How retailers exploit events to boost sales

Today is black Friday (27 November 2020) and in the current retail landscape, shoppers are presented with a multitude of promotions to encourage spending, but how significant are seasonal events and factors such as the weather?

Image by igorovsyannykov on pixababy.com under Creative Commons.

Low prices and innovative items may not just be sufficient for retailers’ survival in today’s retail environment. Retailers should develop strategies that integrate a variety of factors including assortment, store atmosphere, price, and service interface in order to create a desirable shopping experience that may lead to increase in sales (Grewal et al., 2009). Furthermore, retailers are expected to profit from various events and use it as an opportunity to boost sales. Today’s retail landscape is filled with multitude events such as Mother’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, sporting events such as Football World Cup, as well as major weather events, all affecting the ways consumers shop. Additionally, there are numerous promotional events such as Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday which may change consumers’ shopping habits as well as changing retailers’ marketing activities and supply of products.

Gift giving during various events is a part of the human heritage.

Take Mother’s Day as an example. Gift giving during various events is a part of the human heritage and a universal act that has been practised in various societies worldwide (Sherry, 1983). As Anthropologist Terry Y. LeVine said: “It is a part of what it means to be human” and is an act of symbolic communication associated with an important event. Consumers are expected to spend big on every Mother’s Day, and retailers compete to take advantage of shoppers’ spending habits and drive sales on this day. It is very important for retailers to maintain a high level of creativity and innovation as the competition heats up to boost sales around the occasion. It is a special day, and consumers are looking to purchase something special. So, what retailers do to stand out in the market?

There are numerous strategies to capitalise on Mother’s Day. Retailers may dedicate an aisle or section in stores to Mother’s Day or have a dedicated Mother’s Day tab or category containing the gift options and recommendations on their websites, for example, ‘Top Gifts for Mom’. This is all about offer convenience, facilitating a comfortable purchase experience, and making it easy for busy consumers to find that special gift for their mothers in-store and online. Consumers usually look for retailers that provide gifting inspirations, and therefore, retailers may create a list of products that they think are most suitable for different mothers (e.g., new mother, grandmother, etc.).

Data shows that there is a spike in traffic the week before events such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. This means that retailers need to start their promotional activities in perfect time. In addition to consumers who plan well ahead for purchasing personalised gifts, there will also be some last-minute busy shoppers who just want to grab something and go. Therefore, retailers may place Mother’s Day gift baskets for those who are busy or not sure what to purchase for their mothers.

Various traditional, religious, and sports events, and unseasonably warm weather or snow on Christmas day may all contribute to enhancing supermarkets’ sales growth. For example, Kantar’s data demonstrate that consumers purchased £335 million worth of Easter eggs and seasonal chocolates in the 12 weeks leading up to the Easter 2019 (Nazir, 2019).

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Just like many annual calendar events that change customers’ shopping habits, a sudden heatwave or a weather forecast predicting snow on Christmas day may influence customers’ purchase behaviour. In the summer of 2017, Sainsbury’s had its highest sales growth in more than four years after hot weather boosts demands for items such as fresh fruit and vegetable, padding pools, summer clothes, and fans (Butler, 2017).

Similarly, soaring temperatures in 2017 resulted in a dramatic increase in sales of ice-cream, gin and cider. Good weather was also responsible for increase in outdoor dining with sales of fresh products rising 3.4% and sales of quiches soaring 11% (Butler, 2017). Seeing England football team in the semi-final of the World Cup was almost as unusual as finding Britain in the middle of a heatwave. However, the combination of the two during the World Cup 2018 led to an increase in retail sales. In particular, England’s successful World Cup campaign along with the ongoing hot weather resulted in the boost in sales of barbecues, beer, and big-screen TVs in the UK. For example, John Lewis reported a dramatic rise in the sales of TVs after each England win in Russia.

It is essential for retailers to forecast consumers’ shopping behaviour shifts during weather or various calendar events and plan accordingly. Consumer research data can provide valuable information about buyers, their shopping trends, how store traffic changes during different events, and what specific items they purchase on different occasions. It may help retailers to get ahead of the game by making sure that their brands are in front of customers at their moment of interest, rather than waiting until buyers already made their purchase decisions.

A wide range of factors may dictate the influence on sales and what consumers purchase. However, because of the entertaining nature of events, they create a level of excitement in customers that is above the usual quality of the shopping experience. It is important for retailers to react immediately during the sporting, weather, calendar and other events and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their promotional activities and drive awareness, passion, and excitement among buyers. In other words, retailers need to be aware of what items they need to put on the shelves and when.

Dr Morteza Abolhasani is a Lecturer in Marketing at The Open University.

This article was previously published on OpenLearn in October 2018 and can be viewed here.

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