Rapid Customer Research Will be Crucial to Navigating an Extraordinary Peak Season

As the strangest, most challenging year for retail tips into November and national lockdown is re-imposed, the crucial Christmas trading period looms large. But even if the worst case scenario of an unprecedented, digital-only Christmas shopping season comes to pass, there is no room for mistakes.

With the UK back in lockdown, at least until the 2nd of December, but for who knows how long, retailers of all shapes and sizes are facing a huge challenge - how to adapt crucial Christmas trading campaigns and promotions to the reality of a digital Christmas shopping period.

What’s more, with consumers being urged to ’shop early’ this Christmas, retail brands simply do not have weeks to redesign those campaigns - time is of the essence.


Three Crucial Factors

All of which will tempt a great many to simply shift the same messaging, offers, promotions, incentives and enticements online, while redeploying marketing spend in an effort to maximise online visibility and traffic.

But that would be to overlook three crucial factors: Context, customer needs, and customer experience..

  • First of all, will campaigns designed for a pre-lockdown reality - blending offline and online - work now, with consumers facing more uncertainty and a very different shopping reality compared with just weeks ago?  Will the same messages resonate? How will online Christmas shoppers behave? Will shopping remotely see them buy more or less, or buy differently?
  • That leads neatly into the issue of customer needs. No-one has ever experienced a Christmas period in which the overwhelming majority of shopping is carried out online, or in which consumers face such uncertainty - so it is very hard to predict how the customer needs that shape buying behaviour will be affected. We can guess at some obvious ones: Price, delivery times and charges, returns and so on - the practical and the transactional. But the truth is no-one really knows how consumers will react more broadly to this newest of new realities.
  • Finally, the customer experience - everything from site performance and friction in the journey, to the placement of campaign content will be more important than ever. No-one wants to see well executed, innovative campaigns derailed by customer experience issues.

But the most important question of all is how retailers can uncover and adapt to these issues before campaigns go live. With no second chances, no opportunity to look at the results and learn - at least, not until it is too late - there is simply no room for guesswork and assumption.


Rapid Research: Customers Have the Answers

The solution is disarmingly simple. It is now possible to run meaningful customer research in days rather than weeks - and that customer insight can give retailers the insight they need to adapt and optimise Christmas campaigns before they go live, at the concept and development stages, even as part of the sprint cycle.

Rapid customer research doesn't need to be based on anything approaching a final design or treatment. Even sketched out concepts, as part of an intelligently designed testing programme, can tell us what is likely to work in this new reality and what isn’t, what issues might emerge later, the tweaks and optimisations that are likely to enhance campaign visibility and performance, or remove friction from the customer experience.

Make no mistake, that kind of input is not just good practice; in these uncertain times, putting customer feedback at the heart of campaign planning could make the difference between success and failure this Christmas.


In Action: Customer-centric Design

This is not just theory. This is an approach that forward-thinking, customer-centric retail brands are already taking.

They recognise that rapid research is not just a new approach - it’s about mindset change; being continually customer informed both strategically and tactically – and rapid customer research can be incredibly valuable, as our clients have recently discovered. 

In one case, a global sportswear brand wanted to incorporate testing in the sprint cycle - to understand in detail whether messaging, campaigns, tweaks and optimisations are going to hit the mark before they go live

In response, we worked together to inject rapid customer research into the sprint cycle – to remove uncertainty from the entire process. Simply, we take a brief on quite a specific development, write scripts for unmoderated online tests, harvest, analyse and organise the findings and report back. 

That whole process takes around three days.


Certainty in an Uncertain World

Clearly this approach still can’t offer any guarantees, but it is a means by which to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances based on meaningful evidence; evidence that can help to ensure that an indispensable focus on customer needs is not lost in the rush.

After all, who wants to run campaigns ahead of such an uncharted Christmas trading period without doing something to ensure as far as possible that customers are going to respond positively, and that potential issues have been unearthed and dealt with?

Rapid testing, then, is about optimising performance and managing risk. The alternative, to press on without any customer evidence, is a much less certain approach and, if there is one thing we all need at the moment, it is a little certainty.