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Black Friday sales expose retail marketing survival strategy for the high street

By Laurna Woods

Black Friday only served to underline that online stores have the edge on pricing and ease of purchase – and that the high street has some retail marketing work to.

Between Friday and Cyber Monday the retail sector had a shot in the arm worth at least £7 billion, according to the latest estimates.

And those provisional figures from analyst Sigma showed a split in favour of online sales, with Amazon among the big winners.

It had sold 100,000 toys and 60,000 beauty products by mid-morning on Friday – a clear example of the head-start online, with its sales starting at midnight, has over bricks-and-mortar stores.

Consumers, as I said last week, are more savvy than they were when Black Friday first made the leap over the Atlantic. High street retailers stretched the deals out over a week so there’s not that imperative to be there for bargains that last a day. But Amazon, by staggering its deals, was able to keep online shoppers hooked.

£15 billion package for the high street

To be fair, the Government has recognised the high street needs help, with Chancellor Philip Hammond putting together a £15 billion package that includes rates relief to help bricks-and-mortar stores compete.

Shopping, after all, brings people to high streets and malls, where they’ll also spend in cafes and restaurants. Getting out to shop is, it could be argued, better for the economy than doing it on a tablet while you watch I’m A Celeb.

But where should high street chains be focusing the cash Hammond has freed up for them? How should they adjust their retail marketing strategies? I’ve got to say that I’m in agreement with my colleague Jacquie Boyd-Coleman on this: they have to focus on user experience and customer service.

Brand loyalty has fallen by the wayside, with online bargains hitting footfall. Retailers can’t rely on customers coming back time and again simply for their products – their service has to shine, too.

The likes of Apple have led the way in this regard. You can buy an iPad online, but having those friendly knowledgeable staff on hand in the Apple store to guide you through your purchase sure helps.

And Apple’s employees don’t chase away people who are in to browse; they just give them a nod and a smile. That’s what the best digital marketing does, too – allows people to engage with a brand cost-free.

Its stores always look great, too. There’s space to gather and chat around displays that look more like the table in a friend’s kitchen, with plenty of elbow room.

Make shoppers brand champions

By being open and inviting, it lets people introduce themselves to the brand or renew their acquaintance with it. And as staff know the products inside out, customers are well aware they have somewhere to go for help and advice.

Apple has even turned its users into brand champions, inviting them in to give talks to fellow devotees about how they get the best out of their iPhone, and to pass on tricks and tips.

My digital marketing colleagues at our integrated communications agency talk all the time about the importance of engagement for a brand online – Apple is doing that offline and in-store, building and maintaining loyalty by making each of its retail premises a destination.

Another thing high street stores should be doing is linking up seamlessly with their online sales. Schuh does this brilliantly. If an assistant in one of its stores finds they don’t have your size, they’ll find it at another store or the online warehouse and have it shipped to your home. Schuh knows not to let a sale walk away to a rival, online or offline.

The reverse also works – click and collect drives footfall. If you’re at Tesco, for example, to pick up an online order anyway, there’s a chance you’ll pick up bread and milk, too.

And there’s a lot to be said for using in-store incentives to get offline customers into your online sales funnel. A fiver off a jacket in return for your email address? Sold – and that means you can be targeted with marketing emails as the brand begins to build your customer profile.

Personalised recommendations

There’s evidence people aren’t averse to AI being used to help find them deals and offers that suit them. It’s something China is trying out in its frictionless shopping stores, and three out of five shoppers quizzed in the UK recently said they would like brands to make personalised recommendations to them.

There are huge opportunities for offline and online retail marketing to cross-pollinate, which will help the high street.

I don’t believe the high street as a whole is dying. It’s evolving. And as with all evolution, it’s survival of the fittest. It’s a mistake to think “fittest” means “strongest” or “healthiest”. It means those that are fittest for the purpose.

High street retailers have to bear this in mind, and develop with – not despite – their online offering.

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