Summer Brainstorming – Retailers turn their focus to growth

In retail, summer is a time for preparing and that means getting ready for the remainder of the year including the holiday season. For your summer brainstorming efforts, here are 10 tactics that could propel growth and should be part of your mid-year consideration set.

When doing your summer brainstorming, consider that we are in a new post-pandemic shopping phase where e-commerce growth will be harder to come by. This requires that retailers look at giving shoppers “more” so that they can make every effort to hit their numbers. “More” must include personal consumption strategies while also embracing the needs of gift givers.

To fuel your summer brainstorming efforts, consider these eMarketer highlights where they believe retail sales will fall through 2025. One quick look at the percentage change line reveals that growth is predicted to be 12.2% in 2022 and will be under the 10% mark for 2025. Of course, this is the aggregate and not all retailers will even achieve these results. This is even more reason that retailers need to get strategic once again, looking for ways to both better execute and innovate on behalf of their customers.

eMarketer Chart for summer brainstorming

One may be in a market share grab for the near-term so being prepped with a roadmap is essential. In the spirit of sharing, here are 10 ideas for consideration during those summer brainstorming sessions along with best practice ideas to get the juices flowing.

1. Elevating the UX

When you’re doing summer brainstorming, all the cards should be on the table. Many retailers indicate that, when it comes to forthcoming investments being “up,” customer experience was top of the list, closely behind only the e-commerce platform, web design and digital marketing – all investment staples.

Summer brainstorming is an ideal time to thoroughly review both your web and mobile experiences. Ask yourself, is the shopping experience efficient, effective, and exciting for the shopper. As we know all too well, today’s customer is time-starved and expects that you have streamlined all online shopping. If not, your site could wind up as an abandonment statistic. One piece of advice that I would share is to shop your own site on multiple devices. That will allow you to easily encounter any flaws and identify room for improvement that demands to be on your 2022 roadmap.

Digital Commerce 360 Chart

2. Brand Better as Shoppers are on Overload

Shoppers are bombarded with messages and sometimes it just might be helpful to explain why a brand or a retailer may be the right fit.

For companies often referred to as digitally native (having started online), most have an interesting story to tell. Customers are seeking out authenticity and Glossier’s message rings true for the beauty buyer. They see themselves as a source for both information and inspiration. They are a bit irreverent suggesting their editors have tried it all and have taken a different approach and lastly, it’s about their communication and the community they have created that such a brand treasures.

Glossier example

I thought it would be interesting to contrast that with Frontgate, an entrenched direct marketer founded in 1991, and how they articulate the difference in their business. They start with a “Made for Life” message backed with their 10-year frame warranty. Choice is paramount and their upholstery collection can be customized to meet shopper needs. And given the complexity of this category, everyone can use a little help so they have design experts on hand. A little more traditional approach but comforting for their customer base.

Summer Brainstorming tip: Remember, positioning and its integration into the online experience matters more than ever.

FrontGate Example

3. Sustainability is Sticky

Shoppers and brands are embracing environmental causes with the consumer leading the charge.

According to the Global Sustainability Study 2021 of 10,000 people across 17 countries conducted by Simon-Kucher & Partners, a global consultancy, 85 percent of people indicate that they have shifted their purchase behavior towards being more sustainable in the past five years.

Home pages are leading with sustainability on a year-round basis more than ever before and their authenticity is refreshing as seen in The North Face example, long a pioneer when it comes to environmental causes.

Northface summer brainstorming

What’s also interesting is that retailers and brands are making a concerted effort to call out their sustainable goods. Upon perusing Michael Kors for a Mother’s Day gift, I couldn’t help but notice that they were labeling their products as sustainable in the same way they would call out a new arrival.

Michael Kors example

Summer Brainstorming tip: Sustainability has officially arrived.

4. Meet the “Wow Factor” Head-on

Recently, I was alerted to a text from Lululemon. To me, a picture is still worth a thousand words and I was inspired to want to try their new line of shoes. No words, just a powerful visual to let you know a new category has arrived and that it warranted my attention.

The wow factor is also essential in gift giving and Nordstrom fits the bill. Their pop-in location features favorites for everyone from moms to grandmas and even me and you. As they shuffle through each of these gift segments, they cleverly highlight individuals, their styles and their Nordstrom favorites which personalizes the experience for all of us.

Nordstrom Summer Brainstorming

5. Address the In-stock Factor

Nothing may matter more this fall and holiday season than what is actually available. The supply chain remains an important obstacle for retailers though challenges vary by category. As I shop online, I am noticing more retailers like The Great Escape allowing shoppers to quickly access in-stock products. Whether it is integrated into category pages or positioned in the top nav, retailers are giving it more than lip service as the issue appears here to stay.

Great Escape Example

6. Educate to Inform and Sell

Building consumer confidence has never been more important. There are many ways retailers are investing to gain their trust. It ranges from product page imagery and information to tools that help ensure the shopper is making the right choice. Recently, I came across Jumplex, who tout themselves as “USA’s favorite trampoline.” But what stood out for me was the almost infinite amount of information they beautifully presented about their products. One can assume that many of their customers are first-time buyers. Their winning combination of iconography around the technology that is part of the brand and obsession with providing a long list of details helps to educates shoppers giving them a new-found trust for this innovative brand.

