Summer Sales Events: The Big Picture for Retailers

June 7, 2021

Ah the rites of summer in America: the first sign of glowing fireflies; the enticing aroma of your neighbor grilling steaks; that first, glorious beach trip of the season — and now, the summer sales event. Since entering the picture in 2015, this new warm-weather ritual has significantly altered the U.S. retail landscape.

Summer Sales Events- The Big Picture for Retailers - photo of woman's hands on laptop viewing an online sale surrounded by summery objects

Changing the Summer Sales Game

During July 2015, in celebration of its 20th birthday, Amazon announced its first-ever Amazon Prime Day, a global retail event designed as a counterbalance to Black Friday, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. Certainly the concept of retailers offering summer discounts was not new, but the scope and depth of the Amazon campaign was unprecedented. Today, approximately 300 retailers, including the likes of Target (a Ketchum client) and Walmart, participate in significant summer sales events.

In June 2021, as Americans begin to slowly but somewhat confidently emerge out from under the weight of both a financially and emotionally crippling global pandemic, they aren’t just seeking a sense of a communal reconnection with friends and loved ones — they also crave the freedom to do the things they love, and that includes shopping.

Summer 2021: Packed with Retail Opportunity

According to an April 2021 report from the U.S. Commerce Department, advanced retail sales were significantly higher (9.8%) than in March 2021. Sales of sporting goods, clothing and food and beverage products helped to trigger the best retail sales month since the May 2020 gain of 18.3% that was supported by the first round of government stimulus checks. With consumer spending trending in the right direction, retailers have a huge (and urgent) opportunity to boost their Q2 and Q3 sales figures.

However, it would be erroneous to suggest that sales are the only important consideration for companies at this summer sales moment.

More Than a Moment

Whether it be the winter or summer holidays, back-to-school, Mother’s Day or Easter, viewing milestone promotional events and shopping seasons purely in isolation and exclusively within the context of sales goals neglects a bigger-picture reality for retailers: the ever-growing necessity to foster a broader, more meaningful ongoing relationship with consumers.

If the whole of 2020 showed us anything, it’s that consumers have varied expectations of retailers beyond the financial value they offer shoppers. These considerations include transactional offerings, including product availability and innovative fulfillment options, as well as where a company stands on a purpose-related front, whether it be social, political or environmental issues.

The retailers who have continued to succeed throughout these challenging times are the ones who have clearly illustrated that they understand the needs of the consumer. They are not only evolving to meet those needs, but are also ensuring that they’re engaging in focused, consistent communications efforts.

Consumer loyalty is built through consistency and trust. Yes, a great deal on a giant TV, an air fryer or a pair of sneakers can certainly create a moment of gratification for shoppers — and perhaps some measure of brand affinity — but all too often, it’s treated as a fleeting moment.

Fundamentally, there is a massive opportunity to leverage these summer sales events in a more meaningful way, ultimately leading to a potentially higher level of engagement.

With all of this in mind, here are three guiding principles that communicators should consider to maximize key retail milestones:

  1. Contemplate ways to consistently thread an overarching brand narrative in a relevant manner within key moments. Promotional sales events are all connected; think of them almost as a retail daisy chain, where the connectivity of each moment ultimately serves to power the whole system.
  2. Consider the tactics. Many people love a white Christmas, but during the holiday sales season, consumers are confronted with white noise in the form of a flurry of content from brands. Identify creative approaches that will enable you to land your unique story in the key moments, but also potentially outside margins.
  3. Don’t force the issue. Brands are famous for “wanting one of those” when witnessing the perceived brilliance of other companies’ efforts, often during pinnacle moments such as big holidays. Understand when your brand has a right to play in a space, and when you don’t.

While the summer sales season may already be underway, the lessons it provides can be valuable for similar promotional events throughout the year. It’s never too soon to start thinking about the back-to-school season, holiday shopping and everything in between. Interested in maximizing an upcoming sales season for your brand? Just get in touch.

Clark is a senior vice president/client director in the Retail Sector within Ketchum’s New York office. He has extensive brand marketing experience, with over 25 years in the public relations industry. Clark provides strategic counsel in specialty communications areas including brand-building programs, employee communications and CSR for leading companies and organizations. Clark graduated from C.W. Post with a bachelor of fine arts degree in public relations. He resides in Chappaqua, NY.