Interior of a Staples location showing marketing materials geared toward small businesses.
A primary focus of office retailer Staples is to be the best holiday resource for the printing and shipping needs of small businesses and remote workers. — Staples

Why it matters:

  • With holiday spending growth of up to 10% forecast by the National Retail Federation, this is a prime time to acquire new customers.
  • According to McKinsey, consumers are more willing than ever to switch brands or retailers in search of holiday gifts.
  • Brands are embracing both the new, with tech upgrades for things like greeting cards and gift certificates, and the old, with nostalgia-inspired ad campaigns.

For retail brands, the holiday season typically is the most important time of the year for generating sales. But as six brand executives told CO—, it’s also a critical time for generating future sales with the right holiday messaging, and making valuable connections with new and existing customers.

These brands have customized their holiday strategies this year with innovations like digitized greeting cards—marketing messages that focus on services and promotions designed to encourage early shopping as a remedy for supply chain challenges.

Here’s what they’re doing:

Staples: Leaning into seasonal services for small businesses

Office retailer Staples has a number of new merchandise categories fueling holiday sales growth this year, including expanded home office, technology and gaming offerings, but its primary focus is being the best holiday resource for small businesses and remote workers.

“We are totally leaning into services – print and marketing, and shipping being two very big areas,” Simona Gerzon, senior director, brand activation, told CO—.

Staples wants to make sure that during the busy holiday season it remains the place small businesses can count on for holiday printing and shipping, Gerzon said.

The retailer offered discounts on holiday cards, shipping supplies and UPS express shipping.

In November, Staples launched its “Where Small Business Prints Big” marketing campaign, which includes a promise to get printing jobs right, no matter what it takes.

Staples is paying particular attention to businesses with fewer than 10 employees, the types of small businesses that need extra resources during the busy holiday season. “They need that extension of their team, and we’ve become that extension for them,” she said.

[Read: Holiday Retail Trends Your Business Should Know]

 Holiday cookware by Caraway, in a signature brick red.
Startup Caraway has headed into this year's holiday season with many new strategies, including the release of its festive brick red cookware. — Caraway

Caraway: DTC brands stoke holiday business in-store for the first time

Sizzling hot cookware e-commerce startup Caraway – which has seen its sales jump 546% over the past year – headed into this holiday season with a new line of bakeware, new retail partners, a sales strategy timed to the peak time of year for housewares purchases and a festive new cookware color appropriate for the holidays: brick red.

“It’s a big moment for us,” founder and CEO Jordan Nathan told CO—.

One of the biggest growth opportunities for the previously online-only brand this year is its new presence in retail stores. Caraway products are on the shelves for the first time in 80 Crate & Barrel stores, 20 Nordstrom locations and at the flagship Bed Bath & Beyond store in New York City.

“It’s early, but we’re seeing a lot of new customers coming from those channels,” Nathan said. “It’s the first time customers get to interact with our brand outside of the website.”

Caraway also timed its biggest sale of the year to the first week in November to encourage early holiday shopping and avoid the shipping and supply chain problems that have challenged businesses large and small.

So far, Nathan said, Caraway’s holiday strategy appears to be working. “Our sales are up tremendously from last year already, beating our current projections.”

 Display of Harry & David food items with a stack of wrapped presents on a green tablecloth.
To prepare for the holiday season and potential supply-chain-related complications, Harry & David added new features, like automation to its warehouse and distribution facilities. — Harry & David

Harry & David: Countering supply chain challenges by delivering a seamless customer experience

As Harry & David prepared for the holiday season, the food and gift brand enjoyed growth fueled by a surge in both e-commerce and gift-giving during the pandemic.

It was seeing strong sales potential in its expanded gourmet meats, cheeses, wines and prepared meals categories, and the recent acquisition of wild-caught seafood company Vital Choice allowed the company to broaden its offerings.

But looming over that was the concern that shipping, supply chain and labor challenges could steal holiday sales.

One thing became all too clear: New and existing customers must have a positive shopping experience in order to grow sales this season and beyond, Steve Lightman, group president, gourmet foods and gift baskets at 1-800-Flowers.com, parent company of the Harry & David brand, told CO—. “This may sound like Retail 101,” Lightman said, “but the increased consumer demand we’ve been seeing, combined with the current shipping and labor challenges, have added new complexities to the equation.”

