Store closures. Bankruptcy filings. A mall turned ghost town. For nearly a decade, we have been told that brick-and-mortar retail is dying, and have seen the effects with our own eyes. Yet at the same time, digitally native brands are venturing offline. New store concepts are popping up with fresh takes on the in-store experience. Physical retail is in fact making many valiant and creative attempts to adapt rather than succumb to inevitable death. And while industry coverage highlights how businesses hope to profit from their ingenious new take on retail, as I read article after article I was left wondering: what about the customer? So, I set out on an ambitious shopping experiment to test the most innovative ways you can buy a sweater in New York City. What does this innovation feel like for me, in a world where so much of my shopping behavior has moved online? Turns out, my exposure to brands on social media made it almost impossible to aimlessly browse without carrying preconceived notions. With browsing and discovery happening online, brick-and-mortar stores are no longer about “shopping” in the traditional sense – they're about a focused hunt for a specific product or a memorable experience. Naadam: The Fast Transaction Store Naadam has two stores in NYC: “The $75 Sweater Store,” which only sells the brand’s iconic $75 cashmere sweater (or, as Glossy calls it, a “hero product”), and another store ten blocks away which offers the larger collection of apparel. I visited both stores, and purchased from the former. At “The $75 Sweater Store,” my shopping experience was efficient: the store was the size of a hallway, there were three clothing racks with the $75 sweaters hanging, one dressing room, and one largely-silent sales associate. While I wouldn’t call it “shopping” – there was no thrill of combing through racks – the transaction was refreshing in its own way. As I had already been exposed to the sweater online, I knew what I wanted and my time in-store simply felt like I was running an errand to pick it up – confirming through touch and a quick try-on that what I had seen online was indeed what I wanted to purchase. For this reason, it makes sense why the store experiences are separated – one drives the quick and easy sale, while the other promotes discovery and a deeper relationship with the brand. Top: “These are seventy five dollar cashmere sweaters” - the neon sign at Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” ensures their store concept is crystal clear; Bottom: My ($75) sweater purchase, wrapped in paper printed with the care instructions. Modcloth: The Stylist Store Modcloth’s physical locations are branded as “FitShops,” where customers work with stylists to pick and try on outfits and then have them shipped home. From an operational perspective, this is ideal – because associates don’t need to house and manage inventory, the brand can rent much smaller retail locations, and associates can exercise their talents in styling customers rather than sorting product. While I was there, I witnessed a stylist speaking with a woman who wasn’t sure if an item she was trying on was flattering. The stylist was holding a tablet open to modcloth.com, and was showing the shopper other similar styles to consider. This level of one-on-one attention is working – Modcloth customers using stylists are currently converting at 90%, compared to around 25% for those who don’t. While I myself didn’t end purchasing anything, my willingness to visit again definitely increased – Modcloth’s ability to seamlessly weave in-person interaction with the benefits of ecommerce felt like a value-add that could never be achieved by simply shopping from my couch. Prompts throughout the dressing room encourage shoppers to book appointments with stylists, from providing the booking URL as a sticker on the mirror (Top) to coupon cards offering 15% off all purchases when you book (Bottom). Lingua Franca: The Courageous Customizer The hand-stitched cashmere sweater company Lingua Franca has found their niche in stitching custom phrases, especially liberal political statements (e.g. “Bad hombre” and “Blessed be the refugees”). I was visiting the store to make a statement of my own, planning on designing a sweater with one of the brand’s more popular phrases, “I miss Barack,” in the colors of my choosing. Before arrival, I was unsure whether the store was built with customization in mind, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience intense collaboration and interactivity. It was a true team process as the associate pulled sizes for me to try and brought photos up online to help me envision various sweater color / thread color combinations. Lingua Franca is so clear about who they are and what they believe in as a brand. And due to a made-to-order business model with sweaters as the hero, the store, like Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” or Modcloth, is fairly easy to operate. They can instead turn the space into a little jewel box for declaring their brand identity and building relationships. As a customer, I felt like I was joining a tribe of like-minded individuals while also enjoying the satisfaction of a personalized piece. Top: A corner of the Lingua Franca store; Middle: thread is laid out and customers are provided with a card of popular phrases to help with customization; Bottom: My sweater arrives at home. Showfields: An Experience to Instagram I had to conclude my sweater excursion with a trip to Showfields, after reading an article declaring it “the department store of the future.” Showfields describes themselves as “the most interesting store in the world” and “an immersive theater experience that bridges art and retail.” To be honest, the mystical vagueness of it all made me a little nervous. While there, I walked through various conjoining spaces, each temporarily owned by a brand and beautifully decorated with the help of Showfields to tell that brand’s story – Boodles Gin and Book of the Month created a library lounge area, and DTC toilet paper brand No. 2 took over the public restrooms (naturally.) It all felt a bit awkward and confusing. My mind raced with questions such as, Am I allowed to touch everything? (Yes.) Where do I try stuff on? (The one fitting room, disguised to look like a shipping container.) How do you pay? (Approach one of the associates/docents who check you out on the spot using a mobile device.) It looks like I’m the only one actually shopping – how in the world does Showfields make money? (Brands pay $4000+/month for the exposure, without much expectation of actually selling anything.) I eye-rolled a lot, stopped in a few corners to take photos, and seemed to be the only person around who bought anything – in a space that was seemingly built for Instagramming, I ultimately felt uncomfortable making my purchase. Top: One of the brand’s spaces, produced to look like a bodega; Middle: One of the many corners seemingly designed for Instagramming; Bottom: My purchase, a sweater with a print of two romantic robots In the words of President Lincoln, four stores and several sweaters ago… If online shopping has evolved in-person shopping into a focused hunt for a specific product or memorable experience, three things need to happen: The brick and mortar concept must be unique and play a clear role or provide specific value to shoppers that they couldn’t get at home. Brands must then use their digital marketing channels to set clear expectations of what the store experience will be like, build excitement for that experience, and drive foot traffic. Ecommerce, digital marketing, and physical retail must continue working together to learn and optimize towards the most positive customer experience possible. Ultimately, retailers need to ensure that their brand personality shines through their store concept. By thinking of the space as a magnet that will attract and build relationships with “on brand” consumers, it expands the definition of a “store” from a place that encourages a sale, into a marketing platform that ultimately helps visitors align themselves with a brand and its values as they search for, Snapchat, and shop the space.
