The popularity of the internet has had a huge effect on British retailing. In fact the impact of the web has probably been greater than anyone could have predicted at the turn of the millennium.
Sadly, some of our traditional High Street retailers have become casualties of this changing landscape and many high profile retailers have gone under since the first notable casualty — Woolworths — back in 2008.
However, I don’t believe a tipping point has been reached in terms of the demise of traditional retailers. Over the past 12 months we have seen an increase in brands going bust, but in my view it will even out this year and then tail off.
Those who have survived have been able to reinvent themselves successfully by creating great social campaigns, leveraging the mobile space, improving customer service both in-store and online and targeting customers with great in-store promotions. Those that didn't simply failed to innovate and may have relied too heavily on bank loans with crippling interest payments.
So why has online retail become so popular with UK consumers? Without doubt there are considerable savings to be made by shopping online but it isn’t just the unbeatable discounts that have led to shoppers deserting the High Street.
Online shopping offers much more than convenience. It’s really all about the experience. For example, consumers who stay loyal to their favourite online shopping destination can tap into a realm of added value from bespoke, instant deals and product recommendations right the way through to seeing what their friends and family are buying or recommending. This type of engagement is extremely hard to replicate on the High Street in real time.
The High Street should be trying to compete in the areas where online retailers struggle, such as customer service and return or exchange policies. Online consumers have a legal right to return unwanted goods that they’ve purchased online but there are still retailers on the High Street with “no returns” policies.
Another great way to compete is by holding in-store events using staff with specialist knowledge. These events can be extremely popular, especially when offering discount promotions and a few nibbles! This is a great value added experience that cannot be replicated online. Publicising these events using viral social campaigns can amplify the number of attendees.
Events like this could encourage more people to part with their cash in-store. Also, High Street retailers should improve their store experiences so they become destinations for out-and-about shoppers who want value-added service that you just can't replicate online.
Despite the widely reported failings of some household name brands, I don’t believe British shoppers will lose all confidence in the High Street as a whole.
There are plenty of consumers out there who don’t want to buy every single item online. Many customers will always prefer to be able to look at and touch items for themselves. That’s particularly true for clothing. But I think confidence in gift card purchases has taken a bashing and this may be a big loser for lots of retailers — even those not in trouble.
So the overall picture is far from doom and gloom for retailers. There are plenty of opportunities out there. Smaller and independent traders can certainly take advantage. Most have no red tape and can therefore make quick changes in ways that the big High Street stores can’t.
We find that the independent online retailers are at times able to run bigger deals with us than the High Street stores — not because they have bigger margins, but because they don’t have to get board members to sign off the promotion and they typically have lower overheads. They’re major advantages.
Steve Barnes is the MD and founder of NetVoucherCodes.
One of the biggest challenges for any small business at this time of year is how to create an effective marketing plan.
According to a recent Small Business Marketing Forecast by Ad-ology Research, 30.5% of small businesses plan to put more money into their advertising and marketing efforts this year.
The forecast says:
So, what should your marketing plan say about your company over the next 12 months? Here are some key things to focus on:
Any smart business owner will tell you that continuity is critical to serving up a winning marketing plan. The bottom line is that the entire team needs to be on the same page. While you should already have your 2013 marketing game plan up and running, make sure it is a unified one before you present it to the outside world.
2. Social media
Some business owners shy away from social media. One of the typical responses you will get is that they have trouble getting a true measure of how social media will benefit their companies, and it is unclear what the true return on investment (ROI) will be. In fact, social media offers your company a number of advantages — it requires little or no financial investment, it can promote your brand to countless individuals and it allows you to network with other companies for potential partnerships.
Along with social media, blogging can be one of your best weapons when it comes to marketing your brand. If your company blog has had little or no love over the past year, it’s time to change that. Not only should your company be blogging about your brand on a regular basis, but you should also be looking for guest blogging opportunities on other worthwhile sites. Guest blogging allows you to incorporate links into posts, bringing traffic back to your website. It also helps you gain juice on search engines, again giving you and your brand extra exposure.
Finally, be a little more bold this year when it comes to your company’s marketing efforts. Throwing a little caution to the wind is not such a bad thing. Be willing to push the envelope a little bit with how you market to your target audience — instead of relying on the same approach time and time again. Yes, some marketing ploys you use will undoubtedly come up a little short, but you never know unless you try.
So, in 2013, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and market like you never have before?
