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Growing an online presence – what businesses can learn from retail

Consumer habits have changed. We know that. They’ve become more sophisticated, and digital technology has played a huge part in this. In fact, it has transformed traditional buyer-seller relationships, leaving the retail industry no choice but to rapidly adapt. Retailers have taught us that growing an online presence doesn’t just mean having a website (although that’s important too – here are four reasons why having a great website is key for small businesses): it also requires a digital marketing strategy. This might still be unchartered territory for many businesses, but it’s an approach that every sector, whether in B2C or B2B, can learn from.

Gone are the days when there was no other option but the high street and town centres. Many of today’s shoppers now use the web to research new brands, compare products and make purchase decisions. But it’s not just big brands that have had to respond to these changes. For independent retailers, growing an online presence has become as important as growing an in-store presence.

So, how do you strike the right balance between ‘bricks and clicks’? As part of Caspian Media’s Business Advice High Streets Initiative, we’ve put together some tips from three SME retailers. Each gives first-hand examples of how successfully managing digital and physical commerce can boost a company’s profile.

Increase your brand awareness

When retailers develop a joint digital and in-store strategy they can quickly educate potential customers about their brand. Growing an online presence, on the web and through social media, worked for Julianne Ponan. She became owner and CEO of Creative Nature, a vegan health food brand, at just 22 years old.

“When a shopper visits an online store, they’re immediately interested in that brand. Straight away, you can then introduce them to bespoke content like blogs, images and testimonials, providing details about the brand you would never be able to show them in-store.

“For example, all our social media feeds through to our ecommerce site, where shoppers can then find out more about our story, as well as purchase items. That’s a lot easier than trying to stand out in supermarkets against however many products that share the shelf space with you.

“It’s so important for growing businesses to have both online and in-store marketing strategies. An in-store strategy is great for impulse purchases, like food products, but you can feed your brand’s message through much more easily online.”

Improve your customer experiences

Luxury clothing brand N.Peal has been around since 1936. However, owner and managing director,  Adam Holsworth, has been growing an online presence in recent years.  This has included identifying different types of customers, getting to know their habits and offering each an enhanced experience.

“The mistake many retailers make is to view their online platform as a purely functional part of their business. Actually, you’ve got to make that customer service equally as good as the service you’re providing in-store.

“Make your online customer experience a bit of theatre, and encourage people to return to your site. Any retailer who ignores the online side of their business has got it wrong. It has to be your primary focus of investment, because that’s where the future is.”

Earn your customers’ trust

For entrepreneur Nikolay Piriankov, the founder and CEO at specialist London jeweller Taylor & Hart, earning the trust of customers was crucial to building his business.  And having a ‘bricks and clicks’ strategy really helped him to achieve success.

Growing an online presence was key, but Piriankov quickly realised that he needed a physical space too. When it came to buying engagement rings, his customers – mostly men – wanted to visit a shop and have face-to-face interaction before parting with their cash.

To give his customers piece of mind, Piriankov rented a showroom in the heart of the City of London and invited them in for consultations. Before long, he was selling more rings in-person than he was online.

“We have quite a large spectrum of customers, spending anything from £800 to upwards of £50,000 on an engagement ring. Anyone spending that kind of money on a single purchase wants a sense of trust in a brand, and to get a full experience. Online-only just doesn’t cut it for high order values.

“Most of our customers come in and they’re nervous about spending a large amount of money – most don’t know what they’re doing. But, when they leave our showroom they feel far more rewarded, as they’ve met the seller face-to-face and been involved creatively in designing their ring.”

Growing an online presence for business

Independent retailers like N.Peal, Taylor & Hart and Creative Nature should help to inspire businesses that haven’t yet exploited digital opportunities. Find out more about how content marketing can help to increase brand awareness, improve customer experiences, build trust and grow sales. Contact us for an informal chat.

Read more about Caspian Media’s High Street’s Initiative, run by our media arm, Business Advice.

By Fred Heritage, Deputy Editor, Business Advice.