Motivational posters and slogans

A Day in the Life of a Senior Account Executive at KG

What does my day entail at Ketner Group? I wake up each morning asking that question. Anything can happen in public relations. As a Senior Account Executive, media relations, long-form content, social media and beyond are always part of the seemingly never-ending to-do list. This non-stop grind is the reality across the entire public relations industry and remains true at Ketner Group…but we always keep up the KG flare along the way.

The SAE Grind

The first thing I look at when I get into the office is my call schedule for the day. Client communication and coordination is key. Therefore, calls with clients and internal teams are essential to planning and strategizing ongoing activities and maintaining strong relationships with our great clients.

As we strive to help our clients tell their stories in the best publications, each day involves executing and overseeing media relations and PR campaigns. This requires constantly identifying fresh storylines and bringing proactive pitching ideas to the table, ready to discuss with the KG team and clients. This brainstorming, drafting, discussing, pitching and relationship building with media is a constant.

Writing is a big part of our business and as an SAE. One of my roles is managing the day-to-day content on some of my teams so I spend a lot of my time keeping writing projects moving along smoothly. Sometimes I’m in need of a “writing day,” when I attack long-form content pieces such as e-books, blogs and whitepapers.

Fortunately, on these days I have the flexibility to work from home, the library or anywhere else to avoid distractions and maintain laser focus. As I discussed in my last blog about content development, we all have different writing processes and at Ketner Group. Luckily, we’re able to find what works for us and make these days as efficient as possible.

Additionally, days can include social media management, speaking/award submissions, digital content marketing, helping clients shape communications strategy and messaging. These and a variety of other activities work together to help our clients grow and strengthen their brand across all channels.

Expecting Fire Drills

While most days include much of the above, you never know what’s going to happen throughout the day. In fact, it’s a rarity for a day to go according to schedule. Expecting urgent client requests is what PR is all about and keeps us on our toes.

However, the unexpected isn’t always more work. At Ketner Group, the unexpected can also mean office lunches, coffee runs and celebrations (with a beer or wine in hand) that keep everyone engaged and refreshed. I’m fortunate to get extra motivation from my office-mate Aidan, who provides me with all the inspiration to succeed you see in the picture above. The John Cena “Never Give Up” towel purchased at WWE Monday Night Raw is especially effective in preventing me from ever giving up. And since a little friendly competition goes a long way, I always make time in my day to battle him at the New York Times Mini Crossword.

A day as a Senior Account Executive has its ups and downs but, at the end of the day, it’s always a fun and exciting ride at Ketner Group.

Content Development Tips

The Write Way: Writing Tips to Get in the Content Development Zone

As many will say on a Monday when they can’t seem to speak correctly and need their morning coffee, “words are hard.” However, at Ketner Group, content development is an essential part of our DNA so we welcome the challenge. We’re proud to be the stewards of the words, the prose pros and the scribe tribe. When it comes to putting our clients on the map, we use our writing skills to give them a voice and ensure their stories rise above the noise through strategic, engaging content.

Although we fancy ourselves veterans of the craft, the writing process can be tough – especially when it comes to getting started, staying focused and tackling multiple projects in a timely manner. To offer our faithful readers some writing tips for building exceptional content, I asked some of the Ketner Group team for their most effective processes.

Getting Started With a Brain Dump

Sometimes it’s easier to start with an abundance of information and work your way down. As such, when I start a writing project, I dump all of the relevant collateral and resources I can get my hands on into a document and then begin chiseling away. This helps me find the story and craft it into a cohesive and impactful piece.

After including a plethora of information into her document, Mikaela likes to create headline and subheads first (of course, they’re subject to change and most of the time they do) to get a good starting point and a way to stay on track while writing. She also will write a topic sentence for her own reference before she starts digging into the content to help stay on track and prevent getting off topic. Meanwhile, Catherine takes a creative angle to keep things fresh and engaging by starting her intros with a fun theme or quote that will guide her throughout the piece – this process can be seen in full force in her recent Forbes article.

To Outline or Not to Outline

It’s the classic question that we all face in our careers – as certain as death and taxes. Some of us like to develop a full outline initially while others just get writing. In fact, in a poll of the entire KG team, we’re split right in the middle – half of us outlining, half opting not to. Kirsty finds value in it for certain projects, especially while writing a webpage, where she decides what she wants to write in a more visual manner. Once the outline is done, she usually lets it sit for a day or two, allowing her to come back with a fresh mind, and begins fleshing out the content and editing directly from the outline.

