Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Food Fight – Is this a Price Cut War?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Hannah Newbould


Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA? That is the question on so many consumers’ minds at the moment.  Where will customers get the most out of their money and which shop offers the cheapest deals?

Competition for shoppers’ cash has become increasingly aggressive as economic uncertainty, wage freezes and high inflation have squeezed consumer income.

A couple of weeks ago we saw that following the announcement of slow growth from the UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco, the company would launch an aggressive £500million ‘Price Drop’ campaign meaning 3,000 price cuts on its products, including milk, vegetables, fruit and bread.

Soon followed ASDA with a knee-jerk marketing campaign, pushing its continuous promise to be 10 per cent cheaper than any other supermarket, and now Sainsbury’s. Tomorrow we will see the launch of their ‘Brand Match’ campaign, a technology Sainsbury’s has invested in allowing customers to compare prices of their branded products in their baskets to the same products in Tesco and ASDA.  From this Wednesday, Sainsbury’s will issue customers with coupons to the value of the difference between its branded goods and those of its rivals. This has been launched exactly two weeks after Tesco’s campaign.

“The launch of Brand Match across the UK represents a revolution in retail and is fantastic news for hard-pressed shoppers,” said Sainsbury’s commercial director Mike Coupe.

In saying all of this, it has been announced today that ‘cheaper’ supermarket, ALDI, has seen a growth of 25% share over the 12 weeks leading up to October, the complete opposite of Tesco, which is seeing slow growth. Morrisons is currently the best performing supermarket out of the ‘big four’.

It will be interesting to see which of these campaigns will really lure consumers into spending at each of the supermarkets and if we will see a bigger growth in the cheaper supermarkets such as  ALDI, LIDL and Iceland.


ASOS Feels The Digital Love

Thursday, September 29th, 2011 by Julie Wilson

ASOS, Very and are the three most loved digital brands, a study by Tamar has revealed.

The BrandLove25 report explores the degree to which consumers demonstrate their support and enthusiasm for a digital brand through their social interaction, and ranks companies on a number of different metrics including numbers of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and revenue.

Joining the companies in the top ten are:;;;;; and

Whilst it is of no surprise to see ASOS and Very feature in the top spots, both companies having been amongst the first fashion retailers to adopt and embrace social media effectively into their marketing strategies, credit has to be given to for achieving such a respectable position.  In just five years since launch, the online fashion retailer has firmly established itself as one of the UK’s top online providers of women’s fashion, picking up a number of industry awards along the way and, as this report shows, positioning itself firmly at the heart of consumers.

What makes a brand engaging could be said to lie in the eye of the consumer but there are five key principles to which companies should adhere if looking to achieve the social medial top spot:

1. Know your customer and identify their wants and needs

2. Stay true to your brand and ensure your voice conveys your personality

3. Maintain consistent participation and invite consumers to be a part of the conversation

4. Address the balance – commercial message delivery versus general interest

5. Provide real added value

Speaking on the results of the report Tanya Goodin, CEO of Tamar said:  “In the current climate many ‘traditional’ bricks and mortar brands are struggling but pure-play digital brands are powering from strength to strength.  However, this second edition of our Best-Loved Digital Brands league table shows that, even within the digital sector, some brands are performing much better than others.  The size of social media communities give an immediate and very visible way of measuring the ‘love’ customers feel for brands and reported revenue gives us a clear indication of how that ‘love’ translates to sales.  The brands here have demonstrably capitalised on the seismic shift from ‘bought’ to ‘earned’ media and are seeing stellar financial performance as a result.  Digital brands who don’t make the Top 25 table need to look at the stars appearing and take note.”


When The Tills Stop Ringing

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011 by Julie Wilson

Championed by media, starlets and fashion aficionados across the globe, the great British High Street has long been celebrated as one of the best in the world.

But following a turbulent week, which saw Habitat’s UK business and Jane Norman fall into administration, and furniture group Homeform and discount department store TJ Hughes expected to follow, what is the future for UK retailers?

The government has openly admitted it doesn’t have the answer and has appointed TV retail guru Mary Portas to carry out a review aimed at “halting the decline of the High Street” in England.

