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East Midlands Chamber News

Exploiting technology for customer engagement in a new retail world

The retail industry already faced huge challenges before Covid-19 restrictions made it even tougher to entice customers to shops. With previously unproblematic activities like trying on clothes and spraying sample perfume bottles now a potential safety hazard – not to mention the prospect of off-putting queues to even get into shops – the Chamber’s digital technology adviser Jason Roper argues retailers must use existing tech to improve customer engagement before shoppers visit.

The future of a successful retail business starts with reinventing the concept of “great customer service”. Historically, this has focused on mid or after-sales, while the “presales” has focused more on marketing the product itself. But no amount of marketing will ever change the positive benefits of direct customer engagement.

Not sales pitches, but actual engagement. Creating a bond, driving customer loyalty and befriending your customers is essential now that access and connection is so reduced.

This can be achieved by making sure you have an active and engaging “online presence” – which means switching on any capabilities to interact with website and social media visitors.

More importantly, making sure these capabilities are “live” in your shop and that your teams are actively monitoring them.

There’s nothing worse than posting a direct message to a business on Twitter and waiting three days before you get any response. The second step is to increase online visibility – making your business accessible, interactive and engaging.

Here are five ways you can easily do this:

1. MAKE BETTER USE OF YOUR WEBSITE I constantly explain to businesses that posting “everything” on social media is great… for the social media company, that is, because you are driving users to consume content within that platform. What you really need is for your own website to be active and engaged with regular sharable content, letting search engines know you’re relevant and popular.

2. YOUR SITE, YOUR CONTENT Sharing posts on Facebook is great, but everything you upload and write on the platform gives Facebook the right to use in any manner it wants. Most websites have a “blog” capability. I strongly advise businesses that everything you’d normally post, tweet or share should be written as a blog post on your own website and share that link. This allows you to retain complete ownership and control of the content, and sharing it creates what’s known as a “backlink”. This is what search engines look for when ranking popularity and relevance, so the more this link is shared on social media by your followers, the more popular your site becomes.

3. VIDEO CALLING FTW Picture it – you’re in your store, no customers are in and no-one is even window shopping. So what’s stopping your staff picking up a mobile handset, accessing the Facebook Live or YouTube Live apps and live streaming a “fashion show” focused on a particular product range? Or a live demonstration of your coffee brewing process, or maybe an adhoc cookery lesson? And while we are on the subject of making yourself accessible online, why not, on your website, offer a free video consultation or chat with a staff member to identify stock availability?

4. REDUCE QUEUE CHAOS One of the big challenges we face now is that we can’t all crowd into one shop – and making sure we adhere to social distancing means queueing outside. For anyone who is elderly, a parent with small children or vulnerable, this can be a big problem. There are a lot of free or paid tools and services to facilitate pre-booking, such as free plugins for WordPress websites, free and premium cloud-based booking services or even simply having a business calendar.

Think of theme parks. They have “fast-track” booking, special needs queues and other means of avoiding long queues where necessary. If you could pre-book all your customers with a one-hour slot, how much easier would that be for your business and your customers. Actively promoting the option will demonstrate to your customers that you value both their safety and their custom.

5. MULTI-CHANNEL SALES You don’t just have to sell from your shop. There are many services such as Amazon, eBay, Shpock, Gumtree, community websites and social media marketplaces, so sell anywhere and everywhere.

The trick here is to not to sell nationally or internationally, but maintain focus on your local community. Speak with community pages on social media, and don’t offer shipping or postal services – only offer collection via a scheduled appointment, so you get to directly engage with your customer.

And when they come to the store, take photographs and videos to upload to your blog and share to social media, giving you a personal and human visibility.

If you want to hear more or need digital technology advice, Join Jason and fellow Chamber digital technology adviser Marcus Harrison at the next free Digital Upscaler awareness session on Wednesday 15 April. To register for your FREE place, visit www.emc-dnl.co.uk/digitalupscaler

Digital Upscaler is managed by the Chamber and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It is a project that aims to provide high-growth businesses across Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire with the knowledge, investment and capacity to scale up through embracing new technologies.