Saturday 20th Sep 2014

Thoughts and insights from the World of Initials

A week is a long time in retailing too

Posted on September 16, 2014 by

It’s often been said that a week is a long time in politics, and the events of the last week have certainly given credence to that. But judging by recent reports and observations it’s also a long time in the retail business.

Some weeks ago I wrote in Retail Gazette about HMV’s journey from administration to survival, albeit without its original iconic Oxford Street store. I noted that whilst some improvements had been made, the fundamental issue of a transactional website had still not come to fruition. The way forward would be to focus on their existing target audience and make sure that they are creating an engaging shopper experience, in-store, online and on the move.


Although the latter is still not a reality, there is some good news for the embattled retailer. Based on an assessment of the public’s view of its quality, reputation, impression and value, their YouGov BrandIndex rating has improved to a score of 10.6. A quick visit to a couple of outlets suggests that store traffic may be on the increase again, and certainly there appears to be a fresh spring in the steps of the staff.

A renewed focus on marketing is undoubtedly playing its part in the revival. There seems to be a significant latent affection for the HMV brand, and this should give the new owners confidence to invest further funds in marketing in order to increase and maintain a higher level of customer engagement. We are promised live gigs and record signings, but presumably only in a very few of the biggest stores. And our old retail friend the loyalty card has been re-introduced, albeit in a somewhat limited form. PureHMV is being advertised as an online loyalty programme, but without the ability to purchase goods online it seems to be fighting the battle with one arm tied behind its back. You earn points through purchases in-store which you then redeem for ‘stuff money can’t buy’ as well as stuff it can, in the form of music track downloads but not the stuff that’s sold in-store.

Meanwhile the mighty Tesco is being hit by the newly invigorated discounters and is continually criticised in the media for having lost its way. Should they move further up market and compete with Waitrose and M&S or simply wheel and deal like the discounters? It has even been reported that consideration is being given to ditching the iconic ClubCard loyalty scheme, which many commentators would credit with being the catalyst for their market dominance for decades. Is it a case of how are the mighty fallen, or will they discover a new momentum and see off those European upstarts?!

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My money’s on an HMV revival, provided they get to grips with whatever it is that is preventing them from making the website fully transactional. And whilst this week Tesco shares may be a Hold or even a Sell, next week could well herald the start of a much-anticipated comeback. Either way, it only goes to show that a week really is a long time in retailing.


Roger Hyslop

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A recipe for a long and happy life

Posted on September 1, 2014 by

It’s no secret that, while many brands come and go, those that exist decade after decade are the ones that really look after themselves however long they’ve been around. We can all quote examples of brands that we grew up with which have stayed with us as we, and they, matured. But eventually all things must pass, and it seems that even power brands have a finite life. Some, like Hoover and J Cloth, leave a legacy where the name defines the category. Others, like Pan Am, Saab and Virgin Record Stores are fast becoming distant memories.

There are signs that even the most iconic global brands are not immune to the ravages of old age. McDonald’s, Tesco and Coca-Cola are all struggling to find their role in today’s world, while Olympus and Blackberry could well be the next heading for the brand graveyard.

What do the new kids on the block, like Google, Samsung, Amazon, Netflix and of course Apple, do to keep corporate senility at bay? They reinvent themselves. Turn the clock back 20 years and the Jaguar, IBM, Budweiser and Lego products bore little relation to their contemporary versions. Even whole categories have had to reinvent or risk distinction. The Scottish whisky industry discovered the Far East in the nick of time, while the producers of out of fashion rose´ wines like Mateus found a clever way to describe themselves to a new breed of party animals…..and blushed with pride!

The answer is simple, and it’s to be found not only in marketing text books but in the DNA of human beings. If you want to live a long life, here’s my recipe for happy old age:

  • Keep fit (for purpose) and healthy
  • Understand the present and keep ahead of the future
  • Be relevant to today’s world
  • Find new interests (brand extensions and new products)
  • Get involved (with your friends, your local community, the world around you)

It’s not such a strange analogy as it might seem. If you want your power brand to outlive others, then follow this 5-point plan. And if you personally want to be around for as long as Apple will probably be, just do the same thing.

