lot and open spaces via the mobile device during the holiday season. There's nothing worse than a packed mall parking lot to encourage people to stay home in their pajamas and buy with one click.

If you really want to ingratiate yourself with holiday shoppers, build a digital installation that keeps the kids occupied and safe, so parents do not have to have them underfoot. Think of the giant piano in "Big ." What kid (or adult, for that matter) wouldn't want to play with that ? That's the key factor: play. Holidays are fun for kids, but typically quite stressful for adults. Retailers should do everything they can to bring back the sense of fun that can be lost in the chaotic holiday-shopping atmosphere. Digital displays are just one way to provide the sense of wonder that used to be found by gazing at beautiful store windows. And you know what? Parents will likely spend more in-store if they aren't preoccupied with keeping their kids happy.

People still want brands and retailers to make their lives easier; the difficulty lies in figuring out how to do so in the most efficient way. Do people want a great experience? Cheap prices? Simplicity? Let's assume consumers want all three. Brands need to determine how to meet these in a way that stands out from the competition.

There is something to be said for novelty. But if brands today want to be here tomorrow, they should start considering a more sophisticated, albeit simple, approach to wooing consumers.

Peter Hempel is president and CEO of DDB, New York.
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