The review, which will explore the problem that is the rise in empty shops and look at how to prevent the growth of ‘clone towns’ dominated by chainstores, is well underway and will see Ms Portas, the ‘Queen of Shops’, present her findings in the Autumn.

But are chainstores really to blame for the fall of the High Street?  I would argue not, or certainly not entirely.  Whilst independents have undoubtedly suffered at the hands of the big players and I feel strongly should have a place in town centres, some of the UK’s biggest institutions are themselves now feeling the strain, highlighting the extent of the problems faced by all British retailers.

The rise in e-commerce is most certainly one of them, with the country enjoying the biggest e-commerce market in the world when measured by the amount spent per capita.*  High rental costs and limited and quite frankly extortionate town centre parking fees are another.  Combine these factors with a drop in consumer spending and an increase in demand for fast, disposable and cheap goods and it’s not difficult to see the root of the problem.

What is difficult however is to know how to tackle it.

No stranger to the battle for High Street survival, independent retailers yesterday joined forces and celebrated Independents’ Day, a Skillsmart Retail and National Skills Academy for Retail initiative, which encouraged consumers to buy at least one item from a local independent retailer.

Chainstores are now joining the fight, backed by The British Retail Consortium, which has urged the Government’s review take into consideration the interests of all retailers, whatever their size.

With consumer spending expected to rise by only 2% a year up to 2020 and UK High Street spending not anticipated to return to pre-recession levels until 2013** one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a long and slow battle.

I’m looking forward to hearing the results of the review.


* Figures as reported by The Boston Consulting Group in a report for Google, October 2010

** Figures as documented in the Ernst & Young Item Club report, May 2011


Catalogues are back in fashion

Friday, October 1st, 2010 by Julie Wilson


Leading retailer, John Lewis, announced earlier this week it is to launch its first-ever dedicated fashion catalogue.

The catalogue, published by John Brown and to be distributed through stores and direct mail, is being introduced by the retailer in a drive to establish itself as a fashion destination.

Fronting the high-end, glossy publication, which will feature designer collections by Mulberry and Richard James, is the publisher’s editor-in-chief and former Marie Claire editor, Marie O’Riordan.

The launch marks a rising trend for brand-owned publications, which in recent years has seen New Look, ASOS and H&M all introduce customer magazines to their customer communications tools.

It’s an interesting turnaround for the humble catalogue, which just five years ago looked to become a thing of the past as homeshopping brands ditched the paper format in favour of e-commerce.

A report conducted by Retail Week at the time of the industry shift, highlighted the importance of the catalogue in the customer shopping experience and urged retailers to think twice before eradicating the seasonal brand directories from their communications strategies.

In February of this year, a poll commissioned by Royal Mail further championed the role of the catalogue in the consumer purchase process and revealed almost two-thirds of consumers now consult a catalogue before buying products or services – an increase of nine per cent on the previous year.

Speaking on the results of the Home Shopper Tracking study, Antony Miller, Head of Media Development at Royal Mail, said: “Despite the growth of online retail, the print catalogue still plays a key role for many home shoppers who use them to buy and browse as well as seeking inspiration for new ideas.

“It is also clear that multichannel shopping is becoming the preferred method for most home shoppers as they research the best deals and consider the convenience of buying remotely.”

He added: “Catalogues and the internet offer a powerful combination of information, showing the importance of using the two channels together in the marketing mix.”

With retailers continuing to invest heavily in the development of transactional websites and social media platforms, it is inevitable e-commerce will continue to be the main driving force behind the changing face of retail.

It is clear however, that when it comes to influencing the consumer purchase process, in with the new communications tool does not always mean out with the old.

If only for now, it’s nice to see that catalogues are back in fashion.

Follow me, teases Twitter

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by Julie Wilson


Twitter ‘follow me’ hosiery; a way to attract followers (and stalkers), or a clever way to promote the Twitter brand to a wider, consumer audience?

