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Two-way traffic

The importance of localisation and of starting conversations

RETAILERS THAT LEAD the Brand Engagement Performance Dimension make it as easy as possible for customers to communicate with them across different channels. This sounds straightforward but there are many nuances within best practice, mainly around localisation and the need to move beyond merely responding to customer enquiries or sending out marketing messages. Leading retailers tailor messages to specific markets, initiate and then sustain conversations with consumers, and do so across multiple, closely linked channels.

“To be a visible brand in Europe, retailers need to localise and focus on the channels most appropriate to the different territories in which they operate,” says Martin Shaw, senior researcher at InternetRetailing.

As well as being more visible than direct competitors to consumers, retailers that perform strongly in this Dimension are typically able to gather richer and more detailed information about customers’ needs.

Local and social factors

We have measured localisation via such indicators as whether retailers have country-specific customer service channels, social media offerings aimed at specific territories and the number of languages/currencies offered. It’s also worth noting that, in terms of the broader picture, consumers in geographically close markets – Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, for instance – often behave in broadly similar ways.

Turning to social media, some channels cut across countries and demographics. As of the first quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.65 billion monthly active users. This figure in itself does much to explain the growing popularity of Facebook’s Shop Now button, which is used by 85% of IREU Top500 retailers operating in the Netherlands. Compared to an EEA average of 67%, there’s also a high take-up by retailers operating in Spain (80%), Germany (78%) and the UK (77%). However, it would be a mistake for any retailer to assume that a Shop Now button is somehow enough in itself. Social media is, as the name suggests, about interaction. Leading retailers in this Dimension have Facebook pages where there’s a sense of activity, with users creating content and the retailer starting conversations as well as responding to customer comments.

Similarly, Twitter shouldn’t just be a way for retailers to get sales messages out. To make the most of it, retailers need to reach out to consumers in more personal ways: by following those who follow the brand, by responding to queries, and by proactively dealing with issues such as late deliveries.

Other social media channels have different challenges but the overarching point is that it’s important to encourage two-way conversations. However, it’s also important to maintain longer-established channels such as email and telephone. We measured 15 channels in total, including LiveChat, blogs and YouTube; for email we looked at read rate to measure the effectiveness of retailers.

Turning to localisation in more detail, the average number of customer services channels for the IREU Top500 overall was 4.6 – for example, social media, email, blog, contact page. Retailers had an average of 2.3 country-specific communication channels, which promote better brand engagement by letting consumers ‘speak’ in their native language.

On average, Top 500 retailers offer 2.5 unique languages, although we found retailers offering 13 EEA languages. The maximum number of currencies available in the EEA region on Top500 retailers’ websites was 13, the average 1.8. Our research suggests a growing recognition of the need to localise.

As yet, we haven’t measured hyper-localisation, the emerging art of using personalisation techniques to communicate with different demographics within a territory by age or region, although this is something we plan to address in the future.

Leading the field

“Social media channels have different challenges but this overarching point is that retailers need to encourage conversations.”

Focusing on specific companies, we found French sporting goods retailer Decathlon promoted conversations with customers via an impressive 10 social media channels. It also offered 13 country- and language-specific Facebook handles, suggesting an emphasis on engaging with customers in their native language. The company also excels in its email communications. While Decathlon France sends fewer emails than market competitors, the read rate is 22.8%, the best in its category. In France, its policy of sending out promotional emails late in the evening, which are then opened early in the morning (pre-dawn), seems to chime with customer behaviour.

Reflecting its international reach, clothing retailer H&M offers 11 unique currencies on its website. It also scored highly on search visibility on Google, with a reach rate of 42% over six months.

British clothing retailer [IRDX RHOO] performed well on a number of metrics.It supports nine customer communication channels and is on seven social media networks. Its focus is on channels that can be used by customers around the world, albeit only in English. It performed especially well on Twitter. The company has more than 447,000 followers, and has tweeted 21,700 times since April 2009. was also visible in Google search with a 54.1% reach rate.

Consumer electronics retailer Rue du Commerce provides six customer communication channels and five social media channels in France. The retailer performs well on Twitter and around 16 tweets a day since October 2008 suggests a successful, ongoing dialogue with its customers.

German consumer electronics chain Media Markt operates 12 country-specific domains with 10 country-specific Facebook handles. It’s noteworthy for localising its use of social media channels, perhaps as a way of experimenting with new approaches. Media Markt Greece and Italy, for example, are present on the local search and discovery service and mobile app Foursquare, which is not currently offered within other countries.

Media Markt Germany offers Shop Now on its Facebook page and has nearly 1.8m Likes. Media Markt Italy has accumulated more than 1m Facebook Likes, and provides customers with links that include Instagram and YouTube.

Taken overall, UK retailers tend to offer the largest number of communication channels. However, we would add the caveat that it’s easier for UK retailers to make use of Anglophonic social media networks and we focused on these networks in our research. As we broaden our research to encompass more regional social networks, we may discover subtleties that we’re not currently catching.

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