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GUEST OPINION How to save the British High Street, one social conversation at a time

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In its latest Annual Retail survey, KPMG looks at how UK consumers shop, and while ecommerce is expected to represent 18 % of all retail sales in 2018, is it already the time to call-it quits for the high street? Declan Kennedy, CEO at StitcherAds looks at how analysing social conversations can help

Another Christmas passes and another set of retail spending figures make grim reading for bricks and mortar retail stores.  We’ve become so accustomed to the ‘sales on the high street are down again’ narrative that we’ve assumed that the war between the traditional high street and the online retailers is done and dusted.  But is it really time to pull down the shop front shutters, lock the front doors and shoo out the last remaining customers onto the cobbled high streets of Britain’s towns and cities?  Or does there still remain a path to growth for British retailers that could help Mary Portas’ crusade to ‘Save the High Street’?

Let’s be clear, the threat facing physical retail stores is a considerable one; in 2017 sales in physical stores in the UK fell by 2.5%, continuing a pattern seen since the recession of 2008. The rise of the digital purchasing model seems unstoppable; the convenience, the ease of purchase, the breadth of choice, in fact, the whole experience seems too compelling to resist.  But perhaps, therein lies a ray of hope for Britain’s beleaguered retailers.  Because in a world where the customer is ever more connected, retailers can exploit that connectivity to their advantage by merging the offline and online experience together and giving a holistic (and positive) brand experience in the process.  To put that in practical terms, here are my top three solutions to help retailers increase the conversion from online to offline:

    1. Track and market to your full customer’s journey

Being able to track your customers shopping habits offline in order to retarget them on social media is essential to understanding their purchase mindset before they even come to your store. Having the ability to pass offline purchase data through a platform as popular as Facebook opens new avenues for retailers to build broader and more hyper-targeted audiences.  Then, in turn, with comprehensive data for in-store buying behaviour to exploit, retailers can find the right strategy to reach the right customers at the right time with the right products to draw them back in the store and, ideally, turn them into real brand advocates. 

    1. Create seamless omnichannel campaigns, online AND offline

While digital media constitutes one of the fastest-growing segments of advertising, brands must take an integrated approach with desktop, mobile, tablet (and even good old fashioned TV) channels to provide a seamless brand experience for consumers.  And then use innovative tools to target those customers that recently made an in-store purchase by targeting them online with a coupon code or discount ad for a new season product. Of course, you can also drive cross-sell and up-sell momentum by offering incentives for customers shopping online to visit their local retail outlet to experience a special event or limited period sales offer.

    1. Personalise your omnichannel ads

The world of ‘spray and pray’ advertising is dying.  Fast.  The return on investment of pumping out ‘volume’ advertising in the hope of driving awareness and engagement has crumbled as brands recognise that consumers don’t want to be ‘sold’ to.  Instead, the flexibility of social media platforms like Facebook and the use of data optimisation tools allow retailers to build ever more personalised brand engagement campaigns that speak to the individual buyer on economic and emotional levels. You will increase conversions through relevancy. And with advanced testing tools such as automated multivariate and A/B testing this enables  brands to pivot quickly on strategies that under-perform, which means that the bang for buck that social advertising can drive just cannot be equaled elsewhere.

The good old British High Street does indeed face an existential challenge to survive.  But it’s a challenge that it can meet, if it adapts fully to the connected world that we all now inhabit.  By recognising that the online and offline worlds can dovetail and exploit each other’s relative strengths to improve the customer journey wherever the customer touches the brand, maybe, just maybe we can answer Mary Portas’ prayers.  And in the process, avoid having to wake up to another set of news headlines in January 2019 that herald the death of the High Street, once again!

Photo credit: Angelov (Photolia)

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