In 2019, the Strategy team at AMP went on a mission to better understand marketers’ most sought-after consumer segments. Each week, individuals from these segments took over @AMP_Agency Instagram stories to give us a peek into their world as part of our digital ethnography series, “Through Their Eyes.” To wrap up the series, we took the opportunity to celebrate different cultures, and saw Thanksgiving from the perspective of Alicia’s family, from Guangzhou in China, Dana’s family, from Calabria in Italy, and Andronaelle’s family, from Les Cayes in Haiti. If you surveyed all Americans and asked them what the most American holiday was, our bets are on either the Fourth of July – naturally, it’s our birthday – or Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the most American Americanisms: apple pie, lively family debates, and the NFL. Yet, we must not forget that our country is projected to be “minority white” within the next 25 years, and the very definition of what it means to be American looks quite different depending on who you ask. So, on the day that maxes out on all things America, we decided to celebrate what might be the most American Americanism of all: our diversity and our rich, beautiful variety of cultural traditions. We encountered mouth-watering food. While all of our participants still made a turkey, there was also incredible, delectable variety in the accompanying dishes served. Alicia’s family ate prime rib, grilled octopus, and steamed shrimp. Dana’s family had salad with homemade vinegar and drank homemade wine, and Andronaelle’s family had mac and cheese as well as traditional black rice. Top to Bottom: Alicia’s mom made comforting doughy rice ball soup; Andronaelle’s auntie utilized traditional Haitian seasonings in all dishes; Dana’s family tossed salad in homemade vinegar. Matriarchs were celebrated. All of our participants took time in their Instagram Stories to honor the matriarch of the family. Alicia’s family made sure to cook their grandmother’s favorite dish, pork knuckle and lotus stew. Andronaelle wrote about her Auntie Marie, “the matriarch and the best cook in the family,” and many of Dana’s Stories featured her nonna, who kept busy peeling potatoes, greeting guests, and playing games. (We’ll get to the games below!) Top to Bottom: Alicia’s family makes sure to cook their grandmother’s favorite dish; Everyone gathers at Auntie Marie’s immediately after breakfast; Nonna and Dana share a selfie Fun was had. A lot of fun. Most of all, what we could truly sense through these Stories was the sheer fun, and dare we say craziness, that ensues when large families reunite for Thanksgiving. For Alicia’s family, even the morning food prep is made fun, as they make a tradition out of picking up dim sum takeout from Chinatown each Thanksgiving morning. Andronaelle’s family took a big group photo and had the little ones pose for pictures. Dana even convinced two nonnas at the party to play a round of beer pong – the nonnas surprised with a sneaky bounce play that forced their opponents to take two cups off the table. Top to Bottom: The fun starts early at Alicia’s over morning dim sum takeout; Thanksgiving is a time to compare how much the cousins have grown at Andronaelle’s; Two Italian nonnas were shockingly skilled at beer pong And so our “Through Their Eyes” series concludes. This year, we started our Instagram ethnography series with Gen Z college students, moved into soon-to-be-wed millennials, and then millennial moms. Each time, walking in a segment’s shoes for the day revealed surprising insight that’s useful to brands: Gen Z kept themselves dizzyingly busy and are motivated by hustle, soon-to-be-wed’s use food as a vehicle for expressing and celebrating the love they have for their partners, and millennial moms have much more of a sense of humor than marketers would lead you to believe. Yet it’s perhaps fitting that we ended with multicultural Thanksgiving celebrations, and the reminder that despite how different we ensured our participants were – Chinese, Italian, and Haitian – what came through most strongly were the values that we all share, despite “segment” or ethnicity or age or what have you: an obsession with food, a respect for our elders, and the chaotic fun that ensues when we’re all together.