If it’s the latter, the social networking site has been effective. The above image featured in this week’s Grazia (in the going down section of the title’s of ups and downs column I hasten to add), achieving reach to over 569,000 fashion-savvy readers.

Intrigued by the innovative brand building exercise, I couldn’t resist running a search to find out more about this word of mouth, or is that word of leg campaign. The results were disappointing. The creative line of hosiery was actually launched back in 2009 and has, until now, generated only a ripple of conversation online.

This got me to question, is this actually a Twitter campaign or in fact one of an innovative online hosiery retailer – one that identified and realised the opportunity of the rising social networking site and its own ‘nylon billboards’ ahead of the big retail players?

I suspect it’s the latter. Either way, given that I’ve not seen them parading down the high street or lining the front row of London Fashion Week, it’s unlikely these tights are going to enjoy a tweeting fashion moment.

If you’re brave enough and looking to boost your followers however, why not give them a whirl.  It’s a nice creative idea if nothing else.

Does the motor trade want to sell cars?

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Jon Clements


Are you in the market for a new car?

Good luck – you may have trouble finding a dealership wanting to sell you one.  Bear with me – this isn’t a post about cars, but about customer service.

This year, the UK’s retail motor industry welcomed, with outstretched arms, a new word into its lexicon – “scrappage”. In the middle of a thumping recession, the Government-funded scheme has helped the car business boost sales with a £2k sweetener for buyers agreeing to scrap their 10-year-old vehicle when buying a new one. Without it, the world of the motor trader in 2009 would have been a very different one.

A world without scrappage was depicted in a recent speech by Joe Greenwell, Ford’s UK chairman and president of the Society of Manufacturers and Motor Traders at its recent annual dinner. He said: “Without scrappage, this year’s total registrations would have been less than 1.7m. Against a high of nearly 2.6 million units in 2003, current expectations are for car registrations to fall to 1.8m in 2010. There is no doubt that..underlying demand remains weak.”

And this is the point. At a time like now, every customer counts.

It was Chris Brogan’s recent blog post on frustration with bricks and mortar retail that came to mind on a weekend trip to several high end car dealerships from which I came away convinced that some dealerships don’t want to sell cars.

First up – VW: we entered an empty showroom where the only person keen to talk was the receptionist. A salesman just about managed to grab some brochures but the car we wanted to see was “being used by a colleague over the weekend”. That’s fine, but did he want to arrange a viewing? No.

Next, BMW: we were sitting ducks, asking to be sold the benefits of a particular model. The salesman – not looking terribly busy – said: “I’ll get you a brochure. It’s all in there.” What about the boot space? The car battery was flat so the boot wouldn’t open. Now there was a veritable crowd of customers awaiting the grand boot opening. Eventually the lid was lifted and off the salesman skipped: “Leave it up, won’t you,” he chirped.

Lastly, Mercedes: best of the lot, but not great. We did get invited to sit down, but for a rather lacklustre chat about the car in question and promises about the great vehicles coming out of that manufacturer in the next couple of years.

For an industry facing a steep incline next year with a spluttering engine, it’s a worrying picture of customer interaction.

One man who knows a bit about car sales is one Derek Clements (disclosure: my father) who spent more than 50 years in the car business and ended his career training dealership staff in customer care. He said: “Getting new customer enquiries is expensive and dealers have to make the most of every one. It’s vital that sales staff make people truly welcome, comfortable and unthreatened before talking to them about what the customer wants or needs and matching that with the features and benefits of a car.

“In other words, make the customer feel important, listen to what they’re saying and start to build their confidence in dealing with you.”

With all this in mind, I asked Letty – a woman of advancing years and 10 years on the local Tesco checkout – what she felt customer service was all about and she said: “It’s just about being friendly. People seem so detached from each other these days and it costs nothing to smile.”

Listen to Letty – you could do much worse.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Social media on tap

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by Kirsten Mortensen


Today’s guest blog comes from Kirsten Mortensen, a marketing communications strategist based in Rochester, N.Y. who – in the cause of investigating social media best practice – has found herself in the pub…

Many businesses today are wondering whether to invest in social media.

