Two indies embrace live social media to connect
For independent retail marketing, the challenge continues to keep sales up in the face of dwindling traffic and shifting consumer-shopping habits. Retailers are trying new methods to stay connected with and engage consumers, including live social-media video presentations from the store.
Kevin Ferguson of Oregon’s Willamette Valley Christian Store said the loss of store traffic due to government lockdowns forced him and other industry retailers to use social media as they never have before. The flu panic caused indie retailers to change everything in a short amount of time.
With a little training, Ferguson started making Facebook live videos to connect and engage customers.
“We did a video a day for 60 days,” he said. “We promoted on social media like never promoted before.”
Danny Vera of Christ Centered Life store in Fort Myers, Fla., decided to focus his marketing on social media videos. He staged some to be entertaining and fun while also telling of new curbside-delivery services, phone, and web ordering. Product presentations, store tours, and staff introductions rounded out the plan to help bring the store’s personality across the video chasm.
“This has been the greatest free advertising we have done in a long time,” Vera said, suggesting retailers use the technology to engage customers and not just make live videos about your products and promotions.
“We did see a good uptick on views and folks are still mentioning some of the videos we did. We are sure that it had a positive impact on sales. but it’s hard to measure in dollars and cents.”
He said his website orders were the highest ever as customers shifted buying online. Annual store sales were down 10% but December jumped 18%.
“We noticed a spirit of ‘keeping it local’ that is continuing into 2021,” Vera said.
Ferguson also saw positives, although he said it was a lot of work to see only $50 to $100 in sales from the live presentations. He believes it did help him stay in touch with customers and credited the live Facebook sessions as a link to customers who came back into the store after lockdowns eased and stimulus checks came in.
“The heroes for us are our local community members who stepped up and stepped out to buy from us,” he said. “Seniors risked their health to come in and buy Christian boxed cards at the highest level in years.”
The combination of lease forgiveness during the shutdowns, stimulus checks, and federal business-support checks enabled Ferguson to end the year up, reporting Parable Group industry sales numbers as up an average 22% in the wake of industry sales dropping 30% during the panic.
Vera said setting up live Facebook presentations is easy, but it is time consuming. He used his smart phone and followed the directions.
Ferguson said he worked with an author’s promotional rep to learn how to set up live video presentations and record them.
“You have to embrace and adapt to Facebook campaigns, not just boosts,” Ferguson said, indicating his promotions also included Instagram and Twitter posts.
Retailers Must Change
Ferguson said the acceleration of e-commerce, online shopping, and the need to better compete in an omnichannel world means independent retailers must change to better connect and serve customers.
He praised the quick product response of Goodworks to design facemasks. “Our apparel sales went off the chart because we were selling masks. Goodworks came in standing like a warrior in battle.”
However, he said with only 411 viable Christian stores in the industry, these retailers must find new ways of doing business to keep the ministry purpose alive.
Ferguson is working with a couple of other retailers to try to buy larger orders for better discounts and they are cooperating in buying stock from stores that are closing to lower purchasing costs and increase margins.
A forerunner of buying groups, Ferguson said retailers will have to be more innovative in store design and strategy and how they buy to compete in the new online world.
People love indies, but …
People love indie stores, but to maintain customer relationship and trust, retailers will have to adapt to new ways of doing business.
The biggest independent retail trend seen by industry analysts is the shift to online shopping. Total Retail reports that store-based retailers are succeeding because physical stores are valuable e-commerce assets.
Retailer moves to curbside pickup, enabling buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS), and stores improving fulfillment should continue to be an integral part of successful independent retail.
More digital everything …
Digital marketing will also increase going forward. Analysts see increased use of data and more focused use of “first-party” data – your own customer data – as key to digital advertising. This means doing what retailers should always do – know and serve their best customers first and build marketing, store experiences, and product assortments around them.
Retailers build trust through engagement and common passion for what the store stands for. Online strategies should enhance that to enable local indie stores a competitive advantage through the store and what it stands for.
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