The Strategy team at AMP is on a mission to better understand marketers’ most sought-after consumer segments. Each week, individuals from these segments take over @AMP_Agency Instagram stories to give us a peek into their world as part of our digital ethnography series, “Through Their Eyes.” Throughout the fall, we focused on millennial moms to babies and/or toddlers and saw the world from the perspective of Caitlin, mom to Ridley (almost 5) and Elliot (2), Alessandra, mom to Mila (almost 2), Victoria, mom to Mason (3 months), and Monica, mom to Jack (3) and Tucker (8 months). A year ago, I remember a colleague at AMP Agency, a mom to two youngins, declared she was tired of mom marketing. Her argument was that companies like to make motherhood seem like a total chore, and try to relate to mothers by acknowledging how hard it all is. She said that most brands failed to also recognize the pure fun of it all. As we followed our four moms for this ethnography series, we certainly saw a lot of chaos and business, but, luckily, we also got to see that fun shine through. Let’s dive into our evidence – those real mommy moments, taken directly from their phones. There is no blessing quite like the drive-through. While it’s safe to assume that most moms rely on coffee, we were surprised to see so many moms actually snapping from the Starbucks or Dunkin’ drive-through. More often than not, the kids were in tow in the backseat. Not only does the drive-through provide Mom with the caffeine she needs, it serves many other functional benefits, from avoiding buckling in and out of car seats, not disturbing coveted naps, and providing fun chat time between mom and child(ren). Brands with drive-throughs should find ways to celebrate this cherished time in the car, perhaps by designing games for kids in their app, or designating a few days a year to “surprise and delight” families who pull up with kids in the backseat. L to R: Alessandra excitedly enjoys her first sips; Mason peacefully sleeps as Victoria sits in the Dunkin’ drive-through; Caitlin and her boys have some fun while waiting in line Whether multi-tasking, hurrying, or wading through the backlog, each day is a new race. To no one’s surprise, moms are really busy. From multiple kids to multiple jobs, they’re juggling a lot. What was evidenced from our Instagram Stories, though, was an optimistic, “go with the flow” attitude rarely seen in stereotypical depictions of moms. Whether they were distracting their kids with toys to finally load the dishwasher, rushing through a shower before their infant cried, or not getting to the breakfast dishes until 2 pm, brands should take note of the light-hearted tone of their chaotic Stories, including their use of stickers and emojis, which proves they’re willing to shrug their shoulders and say “c’est la vie” with a smile, rather than with frizzy hair and a scowl. L to R: Caitlin’s boys play with Play-Doh as she cleans up the kitchen; Victoria humorously writes a how-to guide on showering with a newborn; Monica finally tackles the dishes as her kids nap Sneaking in “me time” is necessary – not just as a mom, but as a woman. Moms realize that to show up for their families everyday, they need to take care of themselves too. While it may only be for a few minutes or at odd hours of the day, brands should consider how they themselves can support women’s efforts to recharge. Yes, this may be by finding ways to make chores easier and faster, but outside of their duties, moms’ needs as holistic humans should also be acknowledged and prioritized. L to R: Victoria sneaks in a little reality TV as she pumps; Monica finds an hour for a pedicure; Alessandra winds down after a long day by digging into “Call Me By Your Name” Moms have a sense of humor. Let’s say it again: MOMS HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR! When we think of moms, especially in the media, certain stereotypes may come to mind: the nagging mom, the strict mom, the overly sentimental mom. If we learned anything from this ethnography series, it’s that moms don’t always take themselves too seriously. They laugh at themselves, and they laugh at the dumb stuff their kids do everyday. While they love and protect fiercely, they’re also willing to have an innocent chuckle at their kids’ expense: Alessandra laughed upon discovering her daughter perched on a shelf as if it were a chair, while Caitlin tried her best to be “sympathetic” as her son started to cry that the wet playground slide had made his pants damp. We certainly appreciate our moms’ senses of humor as they let us follow them during this series! L to R: Caitlin and her kids play “Restaurant” at the park; Alessandra can’t help but laugh as Mila steals her glasses and “tries them on”; Victoria plays everyone’s favorite game – “Put The Binky In, Spit The Binky Out”
The Strategy team at AMP is on a mission to better understand marketers’ most sought-after consumer segments. Each week, individuals from these segments take over @AMP_Agency Instagram stories to give us a peek into their world as part of our digital ethnography series, “Through Their Eyes.” Throughout June and July, we focused on millennials who are in the midst of planning their weddings and saw the world from the perspective of Jillian from Allentown, PA, Casey from Chicago, and Haley and John from Boston. As marketers, we frequently consider how to reach and resonate with our audiences during times of pivotal life moments. This month, we decided to focus on the time leading up to what is often considered to be the “most important day of your life” – your wedding day. How are engaged millennials posting on their Instagram Stories during this time? What do they consider to be the elements of their day worth showcasing? Keep reading to find out. The way to the heart is still through the stomach Yes, learning to co-manage meal routines is integral to cohabitating (see our earlier Grocery Diaries reflection for more here), but our participants’ Stories also reminded us that sharing meals together is still the perfect setting for creating memories as a couple. Food is especially important to Haley and John, as they met at culinary school, and their Stories showed the small ways in which food helps them “play house” as a couple and demonstrate their care for one another: John made Haley breakfast, while Haley texted John a photo of the quiche she was making for him in turn later that day. Food also plays a role beyond the day-to-day drudgery, as we saw Jillian and her fiancé’s spread at a taco date night, as well as Casey and her fiancé posing at the dinner table during their friend’s wedding reception. The New York Times understands the hecticness of this time in fiancés’ lives and the power of food to force a couple to slow down and enjoy each other – in their robust How to Plan a Wedding guide, they even go so far as to instruct the reader to take a break from wedding plan and go on a date. There’s opportunity for brands in relevant industries like food, restaurant, and grocery to remind millennials at the wedding planning stage that they deserve a break. Food is love: (L to R) John cooks Haley breakfast, Jillian enjoys date night, and Casey poses at the dinner table during her friend’s wedding reception. Everyone else in their life is getting married and having babies too While culture likes to romanticize weddings as a time to completely celebrate oneself and one’s partner, in reality this time is extra stressful because fiancés aren’t just planning their own affairs – they’re spending considerable time and money attending and participating in their millennial friends’ similar milestones and events. While the average wedding in 2019 cost almost $39,000, nearly 20% of millennials say they’ve also spent $1,000+ to attend a friend’s wedding. In fact, our soon-to-be-Mrs. Casey, chose to take over our Story on a day when she was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. We followed as she got ready (in matching wedding tribe tees), put on her bridesmaid dress, and enjoyed the beautiful venue. While it was undoubtedly a day filled with love and memories, we were reminded that in an already financially-stressful time, wedding expenses go beyond those for a bride and groom’s own big day. While financial tools like Ellevest for wealth management or The Knot for wedding planning help fiancés save for a wedding and keep an event budget, brands like these could expand their offerings by helping millennials also account for the money they need to save in order to participate in friends’ celebrations in the same time period. While planning their own weddings, brides and grooms may also be participating in – and budgeting for – friends’ marital events. Every fun wedding extra, like Bride Tribe t-shirts, should be factored into budgets for brides, grooms, and members of the wedding party. “I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it!” At the end of the day, our Millennial Fiancés warmed our hearts. (And maybe that’s because of the prolific use of heart emojis, gifs, and stickers they used on their Stories.) By following the days of Jillian, Casey, and Haley and John, one couldn’t help but sense the wave of positive energy that comes over an engaged couple during this exciting time in their lives. And while the “big” moments, like Jillian’s wedding band shopping, surely set off a surge of emotion, Instagram Stories also continues to be an arena for sharing all the “small” details that might make a fiancé smile when spending the day with the one they love, like Jillian taking her partner to the site of her childhood summer camp, or Haley driving John to work. When brands speak with millennials, who are likely in the midst of major life events, they shouldn’t forget utilizing imagery and copy that also celebrates everyday life and the small moments that make it all worth it. Don’t forget the small stuff: While Instagram is of course ideal for posting about big milestones, like Jillian’s wedding band shopping (L), you can also feel couples’ excitement as they experience “regular” days with their partner.