Dave Thomas writes about a range of business and consumer topics and also writes on behalf of Spokeo Removal.
About 95 per cent of businesses I see at the moment have what I call “five-year-old-itis”.
Their problems are five years old. In the past five years, everything and nothing has changed.
About 95 per cent of businesses I see and work with are based on five-year-old business models, based on five-year-old assumptions about who the customer is, what they think they are buying and why, their competitors, and so on.
What I do know is that just about every assumption you had about how customer and consumers behave /buy/pay/talk/share/discuss/choose/receive products and services has changed. With one set of keystrokes I can tell thousands of friends what I think of you and your product (by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). Customers have always talked – but now they can talk to far more people than ever before.
My hunch is that “five-year-old-itis” is endemic nearly everywhere. Just about every start-up has been built on old-world assumptions about customers, channels and products. Just about every existing business has done little to significantly change how they do things from the heady heights of 2007.
Sure you've made some cuts, maybe sacked a few people. Sure you've cut costs, maybe even got a new logo and a new website. But, have you really had a cold, hard look at your business and been prepared to make the tough, and required decisions?
So, quick fix or real fix? The choice is yours.
Robert Craven shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book – Grow Your Service Firm – is out now.
Around 71% of businesses never use Pinterest, even though traffic to the site has doubled since mid-2012. In fact, Pinterest now has more than 20 million users and it is growing year-on-year.
Pinterest offers a creative and more interactive alternative to larger social media sites. It is a market research tool if you are setting up a business as you can see what kinds of images and interests people enjoy on their boards. This can generate new ideas for a project and even help suggest what sort of direction your company should be going in.
It is important to plan what you pin on your wall. Include images that relate to your business and industry. Keep in mind that Pinterest’s key appeal is the fact that it is visually beautiful. Try to think outside of the box if you are a technology company for example, trying to market a new phone or laptop. Think colourful, not grey, and remember that your target audience use Pinterest because it is different to other social media sites.
That isn’t to say that you should keep your Pinterest profile insular and disconnected. Linking your profile with Twitter and Facebook accounts provides maximum exposure. By ensuring that you start out with a memorable company logo, this logo can be spread over all the sites and will gain visual recognition. As well as a logo, also have a well thought-out description of your company explaining what you do, what you sell and how to contact you.
Provide a variety of pins to your board. For instance, if you are selling shoes, pin some examples of good street fashion images that you have seen or create really interesting images of the shoes yourself.
With phone cameras, there are no excuses to not snap something when you see it. With editing programs like Instagram, even a quick snap can be made into good visual photography. With the Pinterest app, pinning on the go from your mobile has been made possible.
Alongside all images that you post, write a description and try to avoid sounding clinical. Also remember to use keywords related to your business so that they can be found more easily in searches. When using other social media sites, have a picture with every story so that this can be linked to Pinterest to optimise your web content.
Becoming a sociable pinner can be beneficial. If you “like” a lot of images, comment and re-pin images, you can gain higher exposure and hopefully, increased traffic to your profile. When people visit your page, have a Pin It! button ready so that they can like and share your content with others.
Sue Williams is a freelance copywriter who also writes on behalf of Newsfix.
We’ve all sat through them — those presentations where the speaker just doesn’t connect with the audience, leaving you feeling detached from the experience and that your time has been wasted.
Here are my seven top tips to ensure you build great rapport with your audiences — whatever the occasion.
1. Use a personal story or anecdote to connect with your audience. It shows that you are ready to be open, vulnerable and personable, and it will make them more receptive. The real power comes from your emotions — which will go straight to their heart and they will remember your story long after the words have gone.
2. Use humour to lower the tension. Experiment with what makes your audiences laugh and release any tension. Be ready to surprise them. Dare to mock what happened to you — self-deprecating humour is a great way to make you appear more human.
3. Create images and movies in the heads of your audience. Everyone will see something slightly different in their mind's eye, adding their own experience to it and making it theirs. Tell them enough, but leave room for them to add their own part. It then becomes "their" story and point of view.
4. Remember to pause. At the beginning of your talk, and before an important passage. A pause will allow you to hold them in your hand, reuniting them in the tension of waiting. Pause after any important points you make as it lets them fully absorb information.
5. Be in the moment, in the present. Let go of any worries about yourself from the interaction. This might be easy to say, but how to do it? Plan your talk, practise and use personal stories and humour to let go of any tension. Remember to smile — and breathe!
