Mary Queen of Shops: Cool Retail Ideas from the UK That Work in Any Market

Posted by Margaret Farmakis on

Margaret Farmakis
By Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting

The BBC recently aired a documentary called “Mary Portas: Save Our Shops.” The narrator was Mary Portas, a UK retail and brand expert who also has her own popular series on BBC 2 called Mary Queen of Shops. The documentary, much like her show, included her vision for how local (meaning, UK-based) independent retailers can improve store traffic and revenue by emulating both traditional and innovative tactics that the big retail brands have found successful.

Why do our shops need saving? Because in the UK, like the rest of the world, the retail industry has been hit hard. According to BBC research, over 35,000 shops could be closed during 2009 in the UK, and Experian research shows that High Street shops (US translation: brand-name stores generally found in city and town centers) could be closing at a rate of 100 per day, a scary statistic considering that the UK retail sector generates £900 billion annually and one in six workers are employed by the retail industry, according to BBC research.

So Mary has her work cut out for her. While the program contained a lot of scary statistics and pictures of High Street shopping centers looking like ghost towns, devoid of foot traffic and haunted by store windows with “Going out of Business” and “Last Chance Markdown” signs, it also featured some great advice from big-name retailers who are not only surviving but thriving during this economic downturn. And the savvy email marketer, always looking for fresh and innovative ideas to improve channel revenue, should consider leveraging this advice to help drive program engagement and response.

The trick, according to the successful retailers who were interviewed, is to “zig” where others “zag” by standing out in ways that make your offerings unique. What does that mean for email marketing? Rather than stuffing subscribers’ inboxes with the same 20% off, free shipping, and discount coupon messaging, focus on setting your products, services and brand mission apart from your competitors. How? By taking a benefit-oriented approach that translates your unique value-proposition into tangible value for the subscriber.

For example:

  • John Lewis, a chain of major UK department stores, is using the current financial climate to focus on their commitment to customer service. They may not always offer rock bottom prices, but they do employ and train very experienced sales staff with in-depth knowledge of their products so that someone is always available to answer a customer’s question in their stores. They also offer a five-year guarantee on all televisions, a three-year guarantee on all electrical appliances and a generous return policy. Is your company committed to customer service? Consider promoting as part of your email program with a special “Committed to Service” graphic or banner, and continually reinforce your service benefits with bulleted content that helps subscribers understand why they will feel protected and cared for when shopping with you.
  • Oasis, an apparel retailer, is focused on providing value to their VIP card holders. This includes offering special in-store pampering and make-over events, goodie bags, free gifts and access to special sales and exclusive online offers. This is a great time to focus on your loyalty program. Now, more than ever, customers want to know why they should choose to shop with you versus your competitors, and loyalty programs are a great way to translate that value into immediate benefits. What are you doing to reward your loyal customers? Does your email program treat your card-holders differently, or are you sending the same email offers and content to everyone on the file? This is a ready-made segment that’s hungry to hear from you (after all, your emails are benefitting them) and they are expecting you to treat them differently, so don’t disappoint.
  • Sainsbury’s, a major grocery store chain, is promoting how customers can “Feed Your Family for a Fiver” by providing recipes that can be easily recreated using healthy and inexpensive ingredients from a special “value” range of branded food products. As part of this campaign, Sainsbury’s is also working to educate their customers about how to reduce food waste, keep produce fresher longer and embrace a healthy lifestyle. Their “Fiver” campaign is still very much about sales, but it’s taking a benefit-oriented approach. How can you embrace a similar strategy? Include benefit-oriented content (and by content, we mean three bullet points) in one promotional email per week that explains how your products and services can help your subscribers and customers live better lives, be healthier, smarter, more active, more organized and more beautiful. Remember, it’s all about them.

So what do all of these marketers have in common? They are committed to ensuring that their offerings remain relevant for their customers and prospects, regardless of whether or not the economy trends up, down or sideways. Want help increasing the relevancy of your email program? Contact Return Path.


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