The 21st century food shopping experience is all about efficiently streamlining tasks. This is evident not just through significant investments in eCommerce, but also through the rise in delivery service offerings. Online food delivery is booming in particular — the number of Americans who have ordered food online has grown from 17 to 24 percent in the past year. With so many options available, I grew curious about the details differentiating each app’s respective shopping experience. I decided to order from a different app each day for four days, journaling my thoughts while munching on salad one day and sipping soup the next. Convenience means comfort — especially for online food delivery It was a Wednesday night, and I had ordered a soup from my favorite restaurant, eager to maximize my comfiness after a tiring day. After two respective days of UberEats and Postmates, I had settled into a pleasant routine of online food ordering. When I saw that my “Dasher” (of the DoorDash app) had arrived, I summoned up the strength to pause my show, leave my couch, and walk to the door. After receiving my food, I collapsed back on the couch. Upon opening the bag, however, I was disappointed to find that there was no spoon for my soup. I sighed, paused Mad Men, turned on the lights, and made my way to the kitchen. I thought back. Did I forget to indicate that I wanted utensils? Was there a field that suggested including them? Perhaps an “add note” section? Pictured: my squash soup and the accompanying slices of bread. Peeking out in the top right is the infamous spoon from my kitchen. Brand takeaway: My primary reason for ordering food delivery wasn’t just about convenience - I had a vision of curling up in front of a show in my pajamas, and treating myself to minimal movement and maximal indulgence. While the spoon debacle wasn’t catastrophic, it interrupted that vision. If delivery services can identify the true need-states they fulfil, they can better cater to them — and ensure that shoppers have the most seamless ordering experience as possible. Trusting tech is hard. Inputting one’s preferences on an app — without any human interaction — leaves room for doubt. What if the kitchen messes up my order or the app glitches? What if the driver doesn’t get my note to come up to the 8th floor of my office building? I sat in my office’s lobby, this last question lingering in my mind. I saw on the Postmates tracking system that my driver was “here,” but I didn’t see him. Did my Postmate leave the food in the downstairs lobby? Was he in the elevator? Was he waiting for me to meet him outside? After a few minutes, I gave up, went down 8 floors, and saw my food waiting for me at the front desk. The receipt taped to my salad didn’t have the full address I wrote in the app, which included “AMP Agency, 8th floor.” Brand takeaway: Two-way communication is key. As technologically advanced as today’s shopping experience is, there’s always room for error when relaying information. Shoppers will naturally worry about an app acting as a middleman between them and their food. To lessen this worry delivery services can assure the shopper that their unique details have been “seen” by their driver, maybe even sending them a notification of a “read receipt.” It feels good to feel heard. Scrolling through DoorDash’s restaurant options, I hoped to see the bahn mi sandwich cafe just a couple miles away. I searched for “Vietnamese.” It appeared, alongside a button that said “request,” suggesting an option to add the restaurant to DoorDash’s offerings. Wow, I thought. They care about what I want! A screenshot of me single-handedly bettering Boston’s bahn mi delivery scene. Brand takeaway: No reasonable customer expects for a food delivery app to mirror their every preference. A small gesture that acknowledges a shopper’s wants (accompanied with the hope of fulfilling them), validates the shopper. This subtle approach to customer satisfaction allows the shopper to feel both that their opinion matters, and that the app genuinely wishes to improve its service. Superlatives Like many consumers, I honed my preferences by trying multiple services. I like to think that I’m now qualified enough to assign (subjective) superlatives to each app’s respective customer experience. Best delivery time predictor: UberEats Of all the apps, UberEats was the only one that didn’t adjust its delivery time, estimating the total cooking and delivery time very well. Would recommend for squeezing meals in between meetings. Best first-delivery perks: Doordash I still don’t understand whether I stumbled upon some month-of-July promotion or if the first delivery fee is always waived. Regardless, my frugal self was pleased at this opportunity to save some money. Best notification experience: Grubhub While some apps blasted my phone with notifications via app, email, and text, Grubhub let me manually input how I wished to be notified upon arrival of my food. I typed “please call when you’re outside” and my request was fulfilled. A blank canvas for notification preferences Best delivery flexibility: Postmates Free delivery if I join a “party?” By. All. Means. Postmates’s “party” option allows one’s delivery to be pooled with others in the area. The catch: delivery time could be as long as an hour. Without pressing appointments, party-ing is a lovely option to save on delivery costs. Extrovert, introvert, dancer – or not – Postmates has a “party” for all. Most likely to use again: UberEats A delivery fee cheaper than others, many restaurant options, and a familiar GPS format (I take the occasional Uber, so I’m biased), UberEats is my food delivery app of choice. Bonus perks: The UberRewards program. With every eligible meal and Uber ride, I get points that I can use for either.
