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Supply Chain Holiday Shopping

Supply Chain Woes: Don't Wait, Communicate

Headlines are projecting that the prospects for the upcoming holiday look bleak. But while, last year, the holiday season was altered by unprecedented circumstances (and, of course, not-so-seasonal depression), new obstacles to the season’s usual cheer have arisen: The supply chain appears to be broken.

There are many reasons why the supply chain is broken. For one, COVID restrictions overseas have slowed production and caused widespread disruptions at home (who can forget the great toilet paper panic of 2020?). 

Another reason for the break in productivity? A shortage of longshoremen, truckers, and chassis. But whatever the reason, the reality is that the supply chain is stressed. It is forcing us to wait. Six months for a refrigerator, nine months for a couch. If your hopes are more niche (like for semiconductor prices to return to what they used to be) there’s nothing but bad news on the horizon.

But why all this discussion of doom and gloom? Because no one likes a waiting room. And consumers need a way out (here’s your cue, marketers)!

The No-Wait Psychology

Picture this:

You’ve been waiting to buy an item for a long, long time. Luckily your lack of social life (and dutiful saving) during the pandemic made it possible to purchase this item. When you finally log-on to the intended brand’s website, you are almost anxious with anticipation. You’re ready. With this in mind, let’s walk through two scenarios. 

Scenario 1: OOO (Out of Options)

When your mouse clicks to add the item to your virtual cart, you gasp. You can’t believe your eyes: “Out of Stock” or “Join the Waitlist” the text reads. You’ve wanted this item for six months! Why didn’t the brand let you know it was low in stock ahead of time? You would have definitely pushed “buy.” Especially knowing that, with supply chain issues around the world, the item would likely not be in stock soon.

But they didn’t communicate with you. 

Scenario 2: Status Check

When you add the item to your virtual cart, you rejoice! And, because you know the reliability of your wifi, you check out. But not before you add “expedited shipping” to your cart. You need this item, yesterday. After 18 months of isolation, more episodes of Bachelorette than you’d care to admit, and two dog adoptions later, you deserve to treat yo’ self.

Now that the hard work is done, all you have to do is wait…and wait…and wait. Tick tock. Tick tock. You paid for expedited shipping, it should have arrived already. You want to check the status of your package, but you realize you haven’t received so much as a shipping notification. What gives?! 

Supply chain issues or not, you should have been the first one to know if there would be delivery issues. But you weren’t. And now, you’re not going to buy that product—or shop with that brand—again.

Addressing the Supply Chain Through Marketing

If you need a moment to center yourself—to reel in your emotions after trekking through two painful shipping sagas—please take one. Take five. We need it, too.

This year, we surveyed 2,000 consumers in the U.S. and UK to find out how shoppers were feeling about the upcoming holiday season. In our survey, more than three-quarters of UK and U.S. respondents (76%) reported that they are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to. 

We also asked consumers to think back over the last six months and label the attribute that best described their favorite promotion from brands. At the top of the list?

  1. Transparent and Trusting
  2. Empathetic and Comforting
  3. Straightforward and No Frills

This moment in time—when shipping woes and supply chain shortages are top of mind—is a shining spotlight on how important transparent, empathetic, and straightforward communication is. We have come to expect to get what we want ASAP and when that’s not the case, we want to know. 

We—marketers—don’t need to find a way to fix the supply chain. We just need to find a way to make the waiting less painful. And consumers have told us exactly what we need to do.

1. Don’t Advertise What You Don’t Have

Many companies have been struggling for months to get products to consumers, as they face shortages in everything from raw materials to labor to cargo containers, among other problems. Some are questioning whether it makes sense to promote products they can’t adequately stock.

And we couldn’t agree more. But just because you don’t have a product doesn’t mean you can’t drive engagement.

Take On the Beach, a travel booking company, for example. When On The Beach realized that lockdown went from two weeks to (now) two years, the reality for the travel and bookings-based brand was a little bleak. How would a business whose entire revenue model was based on sales, survive? They switched their mindset and messaging, from bookings-based to engagement-centric. Their message to customers: “we don’t think you should book a holiday right now.”

They prioritized building long-term loyalty and trust over short-term profit, and they are #thriving as a result.

2. Don’t Wait to Communicate with Customers

“Honesty is the best policy” repeated everyone’s parents in the 90s, when mischievous young millennials were caught in a lie. But this belabored phrase has never been more true than it is today. When we say that customers want to have emotional connections with brands, we mean they want to build relationships. And relationships are built on trust.

“I’d rather be very honest, very transparent,” when it comes to communications, shared David Sasson, Chief Operating & Financial Officer for fashion company Bonobos. “At the end of the day, what we firmly believe is that if you are transparent, if you communicate the lead time to the customer in a way that the customer can understand, the customer may not be happy about it, but he will understand if there is a delay to their shipment.”

This is a critical issue in an era where effective logistics is a competitive advantage and when that final delivery may be the only face-to-face interaction with the brand.

What you don’t want is customers coming to look for information about their order. You want to be going out to them, staying on top of the solution and communicating information as cleanly and quickly as possible.

3. It’s The Delivery That Counts

As we mentioned, consumers have been extremely forthright about the tone that resonates with them. Of course, that comes with a caveat. Yes, you have an idea of how customers want to be messaged. But you don’t have the full story. Not yet.

You wouldn’t address your mother the way you talk to your colleague, so why should brands interact with all of their customers the same way? Customers can vary significantly in their needs and desires, even in very niche categories and segments.

Segmenting customers is your solution. It will help you tailor your approach to each group and create relevant messaging and experiences that land with each individual. Messaging, after all, doesn’t matter if you don’t land the delivery.

Don’t Wait. Just Do

Computer chips. Exercise equipment. Underwear. The world has run short of a great many products. And no one really knows when these shortages and delays will resolve. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

But just because the supply chain is struggling doesn’t mean your marketing has to. Take a page from the On the Beach book, and get creative with your marketing. Lean in and embrace Bonobos’s chivalrous marketing model. And above all, make sure you’re not treating your customers as the “end of the line” in your supply chain’s model. Give them the attention they deserve.

Learn more about how to best communicate with your customers during tough times by scheduling a demo with one of our experts.

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