Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shades of Ebenezer Scrooge! REI To Close Stores on Black Friday.

Here’s an idea. Close up your store on Black Friday. Go on. Close it up. Flip that “OPEN” sign around. No customers allowed in. No, seriously, close up.

“Close Black Friday? The biggest shopping day of the year? Are you mad!?” I hear you cry. No really. Just close up. That's what REI, the outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer is doing this year – they are canceling Black Friday. Not open. Shut up. Gone fishing!

Actually, that last one is pretty much what REI is doing. They’re foregoing the crowds and craziness of the day and are trying to start a new shopping tradition. No door-buster sales or Black Friday promotions. No getting out of bed at 2AM. No huddling for warmth in line in the parking lot. Nope, REI is closing all of their 143 stores the day after Thanksgiving, encouraging consumers to spend some time not shopping in the great outdoors and just enjoying the great outdoors. REI built a dedicated #OptOutside website with resources on local hiking trails to help out those consumer who think a mall qualifies as “outside.”

For a while now Black Friday – which can start as early as Grey Thursday and run all the way through Cyber Monday – has become an increasingly competitive game of can-you-top-this? Earlier store openings, crowded parking lots, door-buster specials, and sales galore. But with all that, (and the fact that Black Friday really isn’t the biggest shopping day. That’s usually the Saturday before Christmas) the numbers of shoppers shopping and the amounts of money spent have been declining each year.

Now, while you might think that a store that sells outdoor gear and mostly-outdoor sporting goods suggesting consumers not shop but play is self-serving, you wouldn’t be too far from right. Sure, it’s certainly differentiating to take an anti-consumerism brand position (well, one day a year), but maybe it’s also just being expedient.

Our recent Brand Keys 2015 Holiday Shopping Survey – interviewing 15,750 consumer from all over the U.S.A. including parts in the great outdoors – discovered that when it came to starting to shop for the holidays, 84% of consumers actually indicated that they were intending to shop before Black Friday. You can find the full survey findings here.

For the breakdown of consumers’ planned shopping excursions looks like this:

Before September:               11%
September:                          10%   
October:                               22%   
(Before Black Friday):          41%
December:                           16%

The trend for holiday shopping starting earlier and earlier was something Brand Keys commented upon in 2010, and is conclusively proving itself out. Part of the raison d’être is purely rational; consumers have realized that low-lower-lowest prices are always to be found and usually well before Black Friday. Oh, and as this is the 21st century, you can always sit at home and order online anytime the mood strikes you, although in this instance REI won’t process any orders till Saturday, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”  And even though we didn’t research it, we suspect that intrepid, hot-wired-to-their-mobile-device consumers can wait one more day!

Other parts of the not-in-any-rush-to-shop Black Friday trend are driven by emotional values: immediate gratification kicks in when you find the perfect gift no matter what time of year it is, and that comes with a BOGO added-value – the gift of reduced stress of having to deal with all other elements attendant to year-end holiday shopping. Ahhh, not dealing with crowds. Diminished exposure to seasonal music! No long lines! Being able to find this year’s ‘must-have’ gift before they sell out on November 14th.

Only 16% of consumers – 9% fewer than 2014, and 19% fewer than 2013 – indicated they were going to wait until Black Friday to start holiday shopping, although some consumers (4%) did indicate that they would make an effort to support local businesses on Small Business Saturday. Supporting your local retailer is a nice thing to do all year round.

But for those of you who feel Black Friday is an absolute mandate, a family tradition, and that cancelling it is a desecration of the holiday season, we have two words for you: Cyber Monday!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is Your Brand A Loyalty Leader?

