Things are changing on our local high streets. Consumers are shopping in a different way and these new habits are bringing exciting new opportunities for independent retailers.
Just last month, a report by the Local Data Company in conjunction with the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) revealed that the number of independents is now at its highest level in four years following a net increase of 432 new stores in the first half of 2014.
There are lots of reasons for this positive news – consumers are keen to support local retailers and the recovery, although unsteady, is certainly helping too.
But the biggest driver seems to be a shift in shopping habits. New data shows that we are increasingly swapping the old weekly food shop at an out-of-town supermarket for more top-up trips made locally. And that is driving footfall to all kinds of shops on our high streets.
The recession has permanently altered the way we shop. We are less keen to drive to out-of-town supermarkets. And we are determind not to waste food as we once did. That means we would often prefer to buy our food locally as and when we need it.
What’s more, when we are visiting a Tesco Metro or a Sainsbury’s Local to get some essentials, we are also increasingly visiting other local stores as well.
But that’s not the whole picture. We’re also lapping up any opportunity to get a bargain. While the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury struggle, discounters such as Aldi and Lidl are flourishing. And of course, we are increasingly shopping online too.
All this has prompted Goldman Sachs to suggest in November that one in five big supermarkets may need to close. It points to “altered shopping habits” as well as competition from the big discount chains and pressures from online retailers.
These are clearly seismic shifts – not just recessionary aftershocks.
Now’s the time for independent shopkeepers to grasp these new opportunities. It’s about promoting what makes you special and giving customers the kind of friendly, personal service that big names just can’t deliver.
Tell your customers just how much good they are doing by shopping locally. According to Independent Retailer Month, for every £1 spent locally, 50-70p goes back into the local economy. For the same £1 spent out of town or online only 5p trickles back to the local community.
After all, a recent survey by Vend has found that 53% of consumers who choose to shop at small businesses do so to support the local economy and 30% of shoppers choose small businesses to buy one-of-a-kind items.
The convenience of online shopping, however, is undeniable. Independent retailers can also win more business by having an appealing and accessible website where customers can browse, get information, order online and either have goods delivered or click and collect. Judicious use of discounts and deals will also appeal to many shoppers that are counting the pennies.
Above all, at this time of year, it’s well worth getting involved with Small Business Saturday. Taking place on 6th December, this grassroots campaign encourages consumers to shop locally and support small businesses in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
You can download support and marketing materials on the Small Business Saturday website. And look out for the Small Business Saturday bus – coming to a town near you in November and December.
Blog by Rachel Miller, editor of Marketing Donut.
It's so much cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one, that for a small business it's perhaps the most vital ingredient for a healthy future.
So how do you keep customers? Price is the most important factor for many shoppers and some businesses trade exclusively on that. But there are two problems with this as a long-term strategy: firstly, most customers don't decide where to buy on price alone; and secondly, those that do will eventually be worn down by an apparent lack of care by the seller.
Excellent customer service is the foundation stone on which to grow your online business. In this day and age, when so many companies give poor (or simply neglectful) service, it's also a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd.
It's not a short-term strategy; it should be a permanent, long-term mission statement. Being friendly, efficient and above all helpful may not immediately get you more sales, but it will help to persuade customers to return and it will encourage them to recommend your business to friends and family.
I'd like to re-emphasise the word helpful. Go out of your way to help your customers. Distinguish yourself from companies with robotic staff who parrot the usual line, not intending, or caring whether they really help. Actually solve problems, don't just sympathise; offer real solutions, not just a goodwill gesture.
Above all, contact your customers to check if they're happy. That’s what the restaurant trade calls the “two minute check-back”, and it works brilliantly when the waiting staff are properly trained – it allows them to check that everything is okay with the customer's meal and experience, but it's also a great opportunity to offer more drinks and get more sales.
Whatever you do, don't hide behind your website. You may not have that bricks and mortar store, but it's no excuse for zero interaction. Publish your phone number clearly; interact with customers through email and social media; contact them frequently for that “two minute check-back”.
The customer may not always be right, but they are always the king, and if you invest the time and effort to treat them like royalty then you'll be creating the conditions for a long-term, thriving businesses.
Copyright © 2014 Simon Michels is a director of Photo Productions.
Marketers are more keen than ever to understand customer preferences and behaviour – and increasingly that means understanding data. But it has also becoming apparent that not all data is equal; the way you use it is key to how you’ll be able to derive value from it.
