‘Don’t do anything online you wouldn’t do in-store’

There’s a lot to think about when putting together an online and social media strategy. Decide what is right for your business, but doing nothing is not an option, says Charlotte Graham-Cumming, director of Varia Solutions


Whenever I talk to retailers about their online presence, they tend to fall into two categories. They either embrace it, understanding they need to be there, or they consciously decide that it’s not appropriate for their business.

I genuinely don’t understand the latter response. Why you would write off an entire marketing channel? I do understand, however, that it’s a complex issue for retailers.

So let’s start with the elephant in the room – pricing. If you sell to both trade and retail customers, what’s the danger of making your price too transparent? The challenge is how to win over the customer on something more than the price on your website.

How you end up resolving these issues depends on your business model. Winning customers on more than price is a strategic brand decision and is a long-term exercise, while with trade customers, you can have online accounts where you manage bespoke pricing.

If you do in-store ‘tactical’ pricing, then you have slightly more work to do in terms of the website, but it remains that having an online presence will only increase demand, not reduce it.

This has been proven time and again, by the tier-one retailers, as well as successful independents.

For example, I worked with Screwfix back in 2004, just prior to the launch of its trade counters. Obviously, they were already online, so were they concerned about a price war between the stores and online? No. Why? Because they approached it in a true multichannel sense, implementing click and collect. As of last year, that accounted for more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of their business.

I’ve seen independents implement online very well, too, as long as you’re aligned with your core brand values – in other words, don’t do anything on the website you wouldn’t do in-store.

The key thing to remember is that you shouldn’t view “online” as either the devil or an angel – it’s a channel like any other, and requires a strategic approach and should be fully integrated into the sales and marketing activity.

‘It’s gimmickry and won’t become mainstream…’

Social media can be a minefield and it can feel as if you’re blasting out a lot of content without much return. It should be viewed as a longer-term route to growth that is building the brand as well as building sales.
Here are a few tips to get you started:


• …make the most of pictures. Retail is a very visual business. Images of products, your stores and staff will engage people. You get better engagement online when using pictures.
• …include your store staff. Get them to contribute content and ideas, this will help keep the content interesting and varied. Entice your online viewers into your stores.
• …have a strategy. Know why you’re using social media and what you expect it to achieve for your business. Know how your customers use it in relation
to how they evaluate and purchase.
• …make use of content from manufacturers. Using video, for example, can be a great engagement tool online.
• …be responsive. Customers may use it to complain, or to compliment. Mmake sure you respond quickly and constructively, especially to questions.
• …run online surveys. This is a great way to get people engaged with your social channels and to learn more about your customers.
• …use experts. They can help you leverage online social marketing more quickly, as they’ve already learnt by mistakes.


• …operate in a silo. Link in with store and web activity and be consistent across all channels.
• …get defensive. If someone makes a negative comment that you believe is unwarranted, deal with it quickly and constructively and take it offline as soon as you can.
• …try to do too much. As with most marketing, the answer is little and often.
• …stop too soon. Give it time. Social media channels don’t grow overnight, unless you’re Justin Bieber.


‘Getting started online…’

• Don’t operate it as a silo from your stores, tie in the bottom line revenue gains and you’ll get more support from
store managers around initiatives, such as click and collect, or returns.

• Phase it – don’t try to put everything on there at once. Trial some product lines that you can easily support in terms of fulfilment and learn the lessons on a small scale first.

• Plot the customer journey on your website. This is crucial, understand how customers are using your website, so that you can remove any blockers,
this could include: unnecessarily long or complex forms; making them create an account to early in the process; images too slow to load so people lose interest; too many clicks to get to the product. And be sure to leverage social media to drive awareness and footfall.