Beyond Double-Digit Days: Sophisticated Customer Engagement Pays Off All Year Long

By Julia Lee Jan 13, 2021

While there are many things to leave behind in 2020, there are also lessons worth carrying forward. The retail shopping festival season, for example, shows no sign of losing momentum. Singles Day, the anchor of that season, set records yet again, with Chinese tech giant Alibaba posting US$40 billion in sales in the first half hour alone. Here at Braze, we saw similar record-setting volume: Over 3x more messages sent on 11/11 in 2020 as compared to 2019. We saw 46% more buyers year over year, and they made 58% more purchases than last year.

Customer retention really pays off, as existing users spent more and purchased 59% more per user during the 11/11 period, when compared to newly acquired users. Interestingly, users who joined during the 2020 Singles Day season were more than twice as likely to be retained after 30 days as users acquired outside of the shopping festival.

These spikes in activity make sense, as retail festivals represent an important time for the practice of “courageous innovation,” as I discussed with Steven Moy, Global CEO of Barbarian, at last fall’s Forge 2020 conference. Consider experimenting with new channels and fresh creative tactics during this period of increased consumer attention—that way, you will develop an invaluable base of data that can be leveraged to improve customer engagement all year long.

Taking a test-and-learn approach to the challenge of growing customer engagement matters more now, both during shopping festival season and beyond. Innovative experimentation can tackle the questions of how to stand out in the crowded arena of big marketplaces like Alibaba, and how to continue smooth operations while navigating peaks and surges in traffic. Thoughtful marketers are looking to translate successful shopping festival learnings (whether from their own brand campaigns or others’) into year-round strategies to boost customer retention while driving increased lifetime value and brand advocacy.

The double-digit days of shopping festivals are do-or-die moments for ecommerce players in particular. We recently caught up with Li Zhiliang, Director of CRM at Braze customer Zalora, Asia’s leading online fashion retailer, for a podcast with Worldwide Business Research (WBR) and learned they have an astute approach that links holidays together rather than considering each campaign in isolation.

Zhiliang recommends digging into the customer’s mindset: “What's the purpose of a double-digit shopping day? What's the purpose of this festive season? And how do you blend all these things together to make sense of it for the customer? The customer is seriously overwhelmed these days with just how much is going on.” This insight translated into a promotion that offered cashback on Singles Day purchases that could be used for future Christmas shopping, targeted to a segment of the audience that had not yet taken advantage of 11/11 deals. Zhiliang says that then “it becomes a workflow, a cycle of learning, that just starts from something very small, that has a small use case, and then ends up being something that the team then thinks actively about.”

Especially in high-pressure festival times, Zalora’s teams require marketing technology that offers speed and reliability paired with flexibility and dynamism. According to Zhiliang, “One thing that was important for us is to ensure that there was ease of information movement, be it between the tools, between the different databases, between different teams...because if you have a particular flash sale, you can’t have your customer learn about it half an hour later.” And it’s not just the customer’s satisfaction that matters, according to Zhiliang: “Connecting things to reduce work, reduce manual alignment, reduce errors, makes it much more enjoyable overall for our customers, but most importantly, the people inside the organization serving these customers.”

In fact, Zhiliang emphasizes the importance of “heart” when working with teams in all high-stakes times, whether festival season or while navigating the day-to-day disruptions from the pandemic. “If you have big aspirations, and big targets, you cannot run away from the fact that people are going to feel stressed out by it. And I think that it's with the heart that you approach people, you care for them, you find out what's actually causing them to be down and then you can help them unblock these things.” That insight is a useful year-round reminder for team leaders.

Other sectors besides retail are looking to the 2020 shopping festival season to inspire their own “courageous innovation” strategies for customer engagement. When we published our Singles Day Marketing Guide with Barbarian, we took note of the interest it received from industries such as beauty and consumer electronics (both big sellers during the festivals) as well as media, entertainment, and even business services. The cross-pollination works both ways, as ecommerce marketers can enhance their retail campaigns with best practices from leaders in other fields.

In working through your own plans for 2021, you might find it useful to review the guidance we presented in the Singles Day Marketing Guide. Fostering a year-long cycle of continuous improvement and innovation begins with thoughtful questions to shape objectives and identify measurable key results. Consider the following thought-starters:

  • Are there ways to rethink team structure to better support sophisticated customer engagement practices?
  • How is budget being allocated to modernize technology and data infrastructure to improve customer experience and business insights?
  • What opportunities exist for “courageous innovation” and test-and-learn experimentation in campaigns, channels, and tactics?
  • Can rethinking success metrics point to learnings that will better inform a cycle of continuous improvement of customer engagement?

While much about the year to come is still in flux, one thing is all but certain—the double-digit shopping festivals will represent important revenue milestones for many businesses. And whether you are in retail or not, the successful playbooks from festival promotions can be leveraged to strengthen customer relationships and deepen customer engagement for all brands. Consider the Singles Day Marketing Guide as the starting point of your own “courageous innovation” journey.

Julia Lee

Julia Lee is the General Manager and VP, Sales, APAC, at Braze. Prior to Braze, she carried regional-lead roles at Sitecore, SAP and Oracle, and has worked in the data & analytics arena for more than 15 years.

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