Perfect Timing

Many might say, there’s no better time than the present…but that doesn’t always work when we have countless priorities at once. Finding the right moment to begin your writing project isn’t always easy. Some of us write better at different times of the day so it’s important to find what time is right for you. For example, if other projects are getting in the way, make sure you knock those out first and set time aside on days when you aren’t as busy such as Friday afternoons, early mornings or whatever works for you.

While some work better under a strict deadline, setting short term milestones can help others who are having trouble keeping the content development ball rolling and want to avoid being overwhelmed right before a deadline. This includes creating short to-dos with deadlines throughout the week. For example, plan for your outline to be completed by Tuesday, draft on Wednesday, send colleagues for review on Thursday and send to client by Friday.

Background Noise

For those of us who need noise in the background, the most effective way to stay focused is listening to certain types of music. Amanda will often listen to white noise, instrumental music and brown noise. I tend to listen to instrumental music like jazz (John Coltrane’s album “A Love Supreme” is a great one), foreign (groups singing in another language, such as Tinariwen and Shintaro Sakamoto) and anything with a driving rhythm or R&B (lately Solange, Nilüfer Yanya and Blood Orange but William Onyebor, Fela Kuti and Talking Heads are always classics for me).

However, my go-to and most effective song is 45:33 by LCD Soundsystem. The almost 46-minute song, commissioned by Nike for runners, keeps me focused through its ebbs and flows and acts as a timer so I know it’s time to focus for that period of time.

Other Writing Tips from the KG Team:

  • Eliminate distractions: Close Outlook, Slack, iMessage and put your cell phone away.
  • Set a timer: Crank out content for a set amount of time (perhaps 30-45 minutes). Then you can allow yourself a 10-15 minute break to check email, scroll through Twitter, grab a snack, etc. before diving back in.
  • Get a little help: Since sometimes we all lack self-control, I’ll occasionally use the Self Control app to blacklist distracting sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • Get outside: Stuck on an idea and can’t figure it out? Step outside, go for a walk and clear your mind for a bit. Finding a friend to join also helps since there’s no process more productive than a good ol’ walk and talk.  
  • Caffeine: As always, the java-heads out there need their coffee. Sitting down with a good cup o’ joe or tea can keep you wide awake and ready for the unpredictable journey of content development.

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to content development. In fact, the way we see it, if you’re not writing…you’re wrong! At the end of the day, becoming a great writer is all about finding out what works best for you. As such, we hope these writing tips will help you stay focused and in the zone for your next project.

All Is Fair in Love and Retail

Valentine’s Day is upon us and love is in the air at Ketner Group. Some of us will be watching romantic comedies (such as Crazy Stupid Love – objectively the greatest rom-com of all time). Some will be enjoying a nice dinner (now that KG has a New York office, perhaps Adrienne will enjoy a beautiful candle-lit dinner at my favorite dining establishment – White Castle). And others will be finding their own ways to celebrate (or not).

Regardless of our plans on Feb. 14, one thing will remain consistent for all of us here at Ketner Group: our love for retail. So, what can we expect this Valentine’s Day from our one true love?

NRF Projects Fewer Lovers but More Dollars

According to NRF, not everyone in the U.S. is feeling the love. Only 51% of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, down from 55% last year and well below 2007’s high of 63%. It’s not all gloom for retail though. According to NRF’s release, “it is unclear why the number of consumers celebrating has trended downward over the past 12 years, but spending, while varying with the economy, has generally trended up.” In fact, the data shows that respondents plan to spend $161.96 on average. That’s a 13% increase from last year’s $143.56 and tops the previous record of $146.84 set in 2016. Total spending is expected to reach $20.7 billion, a 6% increase over last year’s $19.6 billion. This breaks the previous record of $19.7 billion, set in 2016.

What about those who aren’t celebrating? More than a third of those under the age of 35 who say they are not “celebrating” still have plans to spend money on themselves or spend time with other single friends. This might include buying a little something for themselves, going out to dinner, or splurging to celebrate Galentine’s Day right (What’s Galentine’s Day?).