Roger Hyslop

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Re-addressing a brand’s relationship with its public

Posted on August 20, 2014 by

Once upon a time we could avoid a brand simply by changing the channel, or making tea in the ad break. Now viewers are able to pause live TV, allowing them to fast forward adverts, and the online viewer can download ‘Adblocker’, a piece of software which has become so popular that channels such as 4OD and ITV Player are stopping viewers from watching their programmes unless they disable software; but surely brands need to learn from the fact that people are actively seeking ways to avoid them, rather than finding ways to force themselves upon an unwilling public?

Some people (myself included), will create a separate e-mail account for brands who they believe may spam them in order to claim a discount or participate in a promotion without being bombarded with messages, or will give out mobile numbers with the last digit changed when registering with brands online. However attempts to hide from brands are amateur in comparison to the increasingly sophisticated technology which enables brands to track our online activity and ‘digital body language’. A software called ‘C3 Metrics’, for example, can identify how far a website user has scrolled down on a page in order to interpret whether an advert has been seen or not and another piece of software, ‘drawbridge’, tracks a person’s activity as they move across devices (i.e. from tablet to mobile). Brands mustn’t make the mistake of stalking and trapping their audience, there is a reason that we are deliberately misdirecting their messages, but should spend more time researching what an audience actually wants from them.

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Even though there are increasing amounts of information available about consumers’ spending habits, brands must carefully consider how to use this information to avoid being associated with security breaches and spamming. The use of ‘Do not call’ and ‘Do not mail’ lists is increasing and there are proposals to introduce a ‘Do not track’ list to prevent companies tracking the online activity of under 18s. This significant growth in people actively seeking to reclaim their privacy and demanding to be able to opt out of being contacted has an inevitable knock-on effect for marketing, and brands need to become more sophisticated in tailoring their messages to individual consumers and potential consumers without it appearing that they have tracked their online activity and purchase history; even if this is the case.

Another key message that brands need to take on board is that less is, more often than not, more. Whilst an occasional post to alert the public about an offer, discount or new campaign is acceptable, repeatedly spamming the public with identical posts is not and is only going to annoy and alienate the very people that the brand wishes to engage. Brands seem to have learnt from Habitat’s mistake of ‘hashtag hijacking’ in 2012 when the company used ‘hot words’ on Twitter to ensure the company was always trending – a horrific use of digital media – yet posts by brands still often contain multiple and irrelevant hashtags. A 2014 survey conducted by Stastica found that the average number of interactions generated by brands’ Facebook posts drops when more than two hashtags are included, highlighting the importance of how posts by brands on social media must be clear and relevant. There is also a misconception by brands that young people, in particular students, are happy to communicate with brands because they are tech-savvy, have the most spare time, and spend the most time online. Yet the Freshers’ Marketing Report 2013 by the Beans Group revealed that almost half of the 1,115 university students surveyed said explicitly that they do not want to talk to brands using social media, while a third said they do not follow a single brand. Brands know more about their target audience than ever before and although this information must be used carefully, it means that brands should be able to engage with audiences in a more relevant and personal way, rather than tricking consumers into seeing them on social media by using a multitude of irrelevant hashtags.

The key message that brands need to learn is that they must invite the public to engage with them. Brands need to work to make their audiences captive, and this will not happen by simply regurgitating the same message again and again or by using sly tricks to try to force a passive public to listen. One way that brands can re-address their relationship with the public is to switch from intrusion to invitation, and Twitter’s ‘flock to unlock’ tool highlights a step towards this new way of thinking. The concept of the tool is to ingeniously reverse a consumer’s mentality from wishing to avoid an advert, to actively wanting to view it. Pioneered by Puma, Twitter users must actively engage with the brand by re-tweeting a post in order to ‘unlock’ the advert. This concept of making adverts a privilege, rather than a misfortune, must be built upon if brands want to avoid losing customers.