6. Use variety in your voice to enhance your message. For instance, quickening the pace to add tension, emphasising key words to bring out important points (but don’t overdo it!) and lowering your volume to add suspense. The most important things are to connect with your own emotions and to speak about what you care about. It will show.
7. Believe! Give yourself confidence by believing that the audience is your friend, and will give you energy. Believe profoundly in what you are talking about and this will take care of most of your vocal variety and gestures — and ensure that you project authenticity.
Each audience, each room, each time is different. The same speech should be adapted to every occasion, and will be received differently. Join a speaking club such as Toastmasters International to give yourself the opportunity to practise in a supportive environment. Experiment. Enjoy. Engage.
Julie Kertesz is a member of Toastmasters International and winner of the Silver Comedy Best Newcomer 2012.
Social media use showed no signs of relenting in 2012 and with that growth came the wider use of hashtags by businesses and consumers.
In fact, the American Dialect Society crowned “hashtag” the word of the year and one couple even went as far as naming their child Hashtag. I don’t recommend that but here are some tips to help businesses use hashtags to best effect:
1. Figure out what you want to use a hashtag for
By using a hashtag in a tweet or in the description of a photo, users can associate their content with a theme denominated by the hashtag itself. For example, by using the hashtag #Downton Abbey, you’ve naturally associated your content with the TV series and indexed with it. This automatic indexing makes search, the second use of hashtags, possible, meaning users can find out information linked to their interest on a social rather than search-optimised basis.
2. #Don’t #overdo #the #hashtagging
Instagram users briefly enjoyed Firegram, an app which changed the hashtags on photos continually so they’d appear in more searches, gain greater exposure and consequently more likes. Needless to say it was essentially spamming and the app was taken down. The more hashtags you’re using, the more conversations you’re entering. Instead of jumping on three hashtags to make sure your content is seen, just pick the most relevant possible hashtag and use that. Numerous hashtags can make things look messy and hard to read.
There are a couple of good reasons that short and concise hashtags work. The longer a hashtag is, the harder it is to read and the easier it is to confuse. Secondly, typing out something long will often result in the hashtag being misspelt, meaning the content won’t be associated with its intended conversation, especially if done via mobile. Finally, a hashtag that takes up half your space just isn’t viable if you really want to say something.
4. Don’t change the hashtag halfway through a campaign
You’ve selected your hashtag, now stick to it. Users hate a split conversation or having to use two hashtags and you’ll just make your own life more difficult when you’re trying to track what’s going on.
5. Promote your hashtag
What’s the point of a hashtag if nobody sees it or uses it? Stick your hashtag on all your social media websites, on your print marketing materials, at the bottom of your emails, and so on. The more places it’s seen, the more people will use it. That said, there does need to be a reason behind the use, and inviting people to “join the discussion” or “voice their views” by including a hashtag is a good way of boosting engagement.
6. Jump on other hashtags
Popularising hashtags is difficult, so rather than coming up with your own, search social media to find out what is being used in conversations similar to the one you’re trying to start. As long as what you’re saying is relevant it’s not a crime to add to the conversations. There are even opportunities to change the use of a hashtag altogether, a great example being the charity Water Is Life turning #firstworldproblems on its head.
7. Integrate your hashtags into sentences
By integrating your hashtag into a sentence the hashtag is contextualised and the content looks better. It also means you save space and can therefore write more. Simple.
8. Remember your hashtags are accessible to everyone
You may have come up with it but that doesn’t mean you own it. As with everything on the internet, hashtags are open to manipulation, often in a bad way. First off, make sure your hashtag is foolproof. Long hashtags made up of many words can often make for some difficult reading. Additionally, individual words used as a hashtag can easily be manipulated in any sentence. Best practice would be to come up with an acronym and end it with a number (if relevant) to ensure it isn’t internet trolled. There are already enough hashtag disasters out there and you don’t want to be the root of the next one.
9. Look beyond the obvious
Using hashtags in their conventional ways should now be second nature but their capabilities don’t end there. One such way businesses can innovate is by using hashtags for advertising. By identifying consumers through the hashtags they use, businesses can connect in real time with people who are receptive based on their engagement with a particular subject, hence getting relevant adverts to the right audience.
These tips should point you in the right direction when using hashtags but as with everything social media, using a little bit of common sense and instinct never goes amiss.
Rupert Staines is the European MD of RadiumOne.