Jumplex overview
Jumplex details

Making the right selection also involves education. With labor shortages at retail a reality, it sometimes seems that a seasoned sales associate has been replaced by a plethora of guides and quizzes. Sephora is just one retailer who has invested in this area. Ten quizzes are available for shoppers from a Skincare Routine Builder to the Haircare Quiz. They have gone to great lengths to make it both fun and informative for the shopper enabling them to make the better choices.


Summer Brainstorming Tip: Remember, you must educate before they buy.

7. Summer Brainstorming Winner: Add-on Services Add Value

Retailers are looking for ways to grow the bottom line. One tactic that store-based retailers can employ to differentiate themselves is those margin-rich services. The benefits of Best Buy’s Total Tech membership speak volumes and leverage a multitude of their initiatives. Benefits articulated combine Geek Squad Tech Support and up to 24-month product protection. What may also serve as a differentiator is directed towards those customers who appreciate access. As part of this service, shoppers can connect via dedicated phone and chat teams and that can come in handy when one’s technology is not working as it should. Free favorites including delivery, standard installation and haul away are welcome conveniences keeping potential annoyances at bay. Customer service considerations are also in place with an extended 60-day return and exchange window and free 2-day shipping and exclusive member prices, which are always welcome in such a competitive category.

Best Buy - Geek Squad

Finding a contractor amidst the myriad of home projects can be tricky. Many Wayfair shoppers are in need of assembly and white glove services. In the height of the pandemic, I remember wondering how I would get a heavy drafting table to the third floor and subsequently put it together. A combination of my neighbors and this expert assembly option enabled by Wayfair were my savior. They could also be one of the reasons shoppers are likely to return. Notice how they focus the eye on upsells by graying out the rest of the web page?

Wayfair Example

8. Curbside Pickup – And What About Returns?

Curbside pickup became a mainstay among store-based retailers during the pandemic. One addition to the retailer arsenal of late has been curbside returns. To date, I’m aware that both Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nordstrom are making this service available. There’s nothing more convenient than having a store associate run out to your car and process your return. When I tested both earlier in the year, my initial experiences were surely a time-savings, though staff training on execution was needed as the service was still in its infancy.

Dicks Example Summer Brainstorming

9. Tools That Aid Gifting Are Appreciated by Buyers

Shoppers are always looking for ways to shop that are more convenient and Kay does just that with the visual search capability. They articulate their 3-step process starting with shoppers sending them a picture of their desired product. From there, the tool will look for similar items and, voila!, results will be shared. As they articulate, it can be an excellent vehicle for providing gifting hints to ensure you get exactly what you want. They even include a video to watch the tool in action.

Kay Jewelers Summer Brainstorming

Another convenience being offered by retailers is GiftNow. We have all been faced with scenarios of not knowing the personal preferences of those we are shopping for. GiftNow to the rescue. Shoppers on David Yurman allow gift recipients to choose a size or color. Or instantly exchange it prior to shipping. Not only is it convenient, but it’s sustainable and beautiful in its delivery.

David Yurman Summer Brainstorming

10. Build in Customer-centric Solutions for the Harried Shopper

Bottom line, when it comes to customer service, keep the time-starved shopper in mind. This is a reason to monitor what your customer needs and the category demands while being aware of what the competitors are making available.

Urban Outfitters is just one example of a retailer who has given “Contact Us” new meaning. Their customer base demands both texting and social options and they let you know they are available based on the customer’s preferences.

Urban Outfitters summer brainstorming

Train your CSR’s with ideal response time expectations for those that are in play. When it comes to email, my personal expectation is 24-hour turnaround time and a rich response to any question the shopper might pose. This certainly seems in line with industry findings suggesting that the average email response time is 18 hours.

Live chat, while it is readily available, is often handled by bots these days. For easy issues, that can be effective, though more challenging concerns are better served by humans.

Virtual Appointments Can Be Valuable

Positioning experts into the shopping experience is just what West Elm has done as part of their experience. They showcase the Design Crew which they merchandise well both onsite and via email. It includes design and installation services and registry help is also called out. Their goal is to have shoppers set up an in-store consultation though virtual is also an option. Along with these capabilities comes the option to use their 3-D room planner online to bring your ideas to life.

Design Crew

Summer Brainstorming: Do Right By the Customer

While all these things are a factor, to me it’s mostly about the attitude of the institution and that’s where Abt is top of mind. They are a local Chicagoland institution that understands after 85 years of experience how to take care of the customer.

ABT Example summer brainstorming

Summer Brainstorming Ensures a Focus on Growth

For those of us still facing winter doldrums, hopefully, summer is upon us. That means it’s now optimal to set aside some time for brainstorming what you can deliver in 2022. I encourage you to review these 10 areas of focus to assess where the opportunities for growth can come from for your company in 2022 and how you will stay ahead of the competition.

If you’d like to download this blog as a PDF, click here.

Lauren Freedman is president of the e-tailing group

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