Jess McLean

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Digital Rewind

Posted on August 12, 2014 by

Even though the digital revolution has undoubtedly made our lives easier in almost every aspect, modern technology still has a bad reputation. Recent viral video ‘Look Up’ proved this, with millions of people sharing Gary Turk’s spoken word poem warning that social media is destroying traditional forms of human interaction. In the past few years, Blockbusters has ceased to exist, huge national newspapers and magazines have seen their sales drop drastically, and libraries all over the country have faced closure. With all these changes and messages like ‘Look Up’ so prevalent in the media, it can often feel like for every technological development gained, something is lost. But if modern technology has managed to change society so dramatically, can it be used to bring back the things for which the likes of Gary Turk are mourning? Can digital reverse digital?

One of the digital revolution’s supposed victims is the traditional bookshop and the physical book, as the rise in popularity of Kindles, eBooks and websites like Amazon mean that the way we read and buy books has changed drastically. The bookselling industry has been hit hard by the digital revolution, with the number of physical books sold declining by 9.8% in 2013 to 184m and over 500 bookshops closing since 2005.

But just as digital has brought the bookstore to the brink of extinction, digital is being used to help bring it back. Patrick Neale and Gail Rebuck’s ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign, which was launched in 2013 and is returning this October, celebrates traditional bookshops by offering any customer who buys a book from a participating bookstore a free bag for the duration of the campaign. Although the campaign aimed to reverse some of the collateral damage caused by the digitalisation of everyday life, Books Are My Bag relied heavily on social media. Twitter, FacebookPinterest and Instagram accounts were set up specifically for the campaign in advance of its launch in order to promote it, and followers were encouraged to post photos of the books they bought using the hashtag #BooksAreMyBag.

Books Are My Bag was hugely successful in raising awareness of the decline of the traditional bookshop. Its official Twitter account has 11.5k followers and its Facebook page has 3,885 likes. The campaign was covered by The Bookseller, The Daily Express, The Times, The Independent, The Evening Standard, The Drum and The Telegraph. Although it only ran for one weekend last year, Books Are My Bag 2014 will be in action for longer, signalling the success of a marketing campaign which relies on modern technology to reinvigorate an industry supposedly destroyed as a result of modern technology.

Just as modern technology changed the way we read books, it has also changed the way we listen to music. Thanks to MP3 players and online streaming platforms like Spotify, record stores have suffered in the same way bookshops have, with even huge chains like HMV and Zavvi suffering. Record Store Day began in 2007 and celebrates the traditional record shop in a similar way Books Are My Bag promotes bookstores. And, just like Books Are My Bag, Record Store Day uses social media extensively, with 21.6k followers of its official account, @RSDUK, and a Klout score of 62 based on Twitter alone. On Record Store Day 2014, there were over 144,000 uses of the official hashtag #RSDUK and 254,487 overall mentions of the promotion. This is an impressive social media presence for a campaign which aims to celebrate an aspect of life which is in decline as a result of modern technology.

It’s not just social media which is being used to encourage people to reconnect with declining forms of entertainment. Cinema attendance has dropped drastically in recent years, plummeting to a 25-year low in 2012. This decline can be attributed to online streaming as well as to the rise of alternative forms of entertainment, namely social media and mobile technology. However, an app called Cinime is currently testing in selected Odeon, Vue and Cineworld cinemas, taking advantage of the modern consumer’s preference for multiscreen usage. The app offers users rewards and treats, such as sneak previews of new films, and responds to and interacts with cinema adverts and trailers, delivering content, offers and discounts to your phone. Again, the technology which is often thought to distract consumers from tradition is being turned on its head and is working with old media rather than against it.

