To kick off back-to-school shopping season, Target-owned delivery service Shipt launched its first foray into virtual experiences with an immersive racing game on Roblox, where players can deliver school supplies and snacks, claim orders for pickup and delivery, and earn currency for accurate, on-time deliveries. Based on the insight that 77 percent of American parents play video games with their kids, the campaign’s goal was to craft an experience shared by children and their parents during this busy retail moment.
“We wanted to create unique, value-oriented experiences for the 2023 school season in a way that instilled connectivity for our key consumers—which in this case are millennial parents and their children—by identifying moments where we could take the stress out of this time and create connection and fun in a meaningful way,” according to Shipt CMO, Alia Kemet. “This was a great way to put kids and their parents in the driver’s seat of this experience.”
We spoke with Kemet about the back-to-school campaign, marketing challenges unique to the retail tech space, its new creative venture with actress Issa Rae, and much more.
Chief Marketer: Why did you decide to go the virtual route for your back-to-school campaign with Roblox? Is this a shift for the brand?
Alia Kemet, CMO at Shipt: Marketing campaigns have evolved over the years from brick-and-mortar promotions to offering new products to large-scale initiatives to attract customers during what is a saturated and busy time of year. And it’s also hectic for the parents. I have four children, so I’ve lived this experience. You have so many priorities, so many things you need to get, and you’re also focused on the emotions of your children going back to school.
We wanted to cut through that clutter, obviously, but also create unique, value-oriented experiences for the 2023 school season in a way that instilled connectivity for our key consumers—which in this case are millennial parents and their children—by identifying moments where we could take the stress out of this time and create connection and fun in a meaningful way. Seventy-seven percent of American parents actually play video games with their children. This was a great way to put kids and their parents in the driver’s seat of this experience.
This is a shift, absolutely. This is our first foray into virtual reality, so we’re really excited about the innovation. Given our audience for back-to-school, we thought, what better way to do virtual reality than a driving game? Roblox is something that a lot of young people play and enjoy, and with their parents as well.
CM: Was there a learning curve there since you hadn’t done anything in the space before?
AK: Many of our team members, including myself, have worked in virtual reality with other brands. So it’s less of a learning curve. We have a strong innovation team, too, that stays on the forefront of what is happening and current. What we learn from this experience is going to be the most exciting. What do we do next, when we think about digital innovation for our brand? It’s more about the learnings as we think about 2024 and beyond.
CM: Your latest creative campaign features actress Issa Rae. What are the strategic marketing goals there?
AK: Our biggest goals are to increase brand awareness, loyalty and brand love. The program is designed to show that everyday delivery is attainable. It’s accessible for each and every person, whether you are a successful business woman, hosting an event on a yacht, at home with friends or having a girls night in. A lot of our customers who really lean into Shipt are busy people. They’re trying to get 36 hours into the 24-hour day. But they’re also trying to pour into others, whether it’s their family or their friends.
CM: In terms of talent, why partner with Issa Rae?
AK: We pulled insights about our customers and coupled those with our objectives, and then we needed to define a partner that could exemplify those things. Issa Rae is an actress, publisher and producer. And she’s a business woman. But she also has this fun side, and people find her approachable.
At the same time, because this is our biggest campaign ever, it has the potential to set the tone for the way people think of our brand. It was important for us to find a partner who also shared our passion and our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s not always easy to pull together your business goals, your objectives and your brand values and make a meaningful moment. But when your brand values are so ingrained in how you do business, it becomes easier.
CM: You’ve worked at retail companies in the past, including Nike, Whole Foods and IKEA. Now that you’ve moved to the retail tech space, what’s your strategy to get people excited about a service as opposed to a more tangible product?
AK: I love this question, because it is different. I’ve worked in retail my whole life; my first job was in retail when I was 14. I developed the first social media strategy at IKEA, in 2007. So I’ve seen the evolution of tech in the retail space—and that’s what’s happening now.
Shipt felt like the evolution of the customer experience. Back when there was no social media, people used to have to come to the store to access their goods. But then it became pickup points. Now, you don’t have to leave your home because through the Shipt app, you can access these reliable, amazing shoppers who will then deliver products to you and make your life easier.
That felt like the right path for me. But it is very different from a tangible product, like a hot sauce or a mustard, or even a piece of furniture. I’ve tried to stay true to being customer-obsessed, consumer-obsessed, and think about the needs, the insights and the data that the customer is telling us. The customer is not thinking about the tech first. They’re thinking about their individual needs. And the tech is there to service that need.
CM: The delivery space is a crowded one. How are you trying to set yourself apart from competitors?
AK: We are a brand that tries to punch above our budget weight. It’s no secret: We definitely need to grow our brand awareness in comparison to our competitors. For us, it’s leaning into our brand values, our purpose and making sure that we are elevating our brand identity. And then focusing on things like personalization and adding significant value to customers is how we’re setting ourselves apart. The other thing is going to market leveraging the cultural moments, what’s happening in the world, and finding ways to put our brand at the center of that, so it becomes seamless to think about us and you’re not making people work too hard.
CM: How are you meeting customer needs in the digital space? How are you innovating?
AK: We’re always looking for ways to add value to people’s lives, and personalization continues to be the way to do it. We recently launched dietary choices in the app, ensuring that people can find the things that are most relevant to them. As we’re thinking about holiday time, gifting is something that comes up for us. We’ve implemented a one-stop-shop hosting hub—everything you would need if you were hosting or if you were having a dinner party or a brunch, and curating those products. Especially as we move into the holiday season, that’s another important one.
CM: You’ve mentioned that you’re passionate about creating a more diverse marketing industry, but that you’ve also been disappointed by the progress. Any thoughts on how the industry could improve in that regard?
AK: This is something I’ve been watching for decades now, and I think we’re having the same conversation over and over, where it’s, “we know, the representation in our advertising industry and marketing, it’s not that great. Let’s keep talking about it.” You have some organizations that are trying to do some meaningful work, but I firmly believe that great ideas and talent can come from all walks of life, from anywhere. What sets us apart, what makes it difficult and why we don’t have representation, becomes about access. It’s about doing away with things like gatekeeping. At Shipt, we feel that we have a role to play in not just bringing representation to marketing, but also to tech in general.
I personally take it very seriously, and I think that you have to be extremely intentional about it. Those of us who are in positions of power, or positions where we can create impact, should be thinking about how we provide access to those who are underrepresented—whether it’s in front of the camera or back of the house, or tech or marketing. My advice: It can’t just be people of color who are pushing these issues in meaningful ways. We all have a part to play. I’m excited to see change in the industry and I’m happy to do my part with Shipt to create that change.