The past year and a half have been extremely challenging for retailers, especially small and independent stores, as the pandemic brought a complete halt to their businesses. But after that exceptionally tough period, the retail industry is slowly getting back on its feet. This means that retail marketing has never been important than now.
Whether you’re a new entrant or you’ve been associated with your neighborhood for years, it’s time to relook at your marketing strategies as new customer behaviors have evolved over the past 18 months. To keep up with those, retailers will have to revamp their marketing and promotional tactics.
This is true for everyone from mom-and-pop stores to trendy boutique outlets. “This is the way we’ve been doing business” won’t work anymore. With the exponential rise in e-commerce and same-day deliveries, customer expectations have dramatically changed. Without a compelling retail marketing plan, it will be difficult for retailers to adapt to this new reality.
But before we get to the retail marketing strategies that will increase your sales, it’s good to understand the concept.
What is retail marketing?
Retail marketing is the set of strategies, tools, and tactics that retailers use to increase brand awareness, drive sales, and acquire and retain customers. There are four essential ingredients to retail marketing. These four “Ps” are product, price, place, and promotion.
Product: This is the product you sell Price: This indicates the price at which you offer it to customers Place: The location or platform that you use to sell would constitute the place Promotion: This is the set of tactics you would use to inform and persuade the customers
But this is the traditional approach to marketing that’s merely been adapted to the retail industry. For it to be effective, retail marketing should be based on the unique opportunities and challenges that retailers face. It would need a redefinition of the traditional concepts.
The difference between retail marketing and product or service marketing
If you search online for retail marketing strategies or promotional tactics for retailers, most of what you find would be for product or service marketing. Those won’t fit your needs as those were designed for companies that sell a product or service and not retailers. Some of those companies may be doing it without even having a retail presence.
In the traditional sense, the “4 Ps” refer to a brand which could be a product or service. In retail, it would refer to the product or service that’s being sold and the retailer selling it. This is the fundamental difference one needs to understand before rolling out effective retail marketing strategies.
USP in retail marketing
The first concept to understand is the unique selling proposition or USP. This is what will set your outlet apart from others. It could be the prices, range of products, ease of shopping, location, delivery services, guarantees, etc. You should spend some time identifying your USP as all your retail marketing will primarily communicate that.
***Your USP is what will help build a brand out of your retail outlet. ***
For example, let’s say that you’re “Matt’s IT Services.” You offer computer repair services and sell accessories from different brands. In retail marketing, you have to sell both your services and those accessories. While selling services, you’ll be communicating your expertise in repairing computers whereas, in accessories, you would talk about the product benefits.
It’s important to understand the different components here and their weightage in your retail marketing. If you only talk about certain brand name accessories, there’s no perceived need to come to Matt’s IT Services to buy those. People can get them elsewhere or online. So, you may have to talk about how you would offer free installation or an additional guarantee on those accessories.
The IT service aspect is what you’ll have to highlight. That’s a service that will get associated with you. That’s what will help you command premium prices and build a customer base. The accessories can be an add-on part of your business. But if you can ensure that you’ll be able to offer the cheapest prices on accessories, that can be your focus.
At times, it could be what you do to a generic product that customers would be able to find in several places. The restaurant industry is a classic example of this. Few have copyrights over dishes or recipes. The way you differentiate your restaurant would be based on the food, ambiance, music, friendliness of the staff, etc. In other words, what you’re selling is an experience.
Or, if you’re a florist offering services under the brand name “Picket Fence Bouquet,” your uniqueness is not the flowers per se but what you do with them. Here, while you would mention the flowers you use, the USP would be your artistic skills.
Remember that in both the IT services and florist examples, you can use your location or your prices as your USP. But it would help to define it as something that will make you distinct and help command a premium. An easier way to understand and define the concept of USP is by answering this question:
“Of all the retail outlets or stores, why should anyone come to yours?”
Some of you might wonder why you should focus on retail marketing now? If you’ve operated your business for years - or maybe even decades - why should you suddenly get interested in social media campaigns or sales promotions?
Why should you invest in retail marketing now?
• Increased competition: As the economy opens up and employment numbers continue to rise, more and more entrepreneurs are getting into the retail industry. This is true for most sectors and categories.
• Consumer reticence: People are predictably wary of favoring retail establishments due to fears of infection. Retailers will have to engage with them and take them into confidence or lose out to others who will.
• Rise of e-commerce: Online shopping had been on the rise for years but the pandemic put that in high gear. Retailers offering products will face stiff competition from online marketplaces unless they use the right retail marketing tactics.
10 marketing strategies for retailers
Once you identify your unique selling proposition, the focus should be on how to market it effectively. To make it easy for you, here are ten marketing strategies that retailers across categories can roll out to acquire, retain, and engage with customers.
1. Know what channels work for you
The first step is to identify what customer acquisition channels are working for your retail outlet. Unless you know where you’re most likely to meet your customers, all other strategies will be pointless.
Are you getting customers from your digital marketing efforts? Are they walking in because of an ad you placed in the classifieds or the online listings in various directories? Or is it the storefront that’s attracting people? Or maybe it’s your social media page where you get people enquiring about your business.
If your store focuses mostly on online sales, are you getting traffic from organic search results? Or is it from an email newsletter? Are people finding you using their laptops or mobile phones? Have you ever done any pay-per-click campaigns or time-bound sales that have got you more visitors?
