Digital December

Paul Laville, managing director, T21With so much uncertainty right now, there’s little doubt that the battles for retail success at Christmas will be fought in the virtual and remote arenas, says Paul Laville.

Regional variations in Coronavirus restrictions throughout December may see retailers having to operate from behind closed doors yet again.

It remains a possibility means that planning for shopfloor activity is now secondary to planning other means of reaching customers and keeping your business healthy.

Click and collect, telephone and online sales currently remain the least disrupted routes to market, so for me, that would be where I would spend my time and energy.

Of course, if everybody is doing the same, how do you differentiate and win customers?

A good place to start is by looking at how you can make marginal gains. It begins by answering simple questions, for example: how can you give your customers something they will value and what does that look like? How can you provide a better service, what does ‘better’ actually mean to your customers? How can you make their shopping experience more attractive and beneficial for them?

These are no different to the questions you’d ask yourself if you were trading in stores, but now they need to be applied to the distanced experience, to online selling, telephone contact and click and collect.

I’ll stick my neck out and say the telephone part is easy. All you’ve got to be able to do is answer the phone, and if you’re making outbound calls keep it lively and get to the point quickly. I’ll also throw in ‘don’t make excuses’ – I’ve spoken to far too many businesses recently telling me their normally rubbish service is worse than usual due to Coronavirus. No. It needs to be better, not worse.

Click and collect is a great service. There’ll be a lot of gains made here and there is plenty of room for local differentiation. For example: do all your customers know exactly how your click and collect service works? How easy is it with current restrictions? What about the vulnerable or those without transport?

For online it’s about making your brand and the value your business provides really stand out. Yes, your website needs to be up to date, frictionless and fully optimised for desktop browsers and mobile, but what else can you provide online that makes you more relevant and more valuable to your customers?

Social media is an absolute must-have. Building a community around your brand on social platforms is cheap and effective and I’ve seen some brilliant, creative, very powerful content from retailers on socials throughout the year – dealing with customers via their smartphones and demonstrations livestreamed on Facebook and Twitter… even the occasional TikTok video. The winning factor seems to be about reassurance and personality, giving your business a human face that can reassure customers that you’re doing everything you can to support them. After all, isn’t that one of the biggest advantages that independents have, being closer to their local communities than the big chains?

I’d like to think so. Many retailers I’ve spent time training with over the years have told me one of their biggest strengths is that they will ‘go the extra mile’ for their customers. And each time they say it I ask them the same thing: “What does that extra mile look like? What is it, exactly, that you will you do for your customers in this ‘extra mile’?”

Most of the time (at least at the start of the training) it doesn’t really mean anything. So now is the time to make those words really count for and mean something. Now is the time to prove that you really will go the extra mile, not just for your customers and communities at Christmas but for the future of your business and the livelihood of you and your employees long-term.