It is because digital is such a powerful vehicle for societal change that it contributed to the decline of the bookstore, the cinema and the record store, but that power can also be harnessed to reverse those changes. Even Gary Turk turned to social media and modern technology to spread his anti-social media message- his video was posted on YouTube and shared on Facebook. The ability of technology to resurrect things it caused to be obsolete is so great that an entire social media platform is built around this idea: Instagram. By replicating the effect of outdated cameras which have been replaced by high quality smartphones, which the app needs in order to even exist, Instagram epitomises our tendency to use modern technology to express nostalgia for a world before smartphones. The digital world itself is therefore not a destroyer of traditions. It’s a neutral entity which can enact powerful social change either way, and it can bring back the things for which we feel nostalgic just as easily as it took them away.

Zena Jarjis

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Combatting Shopping Basket Abandonment

Posted on August 4, 2014 by

Online shopping basket abandonment is a huge missed revenue opportunity for many businesses. According to eDigitalResearch and IMRG, 77% of last year’s online shoppers dropped theirs before checkout. Surely this is a real anticlimax for the consumer as well as the business? The handpicked selections will never materialise and the time spent sourcing them is irretrievable. So why do people do it? Why the sudden change of heart, or was this the intention all along?

In fact, abandoned carts scattered all across the world wide web can offer us a great insight into online shopping behaviour. Browsers have no qualms about dumping a full basket online, while the same action in a physical store would be met with the thin-lipped smile of a shop assistant swallowing words they’d rather like to hurl at them. This is because commitment is more an expectancy in a traditional shopping environment, where departing empty handed could end up becoming a bit of an awkward affair and feel like a wasted trip. Online consumers, on the other hand, simply aren’t as serious about heading to the checkout. The page is shut and they continue with their day, where not so much as a second thought reaches the lonely basket they left hanging in digital limbo.

Yet the very fact a consumer looked in the first place tells us that interest had been there, even if they were merely at the window shopping or wishlist building stage. They just needed the incentive to complete their transaction. According to a 2012 survey conducted by Statistia, the top reason for online basket abandonment is unexpected costs. This suggests that online promotions need to be pushed to entice consumers to journey to the finishing line with their basket; a marketing strategy that can be driven across social media platforms and by utilising the banners and side-bars of your site’s landing page. Relevant offers could also be tailored to the in-session behaviour of a high-value customer via direct email marketing. For example, if they’ve been repeatedly viewing the suede Chelsea boots on your site they clearly need a nod in the right direction. So why not send an email offering a discount on the boots if they purchase within the next 24 hours or make a set minimum spend? If attractive and well-timed, this could rescue a cart from sinking while also making the online shopping experience more personal.

What’s also worth noting is that delivery charges contribute to those nasty unexpected costs, so it’s important to be as upfront as possible about shipping fees and make sure it’s a justifiable amount. Your customers will appreciate the honesty – something that can really go a long way in a world where we grow more cynical by the day. But it’s also healthy to reward them by advertising free delivery for a limited period every so often. This will create a sense of urgency to head to the checkout, and can even result in a customer topping up their basket with an additional item to make the most of their saving.

Another route to progress is the investment in live chat support via webcam or dialogue box, something online retailers like Amazon are beginning to feature on their sites. This is the fastest way to reach a shopper and vice versa, offering a window to react to feedback promptly to reduce the chance of losing out on a sale.

Of course these are not the only ways to streamline the overall user experience to keep a shopping basket firmly in their grips. There’s no one solution and inevitably more and more innovative methods will pop up as online hits grow, although it’s worth keeping in mind the simple things before running away with a bold idea – Statistia (2012) reports that 25% leave their baskets due to site navigation being too complicated. It’s therefore crucial to ensure the checkout process is simple and runs smoothly. Having to pre-register is a hassle and an over-crowded page with unnecessary pop-ups, small lettering and an army of tick-boxes is all it takes to give your potential customer the cold feet and lose them forever.

Laura Yuen

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