Retail discounts: how PRs should respond

The line between promotional seasons in retail has become blurred. Who can tell where Black Friday begins and the summer sale ends when there is a concoction of mid-season discounts in between, both online and off? And how should PRs respond in this unpredictable environment? We asked comms experts what they think about the trend.

According to the KPMG/Ipsos Retail Think Tank (RTT), the traditional ‘end of season sale’ no longer exists. Consumers previously anticipated post-Christmas discounts and summer promotions around the  mid-year mark, and these discounts were largely driven by the need to shift excess stock at end of the season.

However, this framework can look simplistic when compared to what we have today, which is a multi-faceted and complex system of traditional sales, online discount concepts, such as Cyber Monday, and mid-season sales.

The UK’s import of Black Friday in 2010, where retailers slash prices for a weekend in November just before Christmas spending kicks off, has added to the mix.

So, what do the comms experts think about the challenge this retail market presents for brands and retailers?

Brand relevance is key

“In all honesty, whether promotions are the right or wrong approach depends on the kind of brand you’re building, the kind of customers you want and, most critically of all, the trading strategy,” said Martin Currie, managing director at Citypress – an agency that works with retailers including Aldi.

“For some brands, the yo-yo pricing of competitors can help them differentiate and cut through with a more “everyday low pricing” proposition – in other words, ‘we’re always great value, you don’t need discounts with us’. This can provide a great springboard for creative and compelling brand communications.

“For other brands – often, though not always, premium or mid-premium brands – side-stepping promotions can entirely can help maintain quality, kudos and cachet and keep a core customer base loyal,” Currie added.

Create ‘events’ around the best promotions

Simon Dornan, head of PR at Dixons Carphone, said: “At Currys PC World we still try to keep the “event” feel to our promotions, for example for the new school term for computing or a large sporting events (Olympics, Euro’s) for TVs, so that we can differentiate between them and build that sense of space between each one. More recent phenomena like Black Friday add to the noise around a traditionally promo heavy period such as Christmas.”

“We plan around [these events] in our calendar and whilst the notion of a traditional ‘sale’ isn’t going to be PR’able, many of the items featured in the promo will be singled out and we’ll service them to shopping and lifestyle media. The more lifestyle led promos like a new school term or around sporting events lend themselves to us as a PR team getting really creative to amplify them.”

Cross-discipline marketing and content combats consumer ‘fatigue ‘

Eileen Stretton, managing director at Golley Slater PR North – which currently works with retail brands such as John Lewis, said: “We have to find a way to protect brands integrity and ‘worth’, whilst playing into the hands of the bargain hunting consumer too.”

“I’d say that, from a PR point of view, there is a fatigue with the plethora of ‘special days’ and they’ve become a little meaningless to many. Clever retailers will work to understand which days fit their customers’ agenda and their own operational capability, but build meaningful relationships with them through their chosen channels consistently year round and through the line – not just PR, but all channels and touch points.”

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