Confession: I am a Fitting Roomer. I read this fashion industry term recently in a swirl of shame as the article identified my exact online shopping behavior: buying multiple sizes in an item with the intent to try them on at home, keep the one that fits, and return the others. My entire spring/summer wardrobe was purchased online, with at least 50% returned. I could hear the fashion execs whispering tsk tsk in my ear, admonishing me for what some have called the ticking time bomb of costly retail returns. Apparently we Fitting Roomers are terrible for the bottom line. We’re taking advantage of the system. Amazon has even banned the most extreme habitual returners, identifying us as bad for business. Except we’re not. E-commerce fashion is a $545 billion industry and growing. This growth is fueled by convenience including the ability to return: 88% of online shoppers appreciate shopping day or night and easily finding products. And free shipping and returns are the top factors making people more likely to shop online. Without a good shipping and return policy, retailers lose a huge chunk of sales. Because here’s the thing. Shopping for clothes online isn’t like shopping for other goods. It’s not just the quality that matters, or that items are true to their online representation. You may receive a beautiful blouse in the mail that every bit lives up to its description and photo, but when you put it on you happen to look more frumpy than sophisticated. Those amazingly edgy, high quality jeans might be the epitome of your personal style, but they also just might squeeze you in all the wrong places. The top two reasons for online returns are “size too small,” and “size too large.” In other words, a key part of what drives apparel purchase is how the clothes fit on your body. It’s why every brick-and-mortar retail location has dressing rooms. With clothes, you need to try before you buy. So when considering the state of online returns, retailers are making one fatal mistake. They’re thinking of online returns as a follow-up to the buying process, when in fact they’re part of the shopping process. We Fitting Roomers don’t think of paying for multiple sizes online as akin to buying and returning. We think of it as a sort of refundable deposit to try on clothes we haven’t committed to yet. Fitting Roomers aren’t taking advantage of the system. They’re showing brands what an online shopping process looks like when you need to try before you buy. Andrew Bowden, Sr. Manager of Product Marketing at TradeGecko, an inventory management software company, understands that for brands to avoid getting gouged by growing customer return habits, they need to think of it as part of the larger experience. “The most important question to ask when assessing your reverse logistics process,” he recently told Shopify, “is whether or not you’re designing and optimizing the experience for the customer or your business — ideally it’s a mix of both. When in doubt, default to the customer.” Instead of punishing or dissuading the shopping behavior of fitting rooming, why not embrace it? What would the online retail customer experience look like if we shift the way we think of fitting rooming from a “return” to a “try-on?” Some are already doing this. Digitally native direct-to-consumer brands like ThirdLove and MM La Fleur have redefined the experience to embrace how the need to try on shapes a shopping journey. ThirdLove is so focused on fit, they incorporate an in-depth fit quiz before purchase and let customers return bras even after they’ve already been worn and put through the laundry. While I was trying on my new bra at home, I texted with a ThirdLove “Fit Stylist” for a new size recommendation. When I needed a new style, she provided the most seamless repackaging/shipping logistics I’ve encountered. Knowing this, I’m guessing they have an air-tight reverse logistics process built for efficiency and minimal cost, too. Over the last six months I’ve returned two bras. But I’ve kept five - and become a serial repeat customer. That’s a big deal when repeat purchases are the aim of a whopping 83% of shopping journeys. Digitally native DTC brands like MM La Fleur and ThirdLove build their retail customer experience to accommodate the need to find the perfect fit. It’s the more traditional retail brands that haven’t quite figured this out yet. Their struggle with the cost of returns leaves you guessing on how an item looks on a real body, receiving multiple packages that can’t be re-used, being charged extra fees, and printing labels. These brands look at Fitting Roomers as a problem to be combatted, but brands and customers both win if we shift how we perceive the role of returns in the online shopping journey. Because at the end of the day, we Fitting Roomers are not serial returners. We’re just online shoppers. Greer Pearce, VP of Strategy AMP is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. This article is a part of AMP’s Customer Experience deep-dive series, where we take a first person approach to understanding the modern shopping experience.