This distinction comes back to the way technology has changed in recent years. As marketers, we know that everything is connected. But traditionally this isn’t how we’ve stored and accessed data. Until now, we’ve mainly been looking at individual datum, not connections.
Graph databases fix this by because they explore connectivity within the data. More traditional relational databases answer simple questions such as: “what is the mean age of people shopping on Oxford Street?”. In contrast, graph databases can identify relationships and answer queries like: “how many customers are talking about my brand on social media and how many of them know each other?”.
This may seem like semantics but it actually represents a huge leap forward for informed marketers. So what are the three key things that graph databases can teach us?
Data from past purchases and information on customer interests can enable marketers to spot patterns and make recommendations or relevant offers to customers for next time. With a graph database you can go one step further and make real-time recommendations, instantly capturing any new interests shown in the customers’ current visit.
Looking at your customers, their connections and social media activity you can quickly identify those that are most likely to speak about your brand and recommend services to others.
Graphs allow you to ask questions such as: “which customers of mine are mentioning my brand on social media and via which channels?”; and “which have most social influence amongst their networks and like to write reviews?”. You can then correlate this with: “which of these digitally active customers are buying most of our products?”
In short, marketers can now identify the most appropriate individuals that can be nurtured into brand advocates.
In an age where global selling is the norm, many businesses now offer a wide range of products and services, making it hard for both employees and customers to navigate online or in-store. Using a graph database allows businesses to identify and offer customers a product that is closest to their needs and react quickly when problems arise.
For too long, it has felt like getting to know your customers is made more difficult by the way companies manage their data – databases are vast and can be overly complex to navigate.
Graph databases change this, building the importance of relationships into every piece of data and every query you make.
What may sound like a somewhat “techy” area is actually one that can deliver the most old-fashioned marketing advantage of them all: happier, more loyal customers.
Copyright © 2014 Claudia Remlinger, marketing director, EMEA, Neo4J.
Google recently announced that it would be slowly rolling out an improved Panda algorithm. As Google gets up to speed with its latest updates, so should you with your website.
Here are some things to consider:
One of the big changes Google has implemented with Google Panda 4.0 and 4.1 is its tracking down of poor-quality or “thin” content. If you publish short pieces of content with next to no useful information in them, the chances are that Google will not rank you very highly. So if your website is image-based and doesn’t share much in the way of useful, relevant content, now could be the right time to change that. What used to work for SEO may not work any longer.
Google says that it considers over 200 factors when ranking a website, and one of those that has become more influential recently is website and page loading times. Not only have people lost patience with slow-loading web pages, but they are also less like to convert if they visit a website that takes an age to get where they’re going.
It’s not just people you need to consider; Google’s spiders don’t appreciate the time it takes to crawl your pages. Use one of the many online tests to find out how fast your website pages load.
If your current website is a bit outdated or you’re starting from a blank canvas then it is a good idea to address the design of your site. It should be easy to navigate for both visitors and Google’s spiders. Try to include internal linking to speed up the customer journey and make navigation as clear as possible.
It is also important to test your website on a number of browsers (including Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer) to ensure it performs the same on each one. You can do this using BrowserStack.
Another thing Google considers is the amount of time each visitor spends on site, so although aesthetics can play a part in reducing Bounce Rate, the overall design and navigation is important.
An algorithm update might not always be a problem to some businesses, but for others, the changes will work against them. This recent update could have an impact on your visitor stats and if they have begun to decline or suffered a drop, then you know it’s time to make some changes.
Traffic to your website and pages is a good indicator of performance and by using analytics, you can usually see what has gone wrong. So keep a keen eye on your stats over the coming weeks to see if your website needs tweaking.
Copyright © 2014 Thomas Stocks, Varn Media.
Read Rory MccGwire’s blog on how Google is finally rewarding the right websites on the Atom Content Marketing website.
How can a marketer recruit advocates to a new product? It is far from easy. For most new products it is hard enough persuading consumers to notice the product, let alone try it, become loyal to it or start recommending it to friends and family.
The brand ignorance problem is often seen as an offline marketing issue. However, it’s even more of a challenge online. The sheer volume of content makes it more difficult to catch that all-important few seconds of the consumer’s attention.
There’s only a fleeting moment when a shopper notices a new product in amongst the familiar ones on the shelf, or on their screen. It’s an opportunity to make or break a fledgling business – that magical moment when a shopper reaches out. New products and their marketers have three vital jobs to do if they want to use that opportunity well.
Sunbites, a healthy snack, had high repeat purchase rates but the packaging was entirely focused on the wholegrain content of the product and that was putting off new customers who wanted a healthy snack that tasted good. It was not achieving credible shelf stand-out.
