Perk wars

Publisher Mary Maddever on how shopper marketing today straddles two worlds, and award-winning tactics in the space.

This story appears in the May 2015 issue of strategy.

The TD Aeroplan Visa card commercial with the owlish little girl who asks her dad to get homework supplies strikes a chord with me. His glee over amassing miles for a trip to Italy is only a slightly exaggerated version of my own points fervour.

I don’t have an actual map on the wall of my garage, but an awful lot of purchases are dictated by what is increasingly becoming a pretty complex matrix of reward options. Maybe I should be charting it.

Right now, loyalty programs seem to be the biggest differentiator for some categories of retail. So are perks now the P in USP? These programs are brilliant investments for retailers due to the brand loyalty they can build, but with everyone jumping into the space – such as grocery – is it becoming table stakes?

So what else can retailers do to differentiate their brands? There’s lots of innovation going on to one-up and create trip-worthy in-store experiences, but for a chain, that’s a daunting investment.

The melding of stores, e-comm, loyalty and techy shenanigans into a unique experience that ladders up to a brand is a hugely challenging proposition. For retailers and manufacturers trying to navigate the change and still make money, shopper marketing is an exercise in straddling two worlds: the traditional (flyers and in-store programs) and the digital (content programs, mobile loyalty, online shopping). And they have to do both well – for the same amount of pie – because shoppers still want flyer deals, and a great in-store and online experience (plus points).

It’s ridiculous to expect perfection. But we do. We now compare the online service of Hudson’s Bay, which operates physical stores across Canada spanning a huge range of categories, to the e-comm experience we’re used to from specialist global retail brands that don’t have to bother with bricks and mortar costs or ops.

Ironically, excellence online, great ad campaigns and super smart loyalty programs with personalized offers put even more pressure on chains like Loblaws or Shoppers to live up to it all at the store level.

Quite the conundrum. But folks are figuring it out. Our Shopper Innovation Awards are a litmus for what’s working as the space evolves. So check out the winners and how manufacturers and retailers are working together to build brands – tackling goals that would be a tougher slog to take on solo.

Path to purchase is not only starting earlier and involving more partners and unexpected tactics, shopper marketing is being fuelled by bigger branding strategies, such as Canadian Tire’s “Tested for Life” work, which reinforces the retailer’s iconic heritage while selling stuff. The Grand Prix-winning Ice Truck that sold batteries like hot cakes proves bigger, integrated pushes are working. Less eggs, one reusable basket. So congrats to all the winners! And good luck with omni-channel mastery – before the drone wars begin.

Cheers, mm

Image: Authentic Creations /