This year’s 2015 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List – our 19th annual look at brand loyalty – found 85% of the top-20 companies represent digital technology and social networking brands or brands that facilitate digital technologies or social networking, although (whew!) consumers haven’t entirely abandoned traditional brands. But whether “digital” or “analog,” brand loyalty is still being driven by emotional engagement, and this year the top-20 Loyalty Leaders look like this:
  1. Netflix: video streaming
  2. Amazon: tablets
  3. Apple: smartphones
  4. Apple: tablets
  5. Facebook: social networking
  6. Google: search engines
  7. YouTube: social networking
  8. Amazon: online retail
  9. WhatsApp: instant messaging
  10. Amazon: video streaming
  11. Samsung: smartphones
  12. Zappos: online retail
  13. iTunes: video streaming
  14. Grey Goose: vodka
  15. Kindle: e-readers
  16. LinkedIn: social networking
  17. Dunkin’ Donuts: coffee
  18. PayPal: online payments
  19. Hyundai: automotive
  20. Twitter: social networking
Certain categories have risen to the top of the list because of the high levels of consumer engagement they’re able to generate. Combine that with development of the digital and mobile and social world and how it’s dramatically changed how consumers communicate and engage with each other and brands, and that’s resulted in equally dramatic shifts in the top-100 Loyalty Leaders List composition á la categories and brands.

Sure, some changes are due to the virtual disappearance of categories like Breakfast Cereal, Catalogs, and Digital Cameras, at least when it comes to survey incidence levels. But if you actually look at the actual marketplace, some of those shifts are, well, manifestly self-evident. Smartphones have replaced Digital Cameras. Online or mobile outreach now substitutes for last-century’s catalogs. Social Networking, Streaming Video, Tablets, and/or E-readers, nascent categories a decade ago, now account for the largest range of brands – 25% ­– on this year’s entire list. And yes, some shifts are due to the appearance of new brands or the inclusion of new categories. This year, 10 of the top-100 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders are new brands from ne categories and include Uber (#21), Zubrowka vodka (#30), Under Armour (#41), Ralph Lauren (#43), Chevrolet (#50), Old Navy (#57), HBO GO (#78), Forever 21 (#88), Home Depot (#95), and Microsoft Surface (#98). And here’s an overview of some of the other, overall changes as regards loyalty leadership:

Alcoholic Beverage brands have decreased by 40%. Search is down to only one brand. (If you guessed “Google” you’d be right!) Number of brands representing all Retail, Hotels, and Out-of-Home Coffee have remained generally unchanged, but Fast-Casual Restaurants, which have had dramatic effects in their own industry causing real problems for traditional Fast-Food brands, are having dramatic effects in the top-100, showing up in greater numbers every year. Oh, and that doesn’t take into account 2 Pizza brands on the list again this year. How consumers love their pizza! Automotive and Financial Service brands have doubled while Online Retailers increased by a factor of six. Only 8% of this year’s list represents cosmetic brands, but traditional retail brands nearly doubled this year. We suspect the consumer shift to online and mobile shopping has forced traditional retailers to work a lot harder to provide customers something more engaging than low-lower-lowest pricing strategies, and that success is showing up on both our Loyalty Leaders List and on their bottom lines.

Look, building real brand loyalty isn’t easy. Nothing worth having ever is. But the good news is that it is understandable. The better news is it can be quantified and predicted. And the best news is that knowing what’s coming down the road at you from a category, competitive, and consumer engagement perspective can give a brand an extraordinarily powerful advantage when it comes to planning, strategy, and innovation. What brand doesn’t want to stick it to its nearest competitor!?

There’s always a lot of talk about ROI and how that’s hard too. But here’s something you can do about it. Loyalty and brand engagement are leading-indicators of positive customer behavior and, axiomatically if consumers behave better toward your brand, you ought to see increased sales and profitability. QED. We invite you to look at brand movement up and down the list over the past year and calculate for yourselves those shifts with real market activity. There ‘s probably an app for that on one of your smartphone or mobile devices, and you’ll be surprised how strong that correlation turns out to be! And as loyal customers are the best annuity a brand can invest in, we strongly recommend engagement as a metric you ought to have in your brand planning toolbox.

It’s what brand leaders do.


Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders analysis was conducted in September 2015 and includes assessments from 40,128 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, from the nine US Census Regions, who self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are customers. Seventy-five percent (75%) were interviewed by phone, 20% via face-to-face interviews (to account for cell phone-only consumers), and remaining consumers assessed categories and brands online. This year the 2015 Loyalty Leader assessments examined 68 categories and 753 brands. And unlike economic use models, which rely heavily on historical data and profitability conjecture, the Brand Keys Loyalty Model and rankings are 100% consumer-driven, and are highly predictive of brand and corporate profitability.

For the complete top-100 2015 Loyalty Leaders List, click here.