Others are pretty sure they need social media-but haven’t quite figured out how to do it.

And then you have people like Joe McBane, who have taken to social media so naturally it’s become a seamless extension of his business.

Granted, McBane is in the hospitality industry-and if any industry is ready-made for social media, this would be it.

McBane owns the Tap & Mallet, a two-year-old pub in Rochester, New York.

Rochester, if you’re unfamiliar, is a community in the United States “rust belt” best known as the hometown of the iconic film company, Eastman Kodak. McBane himself, however, isn’t a Rochester native. He’s a Sheffield, UK transplant who first put down roots as bar manager at The Old Toad, Rochester’s studied version of the authentic British pub. His Tap & Mallet is something altogether different, however: more an American-style neighborhood bar-but with a decidedly upscale and 21st century focus on craft beers.

McBane’s pub also happens to appeal to a demographic perfectly suited to a social media-based marketing strategy. His customers are students and young professionals-exactly the people who tend to have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, who follow blogs and reach for Google, not the phone book, when they’re planning their weekends.

And McBane is a natural marketer. He loves his business and loves telling people about it.

These caveats notwithstanding, McBane’s experience proves that social media can pay off richly for business owners who take the time to use it.

His strategy is multi-pronged. He has a website, where he publishes his beer and food menus. Because Tap & Mallet’s selection of draft beers changes continually, the site gives customers an easy way to check what’s on tap.

His website also hosts a blog, where McBane posts short articles on the pub and on any topic that strikes his fancy-any topic, that is, that relates back to beer. The blog serves two purposes. It lets customers stay in touch with McBane and his pub. And it serves up a growing collection of beer-related content. That, in turn, contributes to Tap & Mallet’s respectable Google rank: if you search for “beer + Rochester New York”, the pub’s home page appears within the first five or six results.

But it’s Twitter where McBane most clearly demonstrates the power of social media. A year after opening his Twitter account, McBane has cultivated over 500 followers. He’s also recently launched a Tap & Mallet iPhone app that followers can use to check the pub’s menu and even place orders if they want.

Sometimes his tweets are links to web articles about craft beers. (He uses hash tags on terms like “craft beer” and “Rochester” to help people find his tweets via the software’s search function.)

For the majority of his tweets, however, McBane has one goal in mind: give followers an excuse to drop by for a pint. His selection of draft beers is continually rotating, for instance. So McBane tweets when new beers go on tap. He tweets updates when he’s holding an event-a beer social or a pig roast or a tasting. And he tweets Twitter-only specials.

“People like the exclusivity,” he says.

McBane, for his part, likes the fact that it’s marketing with a clear and tangible effect. He’ll broadcast a secret word that customers can use to get a special price-and within an hour or two, fifteen or twenty people will show up.

It’s marketing with measurable results.

But there’s more to it than that. Social media allows McBane to extend Tap & Mallet into the virtual world. “We’re a beer and food community,” he says-and adds that it’s also a business where you “live or die” on your regulars. By making it easy to stay in touch with his customers, social media helps ensure Tap & Mallet regulars return. Regularly.

And it costs McBane pennies-a couple minutes of phone time, his web hosting fees. Nor does he invest huge amounts of time-maybe 20 minutes a day, on average. Convenience, in fact, is a priority. He recently installed a Facebook app so he can update his Facebook page from his phone. His website beer menu doubles as his on-site beer menu-when he needs new copies of the print menu, he prints them out from the site. That way he only needs to update the menu in one place.

McBane hasn’t abandoned conventional marketing altogether. He generally has one print ad running at any given time in one of Rochester’s local weeklies. That, no doubt, helps him reach people who wouldn’t find him on Twitter or Facebook.

But print is a static media, and McBane understands the lure of variety. Even outside the sphere of social media, he gravitates toward marketing ideas that build on the same kind of novelty afforded by a constantly changing beer menu. His pub doubles as a gallery space for local artists, for instance. This generates good will in the local arts community (most artists sell at least one or two pieces per show). It gives customers something to talk about. But equally important, it ensures that the pub walls are periodically refreshed. “You hang pictures on your wall in your house, and after awhile, you don’t see them any more,” he says. “It’s the same here, for our regulars.” Swapping out the art every few months injects a bit of proverbial spice into the pub’s atmosphere.

