According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales increased 5.5 percent across all channels in 2017 — the highest rate in more than a decade — and retail spending shows no signs of slowing down.
It’s safe to say it’s never too early to start preparing for the peak rush of customers during the holiday season. When looking for additional ways to engage consumers, small retailers face an even tougher challenge in attracting and retaining customers because of increased competition and the “clutter” of the retail market.
Cox Business recently conducted the 2018 Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses, which surveyed more than 1,000 consumers to gauge their sentiments and reasons for supporting small retailers. In today’s highly connected world, many consumers place the same or even higher expectations on small businesses than they do on larger ones to deliver excellent customer service and ongoing engagement. With this as a backdrop, small retailers need insights into the ways their customers want to be reached. What’s more surprising is the collective consumer desire that small businesses execute an acceptable level of social responsibility.
Little Marketing Moves With a Big Impact
The Cox survey revealed insight into the marketing tactics that are seemingly resonating well with consumers. For example, 55 percent of respondents felt small businesses could increase email marketing, and 21 percent suggested email product recommendations based on past purchases to enhance customer experience. Increasing email promotions is an affordable way to maintain a large reach and consistent presence among your customer base.
Forty-seven percent of respondents felt small retailers could use in-person events to better connect with consumers. With holiday shopping reaching a peak between Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers have various opportunities to hold in-store events to kick-off the shopping season and attract customers.
It’s no surprise social media is an extremely popular engagement tool for retailers. However, with so many small businesses using social media platforms, small businesses struggle to develop and execute strategies to stand out in this channel.
First step? Consider broader objectives for your social media plan. In 2016, more than 50 percent of retailers said customer service and relationship building were the key goals for their social media strategies. By executing on those goals, small retailers can help connect with customers and build brand loyalty through responsiveness and dialogue.
Most respondents said the small businesses they frequent use email and text messages to stay in touch. Consider diversifying your marketing tactics to include these other channels to form a well-rounded communication strategy.
Be Responsible About Your Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is a concept that has dramatically increased in the retail world over the past decade. Today’s generation has come to view socially responsible and environmentally friendly companies as a staple of today’s society.
In the Cox survey, 71 percent of respondents said they would spend more money at a small business if it supported a positive social or environmental cause.
However, supporting social causes can be a double-edged sword for retailers. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they would stop supporting a small business if the causes it supported weren’t in line with their own social and/or environmental views.
To help prevent this, retailers must know their customer base. It's important to stick to personal beliefs and support social responsibility, but try to ensure causes aren't politically charged or controversial. You might just isolate a key segment of your customers.
Own Your Space
Though the retail space remains inherently cluttered, small retailers should differentiate themselves through consistent and creative social media, email marketing and in-store experiences — especially around the holidays.
Maintaining socially conscious goals that don’t tip the bucket can also help small retailers address the altruistic desire of customers while differentiating themselves from larger conglomerations.
Ultimately, consumers feel positive about shopping at small, local retailers. However, retailers must commit to building relationships and listening to the desires of consumers to make the most of their unique offerings during peak season and throughout the year.
With these insights you can ensure success during the holiday selling season and create lifelong customers.
Stephen Rowley serves as executive vice president of Cox Business, the commercial division of Cox Communications, the largest private telecom company in the U.S.
Stephen Rowley serves as Executive Vice President of Cox Business. In this role, Rowley is responsible for the strategic direction of the high-growth division that delivers more than $2 billion in annual revenue. He oversees all sales, operations, product development and marketing for business customers, including wholesale services for telecom carriers. Prior to leading Cox Business, Rowley was the Vice President of sales and field operations for Cox Business’ western U.S. markets where he served as the chief liaison between corporate headquarters and the western markets with oversight on local strategic planning, sales performance, marketing, back office, customer installations and capital investment.
Prior to joining Cox Business, Rowley was Vice President of Alliances and Partners at Sprint, where he managed relationships with more than 500 partners, generating $250 million in annual revenue. In addition, Rowley was responsible for the strategic direction of the Telemetry group where he negotiated and managed contracts with Dell, Sony, HP and others. In his 11 years with Sprint, Rowley held key senior leadership roles in the sales organizations as Vice President of Enterprise, Vice President of General Business and Vice President of Sales for Sprint’s Broadband Division.
In addition to extensive telecommunications experience, Rowley spent 12 years as a key executive at People’s Choice TV, having held positions such as Vice President General Manager of Chicago, Tucson and Phoenix and later, the Vice President of Sales and Operations for the company.
He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Iowa State University. Steve is married to Susan and they have three children, Timothy, Collin Patrick and Maggie.