If you’re without a Valentine this year, at least take comfort in knowing an important group will be pampered. According to the NRF data, a quarter of celebrants under the age of 35 plan to purchase Valentine’s Day gifts for their pets. And can you blame them? Dogs deserve it (cats, I’m not sure).

Looking Forward

When Valentine’s Day is over and the roses wilt, so too will the love for retail? Between this year’s government shutdown, tariffs and worries of an economic slowdown, some are concerned about the state of the industry throughout 2019. However, according to NRF, the “state of the economy is sound.” The organization estimates that retail sales this year will increase between 3.8% and 4.4%.

This growth would result in total 2019 retail sales of between $3.82 trillion and $3.84 trillion. Based on last year’s 10-12% online sales growth, e-commerce sales this year could reach between $751.1 billion and $764.8 billion. Fortunately, the success should continue, even if the candy hearts won’t.

This Valentine’s Day, the Ketner Group team will be thankful for the undying love that retail provides us with all year long. Will retail be as kind and tender to others during the rest of 2019? The numbers look promising, but as we all know, all is fair in love and retail.

Grocery Fulfillment: A Curbside Chat with Greg and Jeff

OK, we’ll admit it — the KG team likes to eat. And we have several very cool clients in grocery technology. So it’s no wonder that we spend a lot of time talking about the fast-changing world of grocery fulfillment. And in this blog, we’re taking a slightly different approach as our own Greg Earl and Jeff Ketner have an online chat about one of our favorite topics.

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A More Convenient Way to Get Your Groceries

Jeff: It’s the perfect day to chat about grocery fulfillment.  As I write, the KG office is getting its monthly mega-delivery of frozen dinners, snacks, sandwich stuff and everything else it takes to feed our hungry crew, courtesy of HEB home delivery. Our team’s ready to descend on the kitchen like a plague of locusts. And at noon, I’ll swing by HEB to pick up a Curbside order to take home, since our fridge at home is just about empty. Speaking of HEB Curbside, Greg, you’re one of its most outspoken fans — your love of curbside is probably only slightly behind your love of Cabo Bob’s.

Greg: While Cabo Bob’s transcends my love for everything in this world, I love HEB Curbside. As the area around my local HEB keeps developing, the store becomes more of a mad house. Even finding parking isn’t worth it for me. Being able to avoid the chaos, swing by and grab all of my groceries is a godsend. However, I will say that they could do a better job at updating their real-time inventory. Nearly every time I shop, they substitute items. This isn’t a deal breaker but can throw a wrench in my cooking plans every now and then.

I haven’t personally tried HEB delivery yet, but today’s office order went incredibly smoothly. Plus it’s much cheaper than when we used Instacart, right?

Be Careful – Not All Grocery Delivery Services Are Equal

Jeff: Yep, our first HEB Curbside pickup order was WAY less expensive than our Instacart deliveries. So I’m glad to see that Instacart is lowering its prices. Hopefully they can up their level of service, too; I tried Instacart one time with Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Austin, and it can politely be described as a disaster. The delivery was late, the communication from the person picking our order was incomprehensible, and I had a lot of trouble using my $15 off coupon code, which was the only reason we tried Instacart in the first place. A recent delivery experience from Randall’s, a perennial also-ran in terms of Austin market share, was far superior. I’m not sure who they use for fulfillment, but it was a surprisingly good experience.

Speaking of surprises, I find it interesting that our office is split nearly 50-50 among those who use grocery fulfillment and those who don’t. What’s up with our team here?

Believe It or Not, In-Store Shopping Advocates Are Out There

Greg: That’s too bad about your Instacart experience. I guess it’s difficult for them to maintain quality across all of their employees throughout the country. Speaking of quality, I think that’s exactly why some folk around here are torn on letting other people pick their groceries — especially when it comes to produce, which is very fair. I’ve received a few fruits or veggies in the past that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked for myself.  

However, some of the luddites around here just enjoy going to the store for the sake of grocery shopping – ridiculous! I think I can understand where they’re coming from though. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to pick out exactly what you want, roam the aisles and grab something that you didn’t even realize you wanted (a dangerous approach sometimes when your cart ends up well beyond your budget). Plus, a trip to the store is very worth it if there are free samples throughout the aisles.