To prepare for the holiday season, Harry & David added automation to its warehouse and distribution facilities, bulked up its inventory levels and worked closely with delivery carriers to facilitate shipping. It also increased marketing messages that urged consumers to shop early and schedule earlier deliveries, and warned of possible shipping delays.

That “shop early” marketing message is already paying off, Lightman said. “We are seeing orders being placed earlier, as well as being scheduled for earlier delivery.”

These brands have customized their holiday strategies this year with innovations like digitized greeting cards—marketing messages that focus on services and promotions designed to encourage early shopping as a remedy for supply chain challenges.

 Person writing a Hallmark "Sign and Send" card on their smartphone.
Hallmark has created "Sign & Send" cards, which let consumers digitally add their own handwriting to a Hallmark card, address the envelope and send the card using only their phone. — Hallmark

Hallmark: Tapping personalized videos to send holiday greetings in a new way

Hallmark, the 111-year-old greeting card company, is using up-to-the-minute technology to drive holiday growth this year.

It has introduced video greeting cards that allow senders to add a personal video message to a physical Hallmark card through a QR code scanned with a phone. It also created "Sign & Send" cards, which let consumers digitally add their own handwriting to a Hallmark card, address the envelope and send the card using only their phone.

“Our new innovations embrace how technology can connect us in easy and convenient ways, and combines that with the physical, more meaningful connections that only Hallmark can deliver,” Krista Masilionis, global innovation director, told CO—.

The video holiday cards, Masilionis said, “give people a platform to express their sentiments in a real, authentic way.”

The Sign & Send technology “offers a convenient way for digital-first shoppers to find the perfect card, add their personal handwriting to that card, and send it directly from their phone,” with Hallmark covering the cost of postage, she said.

Based on consumer research and initial demand, Hallmark is betting the video cards will be a holiday hit. “We know that when people try it, they will love it,” Masilionis said.

 Happy family in striped pajamas by Gap playing around on a couch.
Gap's marketing strategies this season involve going back to the brand's 1960s roots and also leaning into "culture-defining conversations." — Gap

Gap: Celebrating culture, creativity and connection

Gap, the clothing retailer founded in 1969, reached back to its 1960s roots for the holiday marketing theme it’s using to drive growth this year.

The ad campaign, called “All Together Now,” features pop star Katy Perry singing a remix of The Beatles’ 1967 hit, “All You Need Is Love,” with images of diverse couples and friends expressing love and joy.

Gap has a long tradition of mixing music with its merchandising and marketing. When the retailer opened its first store in San Francisco, it sold two things – denim clothes and record albums, with the latter intended to draw teenage customers. The store name, “The Gap,” was a reference to the generation gap.

“In 1969, Gap was created to bridge the gap between individuals, generations and cultures – and that notion has never been more important and relevant than right now,” Mary Alderete, chief marketing officer, told CO—.

This holiday season, Alderete said, “we are leaning into culture-defining conversations.”

Gap combined the ad campaign with a $100,000 donation on Giving Tuesday – the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – to Baby2Baby, a nonprofit that helps children living in poverty.

 Duck Donuts' coffee and donuts on a table.
This holiday season, Duck Donuts began offering digital gift cards that can be ordered online and personalized with photos, videos or written greetings. — Duck Donuts

Duck Donuts: Serving up digital donut gift certificates

Duck Donuts, the fast-growing donut franchise with more than 100 stores in 22 states, this holiday season is offering digital gift cards that can be ordered online and personalized with photos, videos or written greetings.

“Unlike traditional physical gift cards, this digital experience allows consumers to further personalize their gift,” April Hoelscher, vice president of marketing, told CO—.

“Offering digital gift cards now adds an additional layer of convenience for our guests, especially those who wish to give the gift of Duck Donuts, but might not have one in their hometown,” she said.

Duck Donuts, born in 2007 in the North Carolina beach towns of Duck and Kitty Hawk, first became popular in beach towns and resort areas and is currently expanding into suburban and city locations.

Duck Donuts partnered with GiftNow, a gift card platform created by financial services firm Synchrony, to create the digital gift cards, which can be sent to recipients via text or email.

Hoelscher noted that a Black Friday report by Paytronix Systems, a digital guest experience platform, showed that restaurant gift card sales were up 22.6% over 2020.

“With the growth in digital channel revenue across the board, I expect offering a digital gift card will only enhance gift card sales,” she said.

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Published December 08, 2021