Buying and preparing food is a huge part of most of our lives and routines. Almost everybody grocery shops – but not everyone shops the same. Strategists Jen Herbert and Greer Pearce recorded grocery diaries for a month and sat down to compare notes on the modern grocery experience. LIFE STAGES SHIFT FOOD ROUTINES Greer: Jen and I are in different life stages, and one of our big takeaways was not just that our shopping routines are different, but that changes in our lives have acted as triggers for a whole new food routine. Marketers have known for a long time that there are some brief periods in a person’s life when routines are disrupted and shopping patterns are open to change, and we saw that play out clearly in our own lives. When Jen moved in with her partner, Jason, grocery shopping became a team effort. She had to start coordinating weeknight schedules and planning differently. They shop together, so the actual shopping experience became more fun: they make funny faces at each other in the produce section and gamify splitting up the items in their cart at checkout to try and get as close to possible to a perfectly split bill. When I had a baby last year, I also got a new shopping partner – my son, Teddy. Pre-shopping trip, that meant planning more carefully so I could get in and out of the store faster, and new items on our list as he started to eat solid foods. In-store, it meant less time looking at labels or new products, and more time solving the puzzle of how to physically shop with him, a tiny human either taking up most of the cart in his car seat, strapped to my body, or trying to escape from the child seat. These new routines are markedly different from how both Jen and I shopped as single young professionals, when we made more, smaller trips to the store and only bought food for one. Brand Takeaway: Consumers need different things at different life stages, and there are multiple phases when they’re actively adjusting their routine. Meet them in the moment to offer them solutions specific to their needs. Life stage shapes how people shop. Jen and her partner shop together and gamify their routine to make it more fun. Greer looks for items that will distract her toddler. GROCERY SHOPPING STARTS BEFORE THE GROCERY STORE Jen: What Greer and I came to appreciate as we traded our grocery stories was just how much effort we both spend on “pre-work” before ever stepping foot in-store. Before a list can be constructed, we both meal plan our future dinners, but our sources for drawing meal inspiration are very different. Greer knows that her family will be home and in need of dinners every night of the week. She sits down and plans each of those seven meals, surrounded by her go-to resources: three favorite cookbooks, the New York Times, and Bon Appetit’s online recipes. Meanwhile, Jason and I start meal planning by assessing when we’ll both be home – these are nights when it feels “worth it” to invest time in a homemade dinner. Then, we’ll scan the fridge to see if anything is in need of repurposing, which will often spark a meal idea. In the warmer months, we’ll also check the weather – if there are sunny days ahead, we’ll grill. If we’re still stuck, I’ll head to my Saved posts on Instagram. (When I see an easy meal idea, I proactively flag it for times like these.) Finally, I’ll do a scan of the house for staples – everything from vitamins to eggs to Kleenex – that we are running low on and should also be added to the list. When we finally arrive in-store, our routines don’t stop. Greer follows the same pattern around her store each time, while I go so far as to “code” my list by the section of the store I’ll find each item in. Brand Takeaway: Going in-store with a clear plan of attack helps the shopping experience run on autopilot, guaranteeing the trip is relatively efficient and even free of in-the-moment decision-making. With that insight, we both agree that well over half of our “grocery experience” actually takes place within our own homes. Consider ways that your brand can build relationships with customers outside of the physical store, when they’re more likely to be in an open, “inspirational” mindset rather than cruising on autopilot. The grocery experience starts with inspiration and preparation. Jen and Jason make a detailed list before heading to the store. SURPRISES MAKE A SHOPPING TRIP BEAUTIFUL Jen: With all that prep-work, what’s in our basket is often dictated by what’s on our lists. But Greer and I also found we welcome pleasant surprises and unplanned ways to treat ourselves. Greer sometimes treats herself to a pretty bouquet of flowers if they catch her eye, or spontaneously grabs swordfish if it looks particularly good. She distinctly remembers being excited one spring when her store’s typically uninspiring produce section had fiddlehead ferns. Jason and I typically “allow” ourselves one or two surprises when we do our weekly shopping. This could be, like Greer, a spontaneous bouquet of flowers, a fancy candy bar or pastry, or a new flavor of protein bar or ice cream (usually one with eye-catching packaging!). Another welcome surprise is when large grocery chains begin carrying beloved brands from the Northeast. Just the other day, we happily discovered coffee from our favorite roastery in Maine, which we typically had to purchase on-vacation or online! It’s moments like this that infuse a trip that could feel like a chore with a sense of fun. Brand Takeaway: Basket-building moments center around beauty and reward. While the idea of grocery shopping is quite beautiful – fresh, colorful produce, nurturing loved ones, etc. – grocery shopping in practice is often anything but. Finding small opportunities to encourage customers to treat themselves to something beautiful is a reward for an accomplished store trip. PROXIMITY ISN’T THE ONLY FACTOR Greer: It seems obvious that where we grocery shop is dictated by where we live, and to some extent this is true. But within a person’s grocery options, several factors might trigger them to buy at one store over another: The List: Jen’s list dictates where she’ll shop that week, and she doesn’t decide where to shop until it’s complete. If the recipe’s she’s making calls for hard-to-find produce, or she’s craving the fancy yogurt she likes, she’ll drive a little farther to get to a store where she knows she can find what she needs. Physical size of items: Greer gets all her bulky items like diapers, paper towels, dog food, and toilet paper via Amazon so she can avoid carrying heavy items home from a physical store. Price: Both Jen and Greer have price compared the stores in their area, and make the less expensive store their go-to for staples. In-store experience: Both Jen and Greer sometimes go out of their way to find an experience that offers elements of fun, beauty, and excitement. “Type” of grocery visit: Different grocery occasions call for different stores. Greer does her weekly, well planned trips to one store, but goes to a smaller, closer store for an unplanned mid-week trip. Season: In the summer, both Jen and Greer completely switch up their routines to incorporate farmers markets and CSAs where they can get fresh local produce. This means less trips to the grocery store overall, and meal planning driven by in-season items. Brand Takeaway: The need for food drives a grocery visit, but many factors go into where and how you shop. While shoppers may have a default routine, they are open to deviating from it – or redefining it when it will make their lives easier or more enjoyable. Brands should consider how to meet the needs of multiple types of grocery occasions. AMP is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. This article is a part of AMP’s Customer Experience Deep Dive Blog Series, where we take a first person approach to understanding the modern shopping experience.
