The latest IRUK 500 Dimension Report investigates brand engagement and how retailers and brands are winning loyalty from customers who have infinite choice.
WHETHER IT'S from a smartphone on the train, from a store on the way to work, or from a desktop during office hours, today’s connected shoppers can buy whatever they want, wherever and whenever they like. Inspiration can come at any moment, as they snap up a product that’s recommended through social media, prompted through a well-timed email, or is simply needed – and right now.
In response, retailers must be accessible, relevant and credible to their potential customers, and through whatever channel they choose to engage. These qualities, says Chris Dunn, VP, Customer Success at SEO specialist and InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner OneHydra, are crucial to being found in off-page search. And they are just as important in engaging customers on social media, through email marketing, and beyond.
As well as ensuring their websites are visible, the Top5 retailers in this Brand Engagement Dimension make their brand available offline in a way that can ultimately boost online sales performance. John Lewis, for example, reaches well beyond its relatively modest estate of 46 stores. A click and collect partnership with its sister supermarket is effective in raising its brand profile – in its latest full-year, some 53% of online orders were click and collect, with a significant proportion picked up from Waitrose stores. When it opens a store, it feels the effects in ecommerce and multichannel sales. “Online sales,” it said in its results statement for the year to the end of January 2016, “increase in catchment where we open a new shop.”
Conversely, Amazon has no UK stores – but it reaches directly to the consumer, through collection points as diverse as local newsagents, Birmingham International Airport, and wherever the customer is.RELEVANT
While being accessible is key, it’s not enough simply to be there. In a competitive world, where most retailers sell online, being relevant is a prerequisite to success. “Customers expect that the brand or retailer knows them,” says Ben Rund, Senior Director, Product Marketing at data integration and security specialist Informatica. “Consumers don’t think in channels – they just want to have a consistent experience wherever they engage.”
The wider the range a retailer has, the more likely it is to be relevant to an online search – and that’s likely the reason that department stores and wide-ranging traders do so well in brand engagement.
Argos, for example, has a range of more than 53,000 different items while Amazon scores highly for a UK range that numbers more than a million products – and thus tends to rank highly in search. Argos said in its last-available full-year results, for the year to February 2015, that the breadth of its range is key to keeping customers satisfied.
Being relevant on social might mean featuring the products that a customer is more likely to be interested in. Fashion and homewares retailer Next, for example, uses social media to highlight its ranges in different ways, including a dedicated Instagram account for menswear and a blog that brings together problem-solving advice with inspiration in areas from what to wear for an interview to suggested storage solutions.
Bronto Software Client Services Manager Saima Alibhai writes in the full Brand Dimensions Report about how retailers can combine data from social and email marketing to great effect, precisely because the use of social ensures email content is more relevant.
Being accessible and relevant are just the first hurdles in successful off-page SEO. The final, distinguishing, step is to be credible. If two retailers have identical scores for search relevancy, then the one that is deemed most credible will rank higher in results. It’s the difference, says OneHydra’s Dunn, between being recommended an event by someone you don’t know, or people you do know who plan to go, or a preview of the event from a respected organisation such as the BBC. The latter is likely to carry more weight – and so it is with building credibility in search. “It’s all about gaining quality, credibility, linkage into your site,” he says.
"Online sales increase in catchment where we open a new shop"
Building credibility is inspiring emotions, whether that’s familiarity, trust, confidence, or simply being predictable. That’s something that social media lends itself to doing. It’s important, then, to use social as a means of engaging to solve problems in a way that ultimately reflects, for better or for worse, on the retailer’s corporate culture.
Technology can be a means to deploy best practice customer service across the business but by making themselves available and responsive to their customers, retailers can start to compete with the best in the business.
The Brand Engagement Performance Dimension Report is distributed with this issue of InternetRetailing. You can also view a digital copy online at internetretailing.net.