Don’t expect all channels to work equally for you. Some will be disproportionately more fruitful than others. Once you ask your customers how they found you, you’ll know what works and where you have to focus.
2. Maximize your store assets
You don’t have to immediately start placing hoardings around town or take out ads in your local newspapers. You already have assets in your outlet whose potential you may not have realized. These resources are within your control and can be utilized without any significant investments.
Products: Figure out the fastest-moving products in your store and enhance their visibility. Ensure that these are placed where customers can easily spot them and have special offers for them.
Displays: You should use displays to highlight your bestsellers, new launches, discounts, or bundled offers. Glorify the product, the difference they can make, and mention the offer in big, bold letters.
Digital signages: Unlike traditional signages or displays, these are dynamic. You can share images, posters, or videos. You can also use them to get followers for your social media pages. Digital signages tell your customers that you’re modern and digital-friendly.
Window and curbside: This is what your customers will notice first. The window and curbside displays should highlight a compelling proposition or specific offers. If you sell fashion, don’t just show an image. Add an offer or highlight a new launch. When you design your window and curbside displays, ensure that these are in sync with the overall theme and color scheme of your outlet.
3. Actively use social media
No matter what business you’re in, social media will help extend your reach and acquire customers. Importantly, while it may help you to hire a digital marketing agency, with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to handle your social media engagement.
Facebook: The world’s biggest social media platform is excellent for sharing all forms of content including photos, text, videos, and questionnaires. But its unique advantage is that you can build a community around your retail brand. The more content you share, the more credible you’ll become, and the easier it will be to gain customers.
Instagram: For any product or service that relies on images, Instagram is the place to be. You can display all your products around your brand identity and use Stories for spontaneous, informal, and behind-the-scenes content to raise engagement. The platform runs on hashtags, which gives you an incredible opportunity to align with the current trends and even create your own.
Pinterest: You can create boards specific to your product or service categories and curate content around them on Pinterest. You should also pin content from others that’s aesthetically complementary to what you offer.
4. Use SMS marketing
One of the unsung heroes in retail marketing is the good old SMS. Neglected by many, it’s an effective way to engage with a chosen group of audiences. It’s ignored because it’s got a bad name due to its unscrupulous use by some businesses.
But it’s got a significantly higher open rate than emails. Plus, an SMS will be immediately delivered and read, unlike an email that the recipient might open days later.
For it to work, you need to follow certain best practices. You should always request your customers’ or prospective customers’ permission before adding them to your SMS list. Secondly, just because they’ve given you permission doesn’t mean you get to bombard them with messages daily. You should be judicious about what and when you send them.
Thirdly, they should be for limited-time offers or exclusive sales. The recipient should feel respected and as a member of a privileged group. Finally, you can use SMS for customer satisfaction surveys.
5. Take advantage of video
The reason we didn’t mention YouTube as part of the social media platforms is that video requires a separate explanation. It’s the fastest-growing form of content and will soon eclipse all others. The fact that YouTube is the second-largest search engine should show you the power of video.
The question then becomes how can a small or independent retailer use video to their advantage? To begin with, you can showcase your products and services. You don’t have to hire expensive studios as amateur videographers will do the job for you.
Secondly, you should focus on YouTube and Instagram, and then repurpose that content for your website too. While the content on your YouTube channel can be short, medium, or long, your Instagram Reels will have to be slightly shorter. You should also tag the products you use on Instagram to help customers buy them from your store immediately.
6. Build partnerships
You can partner with businesses in your area that would offer complementary products or services and are not direct competitors. You need to understand your customer, their preferences, and then analyze which other retailer or organization would they be doing business with or supporting.
For example, if you offer veterinary or pet grooming services, you can partner with your local animal shelter. Beyond that, you can also partner with salons as some of their customers might also be pet owners and would love to get their pets groomed. You can offer special discounts to customers who come through those channels.
7. Invest in email marketing
Building an email list is one of the best investments you can ever make for your small business. With their permission, you can add customers or prospects who walk into your store, visit your website, or follow you on social media.
Then you can segment that according to customers and non-customers. Even among customers, you should identify those who frequently purchase from you. Now you can offer tailored content to the various groups.
8. Target inactive customers
An analysis of your recent and frequents customers will help you identify a group of inactive buyers. These are customers who for some reason haven’t been buying from you of late. This group already knows about your products and customers and so you don’t have to introduce your brand.
What you do need is a win-back strategy. You could inform them about all the new products or services or even a store makeover that may have happened. Based on what they would have bought earlier, you can also talk about those categories and offer special discounts to get them back.
9. Explore influencer marketing
Whenever people hear influencer marketing, they think of celebrities and the millions it might need to approach them. But you don’t have to go for those international or even national public figures with large followings. You only have to identify up-and-coming influencers in your locality, city, or region.
Does your locality have sportspersons, actors, writers, bloggers, or performance artists who still haven’t got national recognition but are popular in your city? Those are the influencers you can approach.
10. Begin a referral campaign
The basic premise behind a referral campaign is that you offer an incentive to an existing customer who can refer a prospect. You should use emails, SMS, and your social media channels for your referral campaign.
It could be a link or a coupon code that you share with your customers. Once they get you a new customer, you should reward your first customer with a discount for their next purchase. You should also offer a first-time discount to the new customer.
Most of these retail marketing strategies don’t require significant investments and importantly, you don’t have to focus on all of them. Pick up a few that are viable and start implementing those to thrive in this post-pandemic world of challenges and opportunities.