The Strategy team at AMP is on a mission to better understand marketers’ most sought-after consumer segments. Each week, individuals from these segments take over @AMP_Agency Instagram stories to give us a peek into their world as part of our digital ethnography series, “Through Their Eyes.” In May we focused on Gen Z college students and saw the world from the perspective of Courtney from Oregon State University, Cortes from California Polytechnic State University, Alexa from UMass Amherst, and Haidar from the University of Rhode Island. Move over, millennials. Marketers’ latest obsession is with Gen Z, the cohort born between 1995 and the early 2010s. You might already know that they’re pragmatic and frugal, multicultural and accepting, and native to the digital world. But we uncovered a few more insights as we followed four college students preparing for finals and the summer ahead... Everyday, they’re hustling Everyday Gen Z is hustling, and we mean that quite literally – a decorative sign with that very motto was spotted in the background of one of Alexa’s posts, next to a Post-It reminder that said, "Harvard Business or Bust.” Follow any one of these individuals around for the day and be prepared to be exhausted. Both Courtney and Cortes found time for workouts between multiple classes, work shifts, and study sessions, while Alexa is on the board of five different clubs and Haidar’s roster of classes as a Global Business Major and Arabic Studies and Engineering double minor is enough to make your head spin. Our team wasn’t surprised to see this given what we’ve read about the generation as a hard working and focused bunch – only 38% think work-life balance is important, compared to 47% of millennials, and 58% say ‘bring it’ to working nights and weekends in exchange for a better salary. No (iced) coffee, no workee While all that hustle is self-driven, it’s apparently also fueled by caffeine – specifically in the form of iced coffee. We couldn’t help but notice that three of our four participants made a point of creating a post specifically in admiration of their respective iced coffees, ‘gramming it beautifully against a flowering bush, decorating their coffee selfies with a “good day today” gif, and even adding Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us” as background music for the post (below). It all made sense, when our research showed that 56% of Gen Z has purchased iced coffee in the past month. They find fun in responsibility We were impressed by Gen Z’s ability to create joy, even during times when duty called. Courtney took her studying outside to a scenic patio. Cortes savored a sparkling coconut water in the sunshine. Alexa got a little sassy with her Stats study guide. And even Haidar, who was busy observing Ramadan during his feature, took a selfie with a friend as they stood in the aisles of a convenience store shoveling down cups of cereal in the early morning hours for Suhur. Despite their exhausting schedules, on-the-go nature, and mountain of responsibilities, Gen Z is clearly able to appreciate and enjoy each moment. In the future, they’ll be looking for workplaces that encourage this outlook as well – 65% of Gen Z look for a “fun” working environment when assessing whether a company culture is a good fit for them.
Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist at AMP I haven’t been to Disney World since I was eight, but this year I was fortunate enough to go to South by Southwest (SXSW), which I have now dubbed “Disneyland for Adults.” When I wasn’t busy presenting with the rest of the fierce AMP team for our participation in YouTube’s SXSW Creative Agency Challenge, or being distracted by the puppies at the Amazon Prime activation and the endless CBD-related samples at the wellness expo, I promise I was putting on my Brand Strategist hat and attending a wealth of panels and keynotes with my colleague and SXSW partner-in-crime, Andie, AMP’s Director of Business Development. The best part was listening to speakers with such diversity in perspective, and realizing that all of these accomplished individuals offered a unique method for building and strengthening a brand tribe: through social impact, play, internal creativity, and centering the customer experience around a singular emotional benefit. While we’ve been hearing about “brand community” for some time, “brand tribe” is a relatively new term in Marketing, yet it’s important because it denotes a much deeper relationship between brand and customer. While a member of a brand community need only participate on occasion, perhaps via a purchase or a ‘like’ on Instagram, a member of a brand tribe wholly believes in that brand. Connection with that brand becomes an outward expression of one’s identity to the rest of the world. Brand tribe members wear merchandise, create user-generated Social content, join loyalty programs, go on auto-pay plans, and, perhaps most importantly, recruit others to join the tribe too. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Social Impact Study after study has proven that in 2019, consumers want to back brands that share their values and create a positive change in the world. That being said, brands can’t talk at customers about the good they’re doing; they need to work with their customers to spread good together. As panelists during How Brands Can Engage the Social Impact Generation outlined, social impact must be participatory. One panelist, Viveka Hulyalkar, Co-Founder and CEO of Beam, has developed a customer engagement platform that partners with a given company, say, a fast-casual salad stand. The salad company decides how much they’re willing to donate per purchase and a cause they would like to support, such as third world female education. Customers can then log into the app to track how each salad purchased gets them closer to buying a textbook for a young girl. Another panelist, Helena Hounsel, Social Media Manager at Brandless, offered an example of how a brand tribe of activists can be built on Social: “Rather than spending International Women’s Day showing how your company volunteered at a women’s nonprofit, why don’t you instead ask your audience which women are inspiring them this holiday?” By rallying around causes that your brand and your customers share a passion for, and then providing a platform for your customers to become ambassadors for the cause, your social impact becomes experiential and your brand tribe becomes united around a higher purpose. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Play All work and no play makes a brand’s tribe very dull. IBM’s Dr. John Cohn reminded us of that in his session, Prioritizing Play in an Automated Age, where he outlined how making room to play can smooth the bumps during life’s tough disruptions. During the talk, Dr. Cohn told us about play projects of his, like an 18-foot tall animatronic pumpkin man as well as an art car built for Burning Man. He recounted how droves of people, some of whom then became his fellow creators, were drawn to his projects while they were being built and shown off to the world. In other words, play can help you find your brand tribe, in a very “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. Through your bravery to look silly and/or fail, and your willingness to surrender to wonder for no reason other through indulging curiosity, your brand will show its authenticity and customers who identity a similar raison d’être in themselves will be drawn to you naturally. Sure, you might be saying, A wacky scientist from IBM can have a little fun, but how can brands? Let’s not forget this Southwest flight attendant who transformed the safety demonstration into a burlesque performance, or KFC apologizing for running out of chicken with an on-the-nose newspaper ad featuring its carton respelt as FCK. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Internal Creativity It is often hard for brands to prioritize looking inward, to their own company culture and values, when there are always so many externally-focused tasks to complete. The beloved bakery Milk Bar, however, is proof that the spirit of brands that cultivate internal creativity will always shine through and be felt externally by customers. During Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected, Christina Tosi, cookie-baker extraordinaire and company founder, along with her agency partner, Michael Greenblatt of REDSCOUT, reflected on how the Milk Bar brand toolkit is a toolkit in the truest sense of the word. Through the codified system of the color palette, off-kilter logo placement, branded pastry box tape, and decorative stamps, Milk Bar employees at locations around the country are encouraged to leverage their creativity to use the tools as they’d wish. For example, the Milk Bar team suggested designing the delivery truck to look like it was covered in the Milk Bar tape; others use the logo and colors to bedazzle denim jackets and beanies that they wear to work. This DIY spirit has created a tribe of Milk Bar devotees. Because employees are welcome to live and breathe the brand uniquely, customers also view the brand as a living and breathing thing to interact with–for example by holding up a cup of “cereal milk” soft serve to a pretty background for the perfect Instagram, or by decorating their laptop in Milk Bar stickers. _________ Building A Brand Tribe Through Creation of “Brand Feeling” Lastly, it’s easy to get bogged down in lifting brand metrics. Yet during Following the Feeling: Creating Brand Value, Columbia University lecturer Kai Wright argues that the most important brand metric is how you make others feel. After all, Wright noted, humans make 95% of our daily decisions on “auto-pilot,” rather than weighing pros and cons in order to choose the best and most rational choice, with emotions influencing nearly 70% of our decision-making. He cited brands who have expertly structured their brand “LAVEC”– lexicon, audio cues, visual stimuli, experience, and culture– around a singular brand feeling. Take Disney, whose feeling of “happiness” is supported by audio cues like fireworks and visual stimuli like wearing the iconic mouse ears, or Gatorade, whose feeling of “endurance” is brought to life through the lexicon of calling its products “fuel.” If a customer can rely on your brand not just for great products or services, but for a guaranteed emotional experience, your brand tribe is then powered by the strength of shared human connection.
