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Could integrated marketing save House of Fraser from its “existential threat”?

By Laurna Woods

House of Fraser is closing 31 of its 59 branches as part of a rescue deal but this isn’t the death knell for the high street. Retailers who find their niche, put shopper experience at their core, and focus on integrated marketing are finding success – and even booming – as the big guns fail.

Cards on the table: House of Fraser is a brand I have grown up with and love. The two stores in London and Glasgow where I shop regularly are remaining open. Phew!  

But this good news for me does not diminish my compassion for the 6000 people expected to lose their jobs, nor for the others worried about what management termed “an existential threat”.

My favourite stores have advantages most high street retailers dream about but even they would benefit from an integrated marketing strategy that draws online and offline offerings together.

One is the original House of Fraser, the landmark branch on Buchanan Street that marks one end of the city’s style mile. It’s a Glasgow institution, a genuine destination shopping experience.

The other is the Victoria store in London that has just had a major refurbishment. That area has really developed in the 18 years I’ve split my time between London and Scotland. Back then, there was nowhere around there worth shopping apart from House of Fraser.

Eager customer base

It’s a store with an eager customer base all around it, on tap 24/7, in the new office blocks and swish apartments, at the Houses of Parliament and behind the desks of Government departments.

The refurbishment has made it really current. The make-up brands I swear by, such as MAC and Urban Decay, are there on the ground floor, and the clothing brands I need are just up the stairs. It’s a thriving store in a thriving area. 

The stores House of Fraser is closing are probably in areas where the high street is particularly struggling or where populations are lower. But what’s interesting in retail at the moment is that there are brands making a massive impact in smaller footprint stores.

Take, for example, our client Smiggle, the children’s stationery brand. From a standing start in February 2014, they’ve grown to more than 140 stores nationwide. The most recent opening was a two-floor flagship on Oxford Street – the same street where House of Fraser will close its flagship.

And another client, Specsavers, is also continuing to open new stores. It has 845 in the UK and Republic of Ireland at the latest count. You need to go in-store for a thorough and professional eye test, to try on frames and ensure that they fit properly.

Interactive experience

Something Specsavers and Smiggle share is that visiting them is an experience, an event. Smiggle is a riot of colour, those tall windows exposing the treasure trove within to eager young eyes. Specsavers fulfils a real and important need while making choosing new specs a fun and interactive experience.

The brands that are struggling are those who have not set themselves apart from their closets rivals. It’s survival of the fittest out there – ask Toys R Us how it worked out for them up against Smyths and The Entertainer who are still thriving. If retailers aren’t offering the value, location and customer experience that their nearest rivals do, they are stuffed.

The larger legacy retailers are really going to have to look at how they do things. The department stores, in particular, are bound by long leases, high rents, the cost of keeping old buildings functioning, and paying for staff who provide the level of service their customers expect and deserve.

What’s needed is an integrated approach. Struggling retailers need to join up their online presence and their physical presence for maximum impact. It’s how we focus an integrated marketing strategy for a client, everything working together in synchrony.

That could be as simple as doing something on social media to encourage people to go to the store. It needn’t be a discount or a sale – it could be giving exposure to an exclusive product in an engaging manner, such as a make-up how-to video.

The feel of a product

The thing is, you can’t replicate the feel of a product online – at least, not yet – nor can you find out how a blouse will fit or be sure a new foundation is the right tone for your skin. Online shopping is handy, but it’s not yet the same sensual experience as real shopping.

House of Fraser’s cost base is large, while the internet offers an easy route to big-name brands so that people don’t have to travel to shop. Its business model has to adapt to the new landscape. 

A case in point; this week, I ordered three lots of dresses from online boutiques. Each package has been returned because, when I tried the dresses on, they weren’t right.

But if I spend a couple of hours shopping on the high street – about the same time it took me to browse, order, try on and arrange the return of my garments – I know I’ll find something perfect that fits.

The brands that are in retreat have the opportunity to be more experiential. And they have to spur people’s imaginations and inspire them to visit their stores. An integrated marketing strategy can deliver the kind of engagement that drives people to cross the digital divide.

And department stores are ripe for this kind of marketing – especially for the high-end products they specialise in, such as make up, cosmetics and fragrance, or perfectly coordinated, perfectly fitting outfits.

The irony of stores that have for so long set the trends not keeping up with the changes that affect their business most is a particularly bitter one.

To find out how we push the boundaries of PR and marketing to get the best for our clients, call us now on 0800 612 9890.

 

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