The team especially enjoys shopping in-store at the more experiential/unique grocers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco. When you consider the option to drink a beer while shopping at Whole Foods, it does sound much more enjoyable. As for Whole Foods/Amazon delivery, the only experience I’ve had was extremely disappointing. I tried to order some prosecco for the office because Amazon touted a free two-hour delivery promotion. However, this ‘free delivery’ required a minimum that we didn’t need to reach and the ‘two-hour delivery’ meant I could select a two hour window, not that the item would be delivered within two hours of ordering. Going to Twin Liquors down the road saved me a lot of money and time. I’m curious about placing an entire grocery order though.

Jeff: Interesting! You’d expect a better experience from Amazon based on how fast they’ve been rolling out Whole Foods delivery – maybe it’s more worth it for an entire order. There sure are a lot of options out there and I don’t think we can expect the industry to slow down any time soon. There are a lot of factors for grocers to consider — cost, product selection, inventory, customer service, etc. I think we both are looking forward to seeing these services get even stronger and more rewarding, right Greg?

Greg: That’s right, Jeff. Unlike some of the colleagues, I’d honestly love to never have to think about getting my own groceries. Maybe I should move back home…

In the meantime, I can just eat Cabo Bob’s for every meal.

Shop if You Dare: Spooky Halloween Data and a Premonition of the Holiday Season

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for, ghouls and goblins alike. Children are trick-or-treating, parents are eating their candy and the country is celebrating peak fall weather and aesthetic. However, Halloween isn’t just the spookiest day of the year, it’s also a significant retail holiday that kicks off the upcoming holiday season.

For most, it’s easy to forget that Black Friday is less than four weeks away but here at Ketner Group Communications, retail’s always on our mind – which is why I’m dressed up as ‘J.C. Pennywise (It)’ to celebrate Halloween and the rapidly approaching holiday retail season.

Halloween Retail Projections

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, total spending for Halloween is expected to reach $9 billion, the second highest in the survey’s 14-year history and similar to last year’s record of $9.1 billion.

Seventy percent of Halloween celebrants plan to hand out candy, 50% will decorate their home or yard, 48% will wear costumes, 32% will throw or attend a party and 30% will take children trick-or-treating. Also, whether or not pets want it, pet costumes continue to gain popularity, with nearly 20% of celebrants planning to dress their pets in costumes this year up from last year’s 16%.

Where are people shopping? According to NRF, 45% of shoppers will visit discount stores and 35% will go to a specialty Halloween store or costume store. Additionally, 25% will visit department stores, 24% will buy online and 24% will scour grocery/supermarket stores.

Possessed Stores

Following the untimely demise of Toys ‘R’ Us this year (RIP), you may have recently seen their storefronts back in business. But don’t be fooled. These abandoned locations have simply been possessed by the likes of Spirit Halloween and Halloween City, pop-up stores that are only open for a few months each year leading up to the holiday. Also called the “hermit crabs” of retail, these Halloween stores quickly move into empty storefronts – making closed Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us locations perfect spaces for the Halloween season. This also points to the ever-growing, opportunistic pop-up trend that utilizes events and relevant audiences to reach customers in unique ways.

What’s Next?

What should we expect once we wake up on November 1st, thankful that we made it through the frights and dangers of All Hallow’s Eve? Almost immediately, we’ll begin hearing about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and the holiday shopping season will be in full swing. In fact, Target already announced its strategy for the holidays – it will offer free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase required starting on Nov. 1. Meanwhile, Nordstrom announced that from Dec. 3 through Christmas Eve, they will offer “early bird” pickup before stores open their doors in the morning – and even around the clock at 23 locations. We’ll undoubtedly see more retailers expand fulfillment options during the holidays in order to compete against each other and Amazon Prime’s reliable, simple delivery options.

Meanwhile, with Toys ‘R’ Us gone and Sears a member of the walking dead, the question of who will take over these retailers’ business and customers this holiday season reverberates. We can expect to see retailers clamoring to take advantage by more aggressively promoting deals on toys like we never saw when Toys ‘R’ Us was the dominant industry player, with Target and Walmart matching Amazon step for step.

We hope that you enjoy your Halloween festivities this week and are as excited as us for the holiday season to begin. 2018 retail forecasts for the holidays look very promising, but beware… there are always frights waiting around the corner.

