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IREU Top500: Brand Engagement

InternetRetailing’s latest IREU Top500 Performance Dimension Report focuses on brand engagement. Emma Herrod reports on the findings.

In this brave new world of joined-up retail, customers come upon brands, retailers and products anyplace, anytime anywhere. Customers might be browsing a retail website in search of an item from their mobile phones, but equally they might be looking at products on Instagram or catching up with friends on Facebook when inspiration strikes. Enabling shoppers both to act upon their inspiration, and to communicate with retailers through the channel that’s most convenient to them is what successful retailers now do.

European retailers at the cutting edge in the IREU Top500 Brand Engagement Performance Dimension Report are working hard to reach out and engage with existing and potential customers across Europe. In this IREU Top500 Performance Dimension Report, produced in partnership with Oracle+Bronto , the InternetRetailing researchers analysed how they’re doing that. They focused both on the cutting edge, where leading retailers are setting a direction of travel, and on the mainstream, looking at how the ‘average’ retailer is responding to a world in which shoppers are more willing to use a variety of devices to shop, and to shop across geographical borders in search of the right item.

The reality that this uncovers is that average retailers lag far behind the cutting edge, and that many retailers have yet to move beyond their own markets and benefit from the opportunities that a joined-up European market has to offer. That should be exciting, since it shows how much is to be gained by taking the initiative in this area.

How retailers are engaging with shoppers and the channels being used to communicate with their customers, be that email, social media, telephone or blogs, are all examined. The InternetRetailing research team also looked at the ways that retailers enable customers to share feedback publicly, whether that’s via product reviews, star ratings or social media.

Schuh , for example, is regularly cited as an example of a retailer that ‘gets it’. In the Report’s lead interview, Sean Fleming writes that “it knows who its customers are, it knows what they want, and it works hard on making sure they get it.”

As Schuh’s Director of Ecommerce Sean McKee comments: “If you want to ensure the best customer engagement, the key things to focus on are look, feel and tone of voice. They have to be consistent so that regardless of whether it’s in-store, online, or in a live chat session, the customer feels like they’re talking to the same people, that they’re getting the same kind of experience and the same quality of experience.”

Case studies from Amazon , Currys , The Body Shop [IRDX RTBS] and Clarks [IRDX RCUK] highlight other approaches to brand engagement. After analysing sales data and shopper behaviour, The Body Shop is putting more emphasis on producing content that customers find genuinely useful.

A move to a mobile-first strategy and a new platform for its 30 brand sites shows how the health and beauty retailer is investing, not just to maximise sales, but for greater customer engagement too.

The researchers highlighted 12 approaches that retailers are taking. These included:

  • Make regions and multilingual choices obvious;
  • Encourage input and feedback through techniques such as product ratings and reviews;
  • Persuade them to like you on Facebook;
  • Allow social sharing: It is most popular in Finland, Portugal, Italy and UK but less common on sites in Belgium, Sweden and Hungary;
  • Flaunt your green credentials;
  • Keep them coming back: True brand enthusiasts visit their favourite sites not just to buy, but to see what is new or to look for information;
  • Promote your channels;
  • Encourage affiliates;
  • Create a community;
  • Reward loyalty in novel ways: The traditional “points for prizes” approach is being replaced by access to special events, birthday treats or discounts on purchases when total spend reaches a certain figure;
  • Add charity appeal: Giving customers an opportunity to help others by shopping with a retailer can not only enhance brand image, but increase engagement;
  • Expand your offer with a marketplace.

Insights contributed by InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Hitwise showed the proportion of visitors that come to Top500 websites via search engines and the importance of both SEO and paid search to Brand Engagement.

In the coming years, InternetRetailing will continue to assess the way that retailers trade in what’s likely to be a highly volatile retail environment by putting the hard data of InternetRetailing research into a wider, and practical, context. As always, the research team is interested to hear from readers about how they think they should judge and understand retail strategies – do share your thoughts.

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