As we’ve come to the end of the first quarter of the year, I’ve asked our Director’s to reflect on the past couple of months in retail and share the trends and common threads we’ve noticed across our retail clients and the sector as a whole.
Rosie Freshwater, Managing Director
Over the last couple of months, I have seen a continued trend towards customer-centric marketing with more brands quite rightly putting their customers at the heart of their marketing strategy. Retailers are waking up to the importance of combining data and insight in order to understand who their customers are and the experience they desire. I feel there has been a big shift from retailers making assumptions about their customers to investing in data insight to show them an accurate picture. However, many retailers still aren’t spending enough on data and are consequently unable to make changes to their customer experience.
With the arrival of ‘Mobilegeddon’ (Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update) and the continued growth of mobile, we’ve seen many retailers dedicate more budget to mobile and ensure their websites are well optimised. Having a mobile-friendly site is now critical. We have noticed more customers using their mobiles for browsing on the way to and from work and in the evenings, they are multi-screening on both their tablet and mobile. In the forthcoming months, we can expect to see a stream of new initiatives available to marketers in terms of paid search and online specifically for mobile.
We’ve seen the trend for creating engaging content continue to grow and retailers are becoming much more consistent across all channels. We’ve recently been examining how retailers are creating customer engagement through content in our recent engagement reports and have found many retailers have a disparate content strategy across their social channels and are often creating content with little or no engagement. Forward thinking brands have kept their customers at the heart and are using insight about their customers to create cohesive content strategies around specific customer segments.
We’ve also seen a shift in the use of email marketing thanks to customer segmentation. Abandoned basket emails are still popular as are post-purchase communications and we’ve seen more retailers use past purchase data to ensure they are promoting relevant products. The most popular form of email marketing is for retention, but it’s also a strong acquisition tool if you invest in growing your mailing list. This is a great mechanism to capture those who are interested in your products so you can market to them whilst they make purchasing decisions.
A key challenge for retailers has been the growing expectations of consumers. They expect a seamless and personalised shopping experience and it’s a long term investment for retailers to meet those expectations. As the economy starts to feel more positive, I hope to see more retailers making longer term investments in experience to create long term value. Many marketing decisions in recent years have been made for the short term gain – often at a cost to long term profit and customer loyalty. Change will involve technology and a cultural shift and hopefully retailers will feel more confident about doing this.
Strive for a single customer view
I’ve seen many retailers struggle to combine multiple data sources to create the single customer view. The big retailers are starting to see progress in this area, but for smaller retailers it can be a challenge due to budget constraints. My advice would be to begin doing this bit by bit. Start by understanding the online customer and tailor your marketing activity towards them. Then combine that insight with in-store data. In the meantime, take small pockets of data and try to extrapolate out.
Over the next coming months, I’d like to see more suppliers to the retail industry working more closely together to provide a full customer experience service. As retailers grow their customer experience teams, those teams will start to look for suppliers that can help across multiple aspects of the customer experience and so those agencies and suppliers that are geared up to collaborate closely on projects across multiple customer touchpoints will be in high demand.
Ben Potter, Commercial Director
I’ve noticed the needs of some larger retailers are changing where their search agency is concerned. Often retailers have people internally all doing (in the main) great stuff in content creation, PR and social media (all essential components of a contemporary natural search strategy).
However, the activity is often managed by disparate teams and therefore not aligned and working towards overall business objectives (or even towards more granular natural search goals). Such silos are the enemy of an integrated search strategy so we are increasingly finding our role is changing. Rather than being responsible for execution, brands with in-house teams are looking for Leapfrogg to advise at a more strategic level, to help facilitate change and deliver training. This might include helping the client to put in place the necessary framework, team structure, processes and guidelines to align and maximise the impact of in-house content, social and PR activity.
We are not necessarily saying that in-house teams are set up to do everything themselves. There will always be gaps. But in a lot of cases we are finding larger clients are not looking for a fully outsourced solution in the traditional sense. They require a partner that can be flexible, adding value in the most appropriate fashion. This highlights something that I said in one of my Econsultancy posts back in 2012 – that natural search cannot be purchased and delivered as a commoditised, packaged service. Every business is entirely unique in terms of their agency requirements, determined primarily by their objectives and in-house resource/expertise. Only by building an understanding of the retailers business, sector, products, competitive landscape, internal resource or offline marketing activity can an agency deliver exactly what the client needs, which is often different to what they think they want.
Lucy Freeborn, Insight & Strategy Director
The most exciting development I’ve seen in premium retail over the past few months has been the evolution of content strategy AS retail strategy.
Although data, wrapped in insight, smothered in relevant content, has been at the heart of a good digital marketing strategy for a good couple of years now, informed content strategy as an ecommerce strategy is starting to be taken seriously by those brands with vision and the ambition to invest in creative and practical resource.
Trail blazer, Mr Porter has has this ‘Content as an Ecommerce’ platform nailed for a little while now; I certainly always look to them for a bit of lifestyle inspiration. But more mainstream brands have been developing this forward thinking, natural-search-proofed, social-media-gold-plated strategy on the quiet for the past few months. Farrow & Ball is one of my favourite brands who is doing ecommerce content well at the moment. What started at “shoppable content” a couple of years ago has become a fully fledged stand alone retail strategy in itself.
Indeed, we’re also starting to see one of the most exciting (and game changing) shifts in ecommerce content, as the traditional content creators realise their potential power to sell and evolve themselves into ecommerce platforms. Grazia famously bought London Boutiques, (one of our previous clients!) to develop its own branded ecommerce offering and I’m really looking forward to the launch of Conde Nast’s long-anticipated e-commerce venture later this year under the company’s existing brand Style.com. What could be a bigger threat to those retail brands working hard to become inspirational homes for content, than those already established homes for inspirational content, becoming retailers?
Indeed, as print publishing becomes a much more cut throat game, print advertising budgets are slashed and readerships drop, how else can those big publishers survive?
If understanding your customer is central to developing a solid retail strategy, then who’s better to develop a compelling retail offer, than those who have been developing a relationship with their reader for years. A flurry of publishing houses entering the retail landscape, I think, will shake things up for the better.