For more information regarding the Brand Keys 2105 Loyalty Leaders List, a brand’s position on the list, or general information about integrating predictive loyalty and engagement metrics into your marketing efforts, or the upcoming January 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, please contact Leigh Benatar at or 212-532-6028.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Smartphones vs. Tablets: Which Is Best?

If you’re reading this commentary on a tablet, you’re apparently in a group that’s actually growing smaller! The worldwide tablet market declined this year about 8% YOY. Why do you think that might at be?

Well, according to our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index here are the four drivers for brand engagement in the Tablet category:
  • Brand and Brand Value,
  • Innovation,
  • Display Quality & Battery Life, and
  • Connectivity & Functionality.
And when it comes to best meeting expectations consumers hold for each of those category drivers (aggregated into their “Ideal Tablet”), here’s how consumers rank the major brands:
  1. Apple 
  2. Samsung
  3. Amazon / Asus
  4. Lenovo
  5. Acer
  6. Microsoft
  7. Google
  8. Toshiba
  9. Sony
  10. Dell
Today, though, expectations move at the speed of the consumer, and larger smartphones haven’t improved things for the tablet industry, and might just be the reason for the Tablet Category slowdown. On the basis of consumer expectations and brand assessments in both the Tablet and Smartphone categories, we came up with 5 reasons the smartphone is (currently) better than a tablet:
  1. You can read everything you want comfortably on a 6-inch smartphone screen.
  2. You get better battery life with a smartphone.
  3. More apps. Or at the very least, apps show up first for smartphones then, maybe, for tablets.
  4. Better, more convenient cameras.
  5. Right now most web pages are mainly optimized for desktop and smartphone. Tablets not so much!
Even with the decline in shipments Apple and Samsung still account for nearly 42% of the market. And even with high degrees of innovation missing in this year’s offerings, but with competitors producing larger tablets at smaller prices and a new assortment of 2-in-1 offerings, this is still a rivalry worth watching.

Five years ago our predictive engagement metrics offered up the concept of a “phablet,” something halfway between a phone and a tablet. OK, not the greatest name in the world, but a damn good concept whose time (size, apps, and cameras) have apparently come!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Lack of Apps Gets BlackBerry Going Google

BlackBerry hasn’t been doing very well. All you have to do is look at their Customer Engagement Loyalty ratings to see that. Those currently look like this:
  1. Apple
  2. Samsung
  3. Lenovo
  4. LG
  5. Sony
  6. Motorola
  7. Nokia
  8. BlackBerry
“Brand Reputation & Design” and “Platform For My Needs (And Apps. Especially Apps”) are the two most-important category drivers primarily driving current consumer engagement in the Smartphone category. And since customer engagement ratings correlate highly with consumer behavior toward the brand and, axiomatically, increased revenue and profits, it’s no surprise that when you look at their most-recent bottom line, BlackBerry revenue was down 46% YOY.

There’s not a lot you can do with a smartphone that’s not as smart as it used to be. Sure, it has a keyboard but no apps, so not precisely the best achievable balance between two incompatible features. On balance Google seems the way to go, but that’s just based on 35,000 consumers telling us what they really expect and what they’ll really buy.

But looking to regain engagement and relevancy BlackBerry just announced it will produce a smartphone that runs on the Android operating system, so no new BlackBerry 10s will be introduced – at least this year. An Android version would, of course, solve the problem of BlackBerry’s lack of apps, and the new version is supposed to have a touchscreen, but in an attempt to be all things to all consumers particularly the Luddite-throwbacks among them, there will also be a pullout keyboard. If that sounds kind of clunky to you, it probably will be, and perhaps not the best choice, particularly in light of the “design” component in that first-most important category driver.

The new version follows 2014’s Passport, and 2015’s Leap and Porsche models, and is going to be called the “Priv.” We’re guessing that the company is going that route hoping consumers will relate that particular diminutive to “privacy” related to the security software that used to differentiate RIM as-it-was-then from all other smartphones, and now à la the Google relationship somewhat better security than other Android phones, or “privilege,” as in aren’t you fortunate you don’t have to deprive yourself of apps anymore!

One can only hope it doesn’t relate to where profits seem to be heading. . . as in “down the privy”!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.