“Thriving, Not Surviving”: Retail Transformation in Challenging Times with Party City’s Julie Roehm

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With so much uncertainty affecting consumer-facing physical retailers during the pandemic, businesses are now facing unique challenges and designing creative solutions to continue meeting customer expectations and needs. Julie Roehm, Party City’s Chief Marketing and Experience Officer, joined our discussion about how the company has sustained interactions with customers digitally while staying true to its brand purpose amidst unprecedented events. From creating social distancing graduation car kits to blending Halloween with Easter Sunday by putting treats in plastic egg “masks,” Julie encouraged us to embrace the unknown by getting creative and innovative. Julie inspired us to listen to customers, to simplify the process, to meet the “new norm” by not reinventing a new wheel, and why bringing the “fun” back does not have to be challenging.

Erich Joachimsthaler and Julie Roehm discussed business transformations.

Here are some of the key principles that Julie shared about her recent journey with Party City: 

1. While making it easy is not the only driver to keep customers coming back, it certainly does play a huge role in customer retention. Navigating through the pandemic is already complicated by itself, so companies are now concentrating more on making the highly digitalized transactions and customer interactions more seamless while fulfilling safety measures.

“I’m much more interested in learning: ‘Was it easy for those things to happen?’ When you peel that onion, that’s where you see the opportunities.” – Julie Roehm, Party City CMO

Party City’s main focus is currently on Customer Effort Scores because it informs the company how easy it was for customers to transition into highly digitalized transactions and finding relevant information. Party City believes in investing in seamless experiences because it increases customer engagement.

2. “Curbside pick-up is not an innovative experience but rather an expected norm.” Julie indicated that pick up without leaving the car’s safety has been part of Party City’s roadmap; however, the roll-out was expedited once the pandemic took place. In order to adapt quickly, it’s best to err on the side of action. 

“We chose to have an imperfect experience and just got the experience going to be able to service the customer.” – Julie Roehm, Party City CMO

Innovative outlets can come in the most unexpected and sometimes low-cost ways. To help parents adjust to their new work from home schedule, Party City provided free event itineraries that users can download with items from their inventory that go along with it. With this free asset, Party City discovered that providing free experiences has a direct impact and value on sales. 

How do we celebrate Halloween while social distancing? 

3. We will probably not celebrate Halloween the same way we always have this year, but that does not mean that it can’t be fun anymore. Julie shared Party City’s “thrive rather than survive” approach by planning to continue making memorable experiences during this upcoming holiday with recent customer research outcomes. 

“People want to celebrate. They want to create joy regardless of the situation and the creativity that is there. They will figure out a way to do it. We just want to lean in.” – Julie Roehm, Party City CMO

Party City’s research shows an increasing demand for Halloween décor because it is a way to celebrate while social distancing. Through influencers in their team, they were also able to develop ways of doing Trick-or-Treating without contact by promoting Trunk-or-Treating where treats could be accessed from the back of vehicles. Finding creative ways to keep experiences as normal as possible is a fun process by itself and should be approached as an exciting challenge.

Retailers also need to consider creating a scalable experience and selling opportunity past the pandemic including:

  • Identifying Creative Social Distancing Trends: By shifting from pandemic distress to an opportunity mindset, companies will find new customer segments with real-time quantitative customer journey data and influencer trends. The pandemic certainly has a daunting effect on both companies and customers, but using customer research findings as the guiding light during these dark times may bring exciting new opportunities and services to the company.
  • Safety Impacts Customer Loyalty:  If companies continue to build trust between their customers by actively and consistently demonstrating safety measurements during the pandemic, then the company will be able to usher the customers towards their eventual reopening as they maintain their customer following.
  • Retailers as “Experience Consultants”: Because the majority is unfamiliar with the changes in how we consume during the pandemic, retailers can suggest new ways for their customers to experience their products and services. Party City redefined celebrating moments by designing virtual experiences while waiting online, building party planning teams, and opening a new digital marketplace for additional services to complete the new party experience. Forming strategic partnerships that enhance these new experiences also creates new opportunities to innovate.

If you create a brand purpose and you throw it out or revise it six months later, you probably haven’t arrived in a good brand purpose.” – Erich Joachimsthaler, Vivaldi_ CEO

A massive transformation is happening in almost every business because of the pandemic. Some elements should change, but the one piece that should not change is the brand’s foundation. By positioning your brand with a resilient future-proof purpose, it becomes easier to navigate through the transformation process and to plan the next steps to take.

Watch the full event here:

  • 6:40 – Party City transforms from being a goods provider to an experience provider
  • 8:35 – Party City aims to provide equal parts of party supplies and equal parts experience
  • 12:55 – Listening to the customers and leaning into their demands
  • 13:08 – Julie’s “thrive rather than survive” approach to challenges
  • 19:30 – On making the customer experience easier
  • 23:00 – Julie recommends retailers to provide consulting for their products and services
  • 23:23 – Julie shares Party City’s findings of consumer demand shifts and how to work with the information
  • 23:58 – A glimpse into what Halloween with social distancing could look like this year according to Party City
  • 27:50 – How Julie’s previous experience car experience prepared her for her role in Party City
  • 31:25 – The importance of bringing in a customer experience expert to leverage the customer journey
  • 36:56 – On accelerating Party City’s roadmap because of the pandemic
  • 37:36 – To err on the side of action
  • 44: 08 – The role of partnerships in transformations

This segment was part of The Interaction Field Series of our LinkedIn Live Events. Please connect with us on our LinkedIn page to stay updated with our upcoming conversations.