Opinion

Why is Easter the most disappointing retail season?

While retailers go all out for Christmas, Easter is a holiday that’s not contested in the same way. In this guest post, branding specialist Tim Riches visited Coles and Woolies, and was disappointed by what he saw.

Australians are expected to buy more than 6000 tonnes of chocolate this Easter – a forecast increase of about 5% on 2016.

The spend per family is significant with estimates between $50 and $100 on average. Just on chocolate.

But will this spending splurge result in improved connection between big retail brands and customers? For mainstream retailers at least, I doubt it.

Over the past two weeks, I investigated six different Coles and Woollies supermarkets on a quest to find the best Easter-driven brand experience. Instead of finding inspiration or joy in-store, I discovered predictable price promotions, often spread across the store in way that reduced visual and experiential impact.

Of the stores I looked at, Woollies in Coburg did the best job of piling it high in a dedicated Easter zone, leveraging large quantities of kid-attracting bright shiny foil. And while abundance goes some way to achieving a sense of ‘special’, the overall retail experience in each of these stores added very little value in terms of a fun store experience, inspiration or products to help me do my Easter job.

Beyond my market research of one, a survey of the 50-strong Principals team failed to elicit much of a reaction around local big brand supermarkets although several more niche grocery stores got a shout-out, as did Waitrose in the UK.

The consensus was that these brands could be doing so much more to entice us in-store and it’s more or less the same online. There’s a bit of Easter content to be dug up on the Woolworths site, but it’s no kind of go-to for planning a fun Easter weekend. Aldi is typically colourful and perky with a small ‘Easter fun for kids’ hub but it’s not a destination for anything terribly unique.

This evidence leads me to conclude that Easter is Australia’s most disappointing retail season with the major supermarkets and convenience retailers generally failing to capitalise on an opportunity that they can and should own.

By neglecting to embrace and create signature brand experiences, retailers are missing out on building a customer connection that adds value beyond price discounting. They could be doing so much more.

Help make connections

Most of us have great memories of family get-togethers over Easter, especially Easter egg hunts.

I ran an Easter egg hunt with clues for my tween kids last year. They loved it and the sense of satisfaction it delivered was extraordinary. It caused me to reflect that brands able to help parents connect with their kids through moments from their own childhood are highly significant. Much of the success of the Lego and Star Wars franchises rests on this nostalgic desire to connect across generations. The recent embrace of Halloween in certain neighbourhoods also taps into parents’ desire to create fun for their kids – no easy feat when you’re competing against Xbox and Apple.

Make fun easy

Great retail Easter experiences should offer the same sense of discovery and excitement as an egg hunt by being relevant yet unexpected.

For kids, looking at all the products in store is very exciting, but let’s face it, the hunt is the thing, and I couldn’t find any supermarkets adding much value to that experience. Nor did they use the hunt concept in their own visual merchandising/store activation.

It’s not that hard. BBC’s Good Food in the UK has created a guide to get parents started. This is the sort of content we could be seeing from Coles or Woolworths. And while this Kikki-K party pack is very Pintrest-y, it’s the sort of thing that could be commissioned and scaled up by a big retailer with a couple of different looks or themes.

Don’t even get me started on what could be done with a Pokémon Go approach.

Take away the stress

Any family occasion brings with it stress. You don’t want to be caught in the notoriously horrible traffic and parking of the Cadbury Easter Egg hunt in Melbourne. But don’t worry – this year’s event sold out some time ago, so at least it’s a predictable disappointment.

Then there’s the family meal. Like Christmas, it’s both a pleasure and an ordeal. Again, looking to the UK, Waitrose do it well. Easy, appealing and a little bit special.

There’s also the question of healthy diets, sugar and all that tricky stuff that fuels parental guilt so effectively. This doesn’t have to be left to trendy, earnest inner-urban grocery stores yet they’re the only retailers tapping into the sentiment.

I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there trying to make a good time for their families without going completely over the top or being the ‘fun police’. Again, some appealing content that helps us make good choices, with some helpful highlights in store, doesn’t seem like such a big ask.

So why are none of our big supermarkets doing this kind of thing? The obvious answer is because they don’t have to.

Easter in Australia is one big missed opportunity. Here is a family holiday that comes pre-loaded with lots of customer’s needs and wants. It’s a chance for the big brands to show Australian families who really gets them, who’s more in touch with lifestyle trends and who can make everyday life that much more satisfying.

With just a bit of customer insight, some smart content, some care for the in-store experiences and imagination, it could be the retail season that really matters in terms of building brand value.

  • Tim Riches is the group strategy director of independent branding agency Principals. In the past, he has worked with Coles, Woolworths and 7-Eleven.
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