McBane also recently purchased a 1956 Austin Princess limousine on EBay. (You can see pictures of him towing it to Rochester from New Hampshire ) “It needs some mechanical work and a re-spray,” he says-a paint job that will include adding the Tap & Mallet logo. “I’ll have it on the road next summer.”

At first glance, using an antique car as a marketing tool might seem a world apart from Twitter.

But it’s not. For McBane, a cool old car is all about personality-or perhaps more precisely personableness: a means of connecting, on a personal level, with customers.

And it works. “We grew our business during a recession,” he says. How much? “I would have been happy with this rate of growth in any economy.”

Yes, social media takes a bit of creative flair. And yes, it helps when your target market is social media-savvy. But as Joe McBane has found, for a relatively small investment of time and money, tools like blogging and Twitter and Facebook can seed genuine word-of-mouth-and deliver a measurable benefit to a business’ bottom line.

Democratic Consumerism – The Retail Future?

Friday, October 30th, 2009 by Julie Wilson


The World Wide Web has radically shaped the way we do business, in particular that of the fashion retail sector.

Estimated to be worth over £4.1bn by the end of 2009*, the sector is booming, with no self respecting high street retailer now without a transactional website. 

The savvy aren’t, however, solely using the web as a sales platform.

Responding to the rise in popularity of social media, a new culture is emerging, labelled by industry leaders as “democratic consumerism”.

Pioneering the move towards the new culture is Asda Chief Executive, Andy Bond, who recently announced plans to open up the workings of the business to scrutiny from customers in a move to build greater trust and long-term loyalty amongst shoppers. 

Among the range of initiatives to be introduced by the retailer is Asda’s new blog,, which invites customers to participate in the buying process – voting on their favourite styles and colour ways.

Still in its infancy, the blog is already enjoying a positive response.  Speaking on it its launch Beth Somi, George Marketing and PR Manager, said: “ is a great way for our customers to understand more about what goes on behind the scenes at Asda and to know more about our colleagues who work here.

“I enjoy talking to people about my job, so this is a great opportunity to do it while I’m at work. There is so much to talk about, we have new ranges launching in store every week so there is always something going on. The tough decision is knowing what to blog about so that I don’t bore everyone!

“I love the fact that I can ask for feedback on my blog and that the readers respond in such a positive way. It’s a great way for us to get instant ideas on our new ranges. As I speak to the teams here at George House, they are excited about what we can ask for comments on in the future.”

An example of an entirely web-based retailer epitomising democratic fashion is  Possibly one of the most ingenious fashion websites to launch in recent years, puts the customer at the heart of the proposition, allowing the user to design a garment from scratch choosing fabric, colour style and trim.

The site goes against the typical nature of the fashion industry with trends that ‘trickle-down’ from the catwalk to the high street, asking the user to vote and design exactly what they want to wear.

It is also a fashion community with users rating and commenting on one another’s designs. Recent celebrity fans include Duffy and Holly Branson.

Not only good news for fashion addicts looking to create an individual look, is a pretty good business model.  The retailer only produces what its users order so there is never over-supply; good for the environment and for the businesses overheads.

Chief Executive Officer of, Iris Ben-David, comments: “StyleShake is all about empowering the user, providing them with the means to express themselves and celebrate their creativity. We are delighted to offer new ways of collaboration”.

The retailer’s vision is to become a leading online resource that revolutionises the way we consume fashion by making it much more personal and individual. 

A design obsessive from a tender age and regularly frustrated shopper, I personally, am delighted by what looks to be a customer-empowered future.  But what does democratic consumerism mean for the future of retail?

Its potential to impact on the overall business model is huge.  Armed with increased customer insight, the risk of costly, unpopular bulk buys will undoubtedly be lessened, reducing retailers’ need to discount and perhaps marking the beginning of the end of the January sale.  The retailer/supplier relationship will also inevitably see a change.   The potential for collections to be further tailored by store in response to regional demand an increasing reality.