Investigating: Ketner Group Communications’ Growth

INVESTIGATION CONDUCTED BY: Private Investigators on the Hunt for PR Justice

A lot of great news has been coming out of Ketner Group recently. Just last week, they celebrated a new website aimed at capturing the true essence and philosophy of the agency and they even announced a name change to Ketner Group Communications, leaving behind Ketner Group PR + Marketing.

But should we believe all of this good news to be true?

Refreshing their look? Changing their name? Do they think we’ve never seen the Fugitive, Catch Me If You Can, or similar chase-thrillers? We’ve seen this story before – and something’s not right.

During our research into what’s really happening behind their enhanced façade, we found documents claiming that the past year has been a transformative one for them – their team grew 40% and their business grew by nearly 40% as well. But did they think we’d fall for this? We decided enough was enough and it was time to uncover these lies ourselves.

Sure, you’ve watched The Jinx, you’ve binged Making a Murder and maybe you’ve listened to Serial – but nothing will prepare you for what you are about to watch in the investigation of Ketner Group Communications. Is this team really “passionate,” “well-regarded” and “exceeding expectations”? Find out for yourself…

Retail Pop-Ups are Popping Off

Pop-ups are everywhere these days. What once started as an occasional, opportunistic trend has blown up to become an extremely POPular (nice one, Greg) industry worth billions of dollars that seemingly every brand and celebrity wants a piece of.

Just within the past few weeks, some interesting pop-ups have been announced:

  • Abercrombie & Fitchhas partnered with SBE Entertainment Group, a lifestyle hospitality company, for a series of co-branded events and pop-up shops at select SBE properties over the upcoming months.
  • Nordstrom, as part of its [email protected] program, has teamed up with Casper Mattresses to launch its Sleep-In at Nordstrom collection until August 26th at select locations.
  • Sephora will host an interactive beauty “house” in Los Angeles that will bring technology, products, and industry experts together for two days in October.
  • Plenty of brands will be present in the Hamptons for another highly anticipated summer of retail pop-ups.

Who’s Popping Up?

While iterations of pop-up shops have existed throughout history, Target is credited with launching one of the first contemporary pop-up shops in 2002 when it designed a Christmas-themed store on a boat on New York’s East River. Since then, we’ve seen a litany of pop-up shops by high profile players – from general consumer brands like Adidas to luxury brands like Tiffany & Co, to celebrity brands, such as Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics and Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudo-medicine lifestyle brand, goop, and more.

The music industry has taken a special interest in pop-ups. One of the most effective is Kanye West, who since his Yeezus album, has launched pop-up merchandise shops coinciding with his album releases that have fans lining up for the exclusive products. The most recent were his #ProjectWyoming merch bonfires for his latest album, Ye, where fans gathered around bonfires, listened to the album and purchased merchandise. Other artists have followed suit, ranging from Rihanna to Kendrick Lamar to Justin Timberlake, whose most recent album spurred a “Man of the Woods” shop in New York with Levi’s and other brands.

The Key to Successful Pop-Ups

While pop-ups obviously sell merchandise and products, more importantly, they sell an experience. In an era where long-term retail space can be expensive, e-commerce grows stronger, and customers want to be entertained, pop-ups are the perfect way to offer a completely unique experience, anywhere.

A great way to reach people is to figure out where they congregate and go to them. Nordstrom, for example, launched pop-up pods at SXSW and other music festivals across the country in 2016 to offer their shopping experience to thousands of festival-goers. They undoubtedly did their research to make sure these attendees were their target audience, and reached thousands of relevant music-lovers who were probably in a (possibly alcohol-induced) spending mindset.

Whether it’s at a festival or on a street corner, brands are seeing the benefits in the unique and flexible experiences that pop-up shops offer. As physical retail becomes more digital, pop-up shops will undoubtedly become even more unique and prevalent. With the right approach, they will allow any brand to reach new customers, bring a sense of exclusivity, or just simply engage their core audience in a new and exciting way for years to come.

Retail Innovation Lounge Returns to Austin on March 10

As SXSW approaches, Austin is preparing to descend into ten days of madness brought on by the four main pillars of SXSW: Interactive, Film, Music and Traffic. Amongst the hundreds of sessions happening next week, a stand-out event in retail will take place on Saturday, March 10, as some of retail’s greatest minds and thought leaders converge at the 2018 Retail Innovation Lounge.