Changing the packaging and using language to reflect just how tasty, light and enjoyable Sunbites are had an almost immediate impact. Nielsen sales data revealed a 26% uplift in sales for the first three months. This was no short-term spike. Sales of Sunbites have risen from £8m before the rebrand to more than £40m now. But this success began by getting noticed on shelf.
Getting noticed is not the same as being bought. A brand can stand out on shelf for all the wrong reasons and if it incites indifference or even revulsion it is not going to succeed. It must be desirable enough for the shopper to pick it up and put it in the basket.
This can be done in a number of ways. Brands need to think carefully about the best on-pack visuals – product imagery, colours, logo and so on – as well as the copy they use to describe themselves. What product attributes do they want to convey? What tone do they want to adopt?
Sometimes there is a simple solution. Take Higgidy Pies, for example, which had built a £500,000 turnover selling its premium pies into deli counters and multiples such as Eat. In 2006, it gained a listing in Sainsburys and as a result, it redesigned its packaging introducing a window so shoppers could see the pies.
This not only shows the quality of the product but it is an approach that is unique in the sector. Ultimately, the Higgidy brand promises pies that are as good as you would make for your own family. The window was the vehicle to convey the desirability of the product. Sales grew so that the company now turns over more than £20m and has just doubled its production capacity.
People love stories. We love hearing them and we love sharing them. If your brand gives people a story they can pass on to their friends and family then it is well on its way to creating brand advocates.
David Holliday and Oliver Shute set up their company in 2011 selling soups, stocks and pasta sauces made from wild game. They knew they were tapping into a growing food movement. But by 2013 it became clear that their brand and design was only reaching people who already eat game. The “Country Life” visuals and copy were, in the magical moment it takes to convert shoppers, alienating the affluent urban experimenters who don’t currently eat wild game but would if they knew about it.
So, the first change was to insert “and” into the name. “David Oliver” sounded too formal and staid. “David & Oliver” brought the brand back down to earth. Splitting the name also allowed the introduction of the two characters, the embodiment of the brand. The logo, now full of life, tells the story of David and Oliver. It excites the customer, portraying exactly where the ingredients have come from and are going to.
Again, this investment in branding paid off. David & Oliver is now listed in Waitrose, it is adding ready meals to the range and is expanding into France and Belgium.
Most importantly, it now has a small army of brand advocates up and down the country who are enthusiastically retelling the story of David and Oliver, two entrepreneurs who dared to do something different. The product, just like Sunbites and Higgidy Pies, has succeeded in that vital moment.
Copyright © 2014 Adrian Collins is managing director of Ziggurat Brands, an identity and innovation consultancy.
So you’ve made sure your business has a page on Facebook and you’re posting regularly – but are you using it to its best effect? And did you know that visual content is five times more effective in engaging followers or random visitors who have chanced upon your page? Whether it’s a photograph or video, images add impact and communicate immediately.
But before you start worrying about how to generate all this exciting visual content, let me reassure you that you don’t necessarily have to do that much. Social media sites are all about communities, so you can ask your customers to contribute to your Facebook page by posting photographs and videos that are relevant to your brand.
It’s the ultimate endorsement strategy – the customer who is happy to post a wedding photograph thanking your for the cake stand they bought from your online shop is, in essence, telling all their Facebook friends and your Facebook followers that yours is a great shop and you’ve just made a bride very happy. People like that.
This will also drive more organic sharing and increased traffic to your website as well as your Facebook page. Empower your followers to share their images and more will follow.
Smartphones and tablets have made it even easier to share a moment – think back to our hypothetical bride, she has a million things to do on the day, but a simple snap of her wedding cake on your cake stand is effortless to upload.
It’s important to remember to respond to any content that is added. Maybe that bride was let down at the last minute and you saved the day – a few words to say how delighted you were to have helped shows that you care about your customers and the service you provide.
Here’s another idea: ask customers to show how they’re using a particular product. Introduce a hashtag so it’s easy to share on Twitter too. But don’t forget to check that no-one else is using that hashtag on other social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram.
Don’t leave everything to your followers. Listen to what they’re saying and notice which posts they are sharing – in short, discover what engages them and then follow their lead and give them more on the same theme.
Images also provide an opportunity to show a different side to your business – a behind-the-scenes moment or a “this is how we did it” movie (Twitter Vine is great for this) that gives real insight into what you do and, importantly, your love for it.