We may be at the cusp of a holiday onslaught, but retailers should be preparing now for what some consider one of the bleakest sales periods of the the year: January to March.
That 90-day expanse can be to retail sales what the tundra is to trees. Void of major holidays or events, too soon for spring purchases and too late for winter (full-price, anyway), these weeks lack what retailers have relied on for generations: built-in seasonality and its complement of promotions and hot products that pull shoppers into stores and malls and onto websites.
Sure, there are occasional holidays – Valentine’s Day, namely – joined by more and more non-traditional observations that pop onto the calendar to trigger store trips (Jewel Day, National Pie Day, Spouses Day). Some retailers may test these obscure holidays as promotional opportunities between major seasonal events, but when each week includes a special day, those events begin to lose their sparkle.
No, during this three-month period, encased in frost and punctuated by snowstorms, consumers need a little extra to lure them outside. Something disarmingly aspirational. But how else can retailers generate buzz? What practice is the apple pie to retail’s otherwise vanilla feel?
Following are several examples of how merchants are adding flavor, and sexiness, to retail between the seasons.
Shops on wheels: Call them rolling promos. Showrooms in trucks or trailers can enable brands to travel to cities where no physical store exists to promote themselves between holidays. This way, the brand’s website is top-of-mind during peak seasons. More convenient and less expensive than traditional stores, these rolling showrooms also can gather data insights that help a brand determine market potential much the way that catalogs do. Olive + Estelle, in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a great example of a retail showroom that can curate its exposure. It rolls into charity events and festivals and can be a fashionable feature at home parties. These kinds of unexpected appearances give a brand staying power.
Being “pop” of mind: If shops on wheels stimulate long-term brand recollection, consider pop-up stores as another top-of-mind tool. Like shops on wheels, pop-up stores can easily enter major markets and alert shoppers to a little-known brand, or introduce them to the new look of an old brand. The Glade Boutique, which operated in New York during the 2014 holiday season, transformed a take-for-granted product into a state of five emotions, each with its own scent and mood to match. In the peony- and cherry-scented Flirty room, for instance, visitors donned designer gowns and posed in fashion shoots. Chances are these memories lifted some visitor spirits, and opened wallets, in the cold months that followed.
Virtual, physical sales converge: Even in the dead of winter, people have got to commute. And while crummy weather or early darkness may discourage consumers from hitting the store on the way home, there is nothing preventing the stores from hitting them. Superstore chain Tesco did just that with its Homeplus virtual store, which launched in South Korean subway stations a few years ago. Commuters simply browsed the virtual store in the subway, scanned the codes of products they wanted, and the products were instantly added to their virtual cart and shipped to their homes. In its first year, from November 2010 to January 2011, Tesco’s online sales rose 130 percent, while membership rose as much as 76 percent. In September, the Munich Airport began testing a similar concept, called “emmasbox,” which sells meals and ingredients near the baggage claim.
Reinvent, reinvent, reinvent: OK, while this concept may not be season-sensitive, it’s such a dead-on approach to sexy I’d be remiss to ignore it. The New York shop Story is like a brick-and-mortar Madonna, reinventing itself every six or so weeks to keep consumers guessing what it will be next. When one phase is complete, the merchant removes every bit of interior – and predictability – and revives the brand as something completely different. It has served as a physical home for e-commerce sites like Birchbox, as well as a venue for one-of-a-kind jewelry inspired by fashion icon Iris Apfel.
The beauty with Story, and several of these other examples, is they are designed to remain fresh. Each includes an element of surprise and delight, which is one of the selling points of major holidays and seasons. Instead of relying on the calendar for their seasonal events, they make their own, each unique to the brand.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.