The event, taking place at Max’s Wine Dive in downtown Austin, will bring together leading retail and brand executives and technology innovators for a day of keynotes, panels and networking. Sponsors of this year’s Retail Innovation Lounge include: Strings, Hershey Innovation, goPuff, Softvision Digital Innovation, and IDL Worldwide.

What is the Retail Innovation Lounge? 

Retail Innovation Lounge in Dallas, TX (2016)

The Retail Innovation Lounge is a global, by-invite-only executive leadership series for retail innovators, brands, investors and operating professionals focused on the future of retail in a private, peer-based environment. It was founded by Anne Marie Stephen, the founder of kwolia, a strategic advisory for emerging technologies applied in retail connecting the physical and digital worlds.

Saturday’s event will bring out the best within the retail innovation ecosystem to pitch their ideas, solutions and products to leading industry investors, media outlets and partners.

What to Expect at the Lounge

The Retail Innovation Lounge will feature a meet and greet with B. Bonin Bough, the marketing executive behind global campaigns including the first ever 3D printed food product, a customizable, real-time printed Oreo at SXSW 2014, and a chat with Jay Samit, serial disruptor and best-selling author of “Disrupt You.” As well, we are excited to announce that Edward Balassanian, founder of our newest client Strings, will give a fireside chat with Anne Marie about the exciting changes he sees for the social media landscape.

Attendees will also get a sneak peek at a new VR experience from Hershey and goPuff in a unique immersive activation, as well as a Podcast Studio with Mouth Media Network and multiple live tech and solution demonstrations throughout the day. Session themes will cover blockchain, social media, cryptocurrency, storytelling and experience creation, innovation in enterprise and brand environments and more.

Retail Innovation Lounge will also be giving out swag, hosting exclusive experiences including book signings, an evening social mixer, a future of retail documentary taping, and more. Click here to see the full line-up of speakers and technology activations.

The Best and Brightest Minds in Retail

Featured speakers for the event include:

  • Bonin Bough – Host, CNBC Cleveland Hustles
  • Jay Samit – Best-selling author of “Disrupt You” and an Independent Vice Chair for Deloitte
  • Veronica McGregor – News and Social Media Manager, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Dennis McGrath – VP Innovation, Tryer Center, Starbucks

Additionally, industry disruptors from the following organizations will be on hand to share their expertise:

  • Kroger Innovation
  • Lowe’s Labs Innovation (former)
  • Lab1886 USA, Mercedes-Benz Corporate Incubator
  • Softvision Digital Innovation
  • Strings Media Inc.
  • The Hershey Company Insights and Retail Evolution
  • Moet Hennessy Innovation
  • Store No. 8 (Innovation Hub, Walmart)
  • Walmart Digital Acceleration
  • Plug and Play – Silicon Valley Accelerator
  • Treehouse (Eco-friendly home upgrade company)
  • Carnegie Mellon Entertainment and Tech Center
  • Mammoth Film Festival, Founders

Interested in Attending?

The invite-only event will take place at Max’s Wine Dive at 207 San Jacinto Blvd from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. If you’re interested in attending, RSVP here and use access code “KGRIL”.

Our team will be posting content to the String app, so be sure to follow along here on your mobile device for live coverage of the event and post your own moments while you join us. We hope to see you there!

From Monster Mash to Holiday Dash

If you’re like us at the Ketner Group, you were probably on edge throughout the entire month of October, constantly looking over your shoulder for frights, fears, ghouls, etc. The good news is that Halloween is now over, so we can relax and enjoy our trick-or-treating spoils, including candy corn, candy apples and nickels from the elderly woman around the corner.

Yet, as the spookiest time of the year ends, the retail industry is approaching the scary unknown: the holiday season. The biggest shopping time of the year says a lot about the health of the industry. How is the holiday season shaping up? And what can this year’s Halloween spending tell us about what to expect for the holidays?

Halloween Spending

Starting with perhaps the most important aspect of Halloween, HIS Markit forecasted candy sales to rise 4.1% from last year, reaching a impressive $4.1 billion. Additionally, NRF’s annual Halloween survey expected total spending on Halloween this year to reach $9.1 billion during the same time period, up from $8.4 billion last year.