Democratic consumerism, it’s an interesting one to watch, one I will certainly be following with a close eye.  

* Taken from Mintel’s Fashion Online report, August 2009

Starbucks your “local” shop? I don’t think so

Monday, September 21st, 2009 by Jon Clements


A recent tweet from journalist and blogger, Sally Whittle, went like this: “Dear PR: I’m not sure it’s a viral campaign if you have to send a press release telling me it’s viral…”

In other words, something has either the quintessence of being viral or it doesn’t; no amount of trying to talk it up or publicise it as viral will make it so. 

Not only did it make me laugh, it seemed to sum up what Starbucks is trying to do to reverse its coffee retailing fortunes.

As the Independent reports, Starbucks wants its outlets to look “less corporate” and give each one something more “locally relevant”.

Well, a shop is either local or it’s not. And like the problem with viral, trying to dress it up as something it isn’t will be immediately obvious. And with 750 stores in the UK under the familar brand name and identity of Starbucks, how authentic is any attempt at being “local” going to be? That’s the territory independent coffee shops should inhabit, and embody much better than Starbucks ever could.

What this Guardian report refers to as the “carefully selected authenticity cues” Starbucks plans to deploy makes it sound even worse. It’s either authentic, or it’s fake.

And if Costa Coffee, with more outlets than Starbucks, and Caffe Nero, with fewer, don’t see the need to tamper with their identity, what is Starbucks thinking?

Rather than trying to be something it’s not, shouldn’t the company face up to the fact that it’s no longer the province of a few cool people in Seattle? It is a corporate entity and there’s a customer base out there that’s quite happy with that: something the coffee customer can readily recognise and rely on to deliver exactly the same product wherever they go.

Perhaps the focus should fall on the core product: the coffee. As this ex-Starbucks employee comments, the coffee still beats most of what you’ll find on the high street, and the company prides itself on the quality of the java on offer.

Leave being local to the locals. And being a “local shop for local people” isn’t always something to shout about

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Debenhams is no twit with social media

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Update: More – this time from Nielsen – on how retailers can benefit from recognising and engaging with social media – or, a new phrase, Consumer Generated Media.

UK high street retail veteran, Debenhams, came over all social yesterday with its Twitter assistants “experiment”.

The idea was to ensure its staff gave “top notch service” for the launch of its new season stock by giving customers the chance to tweet their queries to @DebenhamsRetail, whereby six assistants in its Oxford Street store would spring into action, either in person or – obviously – via the Twitterverse.

Was it simply a PR gimmick, as Socially Minded questions, or a giant step forward in customer service? Why would a shopper browsing in the store tweet an assistant for help rather than just tapping one on the shoulder?

Well, the Debenhams Twitter team, clearly still buzzing from their Tweet-fest, sent me this message within minutes of being asked how it all went:


But social media, and particularly Twitter, for retailers – while no longer new – is a strategy worth looking at:

Chris Lake over at Econsultancy has taken the time to collate the “27 varieties of tweet used by retailers” (I think he should’ve found 57, just for cringe value) which demonstrate that just pumping out offers is a legitimate, but far from being the only, reason to be a retailer active on Twitter. With this Twitter “to-do” list, a retailer should never be short of something to tweet. And Lake makes the point that using Twitter for customer service is a good way of demonstrating openness and willingness to help while displaying that in an open, online forum.

Asda is one retailer that has grasped Twitter, to the point where it has different Twitter feeds for different purposes: @asda is a place for its “Rollback” offers, getting sneak previews of new TV ads and seeing retweets of media coverage and complimentary comments. @asdajobs speaks for itself, while @asdaserviceteam is monitoring Twitter for customer upset and providing a response and @GeorgePRGirl is talking up new products, picking up quirky media mentions (Allister Darling saying he preferred George suits to Armani) and bringing some personality and humour to the brand.

Clearly, Twitter is not a cure-all for retailers’ marketing communications and customer service ambitions and issues. But as part of a social media engagement programme, it is becoming another effective tool in the box.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''