A core tenant of our business at AMP Agency is that we strive to generate strategy that is creative, and creative that is strategic. But any marketing agency would agree that it can be challenging for the Strategy team to continually build briefs that present a unique POV and inspire the Creative team; on the other hand, it can sometimes be a puzzle for Creative to generate ideas that are both breakthrough in the marketplace and guaranteed to resonate with our audiences. This winter our Strategy and Creative teams were given the opportunity to push those bounds and work on a project, leveraging audience insights, that has made us into even more creative and thoughtful storytellers. Not only that, it’s revitalized the way our teams collaborate together. ______________ THE BACKGROUND We were selected to participate in the 2019 iteration of YouTube's South by Southwest (SXSW) Creative Agency Challenge. We were excited to learn the theme was "Signals and Storytelling." This theme pushed us to look beyond audience demographics and think meaningfully about consumers’ interests and intent signals based on how they’re using Google & YouTube--and more importantly how these insights could more strategically inform our creative storytelling. During the Challenge kick-off at YouTube NYC, we discussed how it’s no longer acceptable to fill the Target Audience section of a creative brief with simple, demographic information. The comical example that Google gave, and that stuck with us, is that by writing a demographic-led brief like, Aged 65+, British, high net worth, dog lover, we would unknowingly be creating content that tailored to both Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne! In addition, this year’s Challenge looked to harness the participating agencies’ efforts towards a greater good. YouTube partnered with the Ad Council, and we were asked to create two pieces of skippable YouTube video content for a select cause-based organization. AMP was assigned to work with She Can STEM. Our goal and our challenge was to use insights-based, creative storytelling to empower parents to encourage an interest in STEM. More specifically, we wanted to understand and reach the audiences of Bargain Hunter parents and Technophile parents, who we found, through working with Google, showed strong affinity for the cause. Below, our Senior Strategist, Jen Herbert, and Creative Director, James Hough, reflect on their insights, the process, and experience. ______________ FROM CONSUMER INSIGHTS TO CREATIVE STRATEGY Jen: When analysing interest and intent signals, what came as the biggest surprise was that bargain hunter parents like watching quirky videos featuring silly experimentation around the house, such as Making Slime and the Cheese Ball Bath Challenge. To resonate, I thus wanted to recognize their lives are full of creative, scrappy, playful discovery, and how through this they established a foundation that could translate to a career in STEM. For Technophile Parents, I saw that they are often shopping for gaming systems, but also interested in sports, TV shows, movies and news articles. So, to cater our messaging to Technophile Parents, I wanted to acknowledge their lives as multi-dimensional and well-rounded. ______________ THE CREATIVE PROCESS James: The Creative Team viewed this opportunity as a chance to see how we stacked up against other up-and-coming and established advertising agencies and marketing agencies. We felt empowered to ensure our storytelling was on point. Basic empowerment and “you’re a badass” messaging wouldn’t cut it when we need to tell parents they have a job to do – keeping their daughters interested in STEM through the 11 to 14 year-old drop off point. More simply, “She can STEM.” Based on the strategic insights in our creative brief, we presented four concepts and eight scripts to the Ad Council after sharing initial thoughts with Google. After the Ad Council chose a direction we storyboarded, found a director (Max Esposito), found locations, cast and shot– all within about a week. I think that the financial and time constraints coupled with the freedom to go out and create without check-in’s made for something special. While each of our spots are aimed at a different audience, they shared the same goal. In each of the stories we see relatable and tangible ways a parent can encourage their daughter at the right time to keep going. Instead of pushing future-focused images of a marine biology or coding career, we centered the seemingly minor moments of everyday life that could have a big impact on a girl’s interest, like a trip to the aquarium with mom or the gift of a tablet from dad. Check them out. We really hope you like them: https://youtu.be/-bxOcFJNEjs https://youtu.be/hWZrvXpace8 And check out the story on Adweek, Think with Google, MarComm News, and others: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/youtube-wants-to-teach-marketers-how-to-create-more-targeted-advertising-at-sxsw/ https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/advertising-channels/video/youtube-audience-behavioral-insights/ https://marcommnews.com/youtube-and-ad-council-tap-amp-agency-and-others-for-sxsw-challenge/ https://lbbonline.com/news/ad-council-spots-show-how-girls-can-be-inspired-to-work-in-stem/