This is promising news – if consumers are spending more on Halloween, then we can expect increased spending during the holiday season. In fact, NRF expects holiday retail sales to increase by up to 4% in 2017, totaling $682 billion, compared to $655.8 billion last year.

What to Expect from Consumers

After all the tricks and treats, consumers are now gearing up for the holidays in a big way. The NPD Group found that shoppers will start their shopping early this year. In fact, it will potentially be the first time that more U.S. consumers start shopping in the middle of the season (around Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday) than later (early December).

In terms of shopping destinations, 2017 could also be the first time that Americans spend more money online than in-store, according to Deloitte. Meanwhile, a study by IFTTT states that about 57% of shoppers will do the majority of their holiday spending at a mass retailer like Walmart or Amazon. Overall, it’s clear that customers will be shopping in droves through both online and offline channels.

How Retailers are Preparing

Big brands like Walmart and Amazon are already announcing their holiday sales (and even in-store parties) which means it’s officially time for retailers to prepare for the holidays. We’re seeing plenty of stores hire seasonal employees– an expected every year. However, are retailers investing in new technology to prepare for the mass influx of customers?

According to a survey conducted by Brightpearl, about 58% of retailer and wholesaler decision makers currently invest in technology to manage sales spikes. 35% of those surveyed are ‘very likely’ to adopt a new solution to help effectively streamline back-office and inventory processes. While these are promising strides, Brightpearl also estimates that poor technology decisions leading into the holidays could cost retailers more than $300,000 in lost profit. Brands need to be prepared with adequate technology that won’t fail during the holiday rush.

It appears that this holiday season could be a cheerful one for the retail industry. As such, it’s essential that brands are prepared to meet customer demands with efficient technology to stay ahead of the competition. Without doing so, the real frights will come in the form of lost customers and profits – a reality that is far spookier than any Halloween lore.

*Disclaimer: I don’t actually like candy corn

The State of the Retail Workforce

It seems like clockwork that every few months, weeks or even days we see people panicking about robots taking over the world. Being one of the eye-grabbing headlines out there, many publications are very willing to suggest that entire industries will be destroyed by technology (or maybe millennials). This fear of change, along with talk of the so-called “Retail Apocalypse” (which was appropriately debunked on our blog last month), has left some questioning the future of the retail worker.

However, there’s no need for associates to worry. The truth is that there’s still plenty of opportunity for them to thrive in today’s landscape—as long as retailers are investing in them.

Is eCommerce Making Associates Irrelevant?

As eCommerce continues to grow and evolve, many facets of retail are being disrupted every day. However, research shows that consumers still value in-store shopping and the presence of retail employees.

According to ChargeItSpot, 63% of consumers believe that store associates are “extremely important” when they shop, with an additional 29% calling associates “somewhat important” to the experience. Meanwhile, Shopify suggests that 78% of consumers prefer to shop in-store. Their research also states that consumers tend to spend more time shopping in-store than on a retail website and spend significantly more money in-person.

The industry isn’t shrinking either. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of retail sales workers is projected to grow 7% by 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

It’s clear that not every consumer prefers to shop online. While it’s true that shoppers demand an easy and frictionless shopping experience, sometimes forcing them to Amazon, there’s still opportunity for in-store associates to thrive – especially if they can enhance the shopping experience for customers.

Investing in the Workforce

With the demand for in-store associates still present, a large share of the responsibility falls on retailers to give associates the necessary tools to succeed. Yet, according to research from Cisco, just 6% of retailers’ investment priorities are focused on improving employee productivity. Fortunately, stores are realizing that this needs to change.

An investment in technology can arm workers with the resources necessary to truly offer the customer-centric experience that’s necessary to excel in retail today. Also, with successes, workers will be far more likely to stay with their employer— an important benefit considering the traditionally high turnover within the industry. In fact, a recent Salesfloor study found that 72% of hourly retail associates are more likely to stay with a retailer if they have the right technology and resources, and two-thirds said access to digital tools and technology is a must-have at a future retailer.

It’s easy to think that robots, AI and Amazon will steal the roles of the retail associates in the world. However, this simply isn’t true. With strategic investments in employees and technology, stores can assure that associates are as productive as possible, customers receive the stellar service they expect and the in-store shopping experience remains key to commerce.