How digital community spirit can help keep Cowbridge bustling

Last April, we wrote a short report* on digital retailing in Cowbridge, to assess how independent stores used websites and social media to promote their businesses. We now follow with an update, covering retailer activity until December 2014; plus some thoughts on how the independent community can work together to safeguard its future.

THE FACTS

17% of all independent retailers in Cowbridge have a website with an online store. 44% have websites which are regularly updated to encourage new customers to visit their shops. 16% have a dormant or outdated website which, if updated, could make a significant difference to their online presence and customer interaction.

23% have no website or social media.

The number of retailers with social media accounts are shown below but these do not reflect the level of activity, which can range from daily to none.

Social media usage by independent retailers

Top of the class

Digitally engaged retailers in Cowbridge try to reach and inspire as wide an audience as possible by using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. They also encourage customer loyalty with ideas such as “VIP” listings and newsletters, to highlight new stock and promotions.

Facebook interaction

The image above shows children’s clothes store Daisy and Jack chatting with customers on Facebook about current offers. In this case, their post was liked and shared by one customer, shared by another and commented on by a third.

Let’s assume that each of the three ‘friends’ mentioned above has 300 Facebook friends, 20% of whom see the Daisy and Jack interaction in their Newsfeed. This means a reach of 60 new people per interaction; so in the case of this update, 180 total. Imagine the exposure for a shop owner conversing on Facebook with 20 people, three times a day.

This digital grapevine enables users to immediately pass on a message to others and creates a potentially exponential growth in market visibility and effect. Retailers need to be on the grapevine.

A website’s for life…

16% of retailers have a dormant or outdated website, with no social media activity.

In some cases, the main site content hasn’t changed since the website was set up. This may be because the retailer doesn’t have sufficient tech knowledge, or the site has no user-friendly platform for updating content. Often, a shop will have social media accounts, but not update them regularly or use them to interact with customers.

Large online outlets often provide “store locators” on their websites, and are more likely to support retailers who are actively engaging with customers online

It’s important to note that, in today’s digital-centric environment, this could give the wrong signals to a potential visitor or supplier, raising the question “Are they still in business?” Large online outlets often provide “store locators” on their websites, and are more likely to support retailers who are actively engaging with customers online.

Many of these websites are simply in a transitional phase, and could easily be updated with contemporary themes in easy-to-use Content Management Systems such as WordPress. If a lack of digital skills is holding staff back, this can easily remedied with some basic training.

Up for persuasion

23% of retailers do not have an internet or social media presence of any kind.

In some cases, this could be explained by the nature of the business, such as selling local fresh produce. For others, it may be that the task of setting up a website and social media appears a little too daunting, in terms of technology and cost.

Lack of digital experience can be overcome with basic training—often available free of charge. Website cost is no longer an obstacle, thanks to a new generation of user-friendly and intuitive Content Management Systems. And social media is of course free.

A key factor is the time commitment needed to keep content fresh; a commitment no different from refreshing interior and window displays

In actual fact, the main hurdle is the time commitment needed to keep content fresh; a commitment no different from refreshing interior and window displays. Updating a site or social media does take time, but the potential reach in terms of new customers is well worth the effort, and an increasing number of retailers are recognising this.

WHERE NEXT?

Experience is the new convenience

Purchasing habits are changing. With more and more daily activities carried out in front of a screen, shoppers are beginning to switch from out-of-town retail parks to environments that offer a more enjoyable, intimate experience.

Cowbridge scenes

Luckily Cowbridge has just such an environment, which can and should be highlighted on retailers’ websites to encourage collection of goods in person— especially important for those using websites primarily for price comparison. This selling of “community”, together with a strong internet presence, creates a solid marketing platform for the retailer.

Stores with complimentary ranges can recommend each other’s products and services, encouraging visitors to see the town as a one-stop-shop

Incentives can also be used, perhaps in conjunction with partnerships. For example, Cowbridge retailers could, through an arrangement with a local café or restaurant, give coffee vouchers with an online purchase. (Waitrose are changing their “free tea and coffee” terms from 9 February **, so there may be an opportunity here.)

Retail partnerships: a great way to boost local shopping
Stores with complimentary ranges can recommend each other’s products and services, encouraging visitors to see the town as a one-stop-shop for weddings, gourmet food, gift shopping and so on.

For example:

• wedding dress boutique
• jewelers
• cake maker
• florist
• gift shop

There are plenty of interesting ways to “package” and market the shopping experience. For example, Cowbridge Fashion advertises a click-and-collect list featuring retailers offering this service.

Cowbridge fashion tweet

Point-of-sale should advertise online presence

To complete the cycle, retailers can tell customers about their website and social media by advertising them at point-of-sale.

Printing on receipts—or popping a business card or flyer in a carrier bag—is a great way to do this: “Thank you! Follow us on Twitter to hear about offers and new products”.

Follow the Google clicks

Cowbridge Fashion is one of a number of sites promoting Cowbridge and its businesses with free product listings, and links to stores’ sites. This gives retailers a free opportunity to interact with potential customers who are searching online for a product or service. Because listings sites are likely to have good Google rankings, people searching for “Cowbridge fashion shops” may well see (and click on) them first.

Google search screensho

For this reason alone, it makes sense for stores to list their details on these sites. After all, they’ve already navigated the murky world of Google rankings. However, a store maintaining a regularly updated site of their own means that a user can then continue and refine their journey, hopefully right through to purchase.

‘Support Your High Street’ needs the high street’s support

The Welsh Government launched their ‘Support Your High Street’ campaign last autumn, culminating in High Street Week during late September. It made much use of the internet and social media to encourage customers to shop locally in support of independent retailers. On day 1 of High Street Week, their social media campaign was seen simultaneously by more than 274,000 people.

Support your High Street

To take full advantage of schemes like these, retailers need an online presence. They need to make it as easy as possible for customers to find them, and get information about products stocked.

TO SUM UP

Over the past few years, Cowbridge has witnessed the arrival of a growing number of big brands, including Waitrose, Costa, WH Smith and Caffè Nero. Each new arrival has the potential to make life difficult for independents. At the same time they help increase the number of visitors to the town and therefore create opportunities for spin off trade.

Community synergy can play a crucial part in a strong defence against retail-chain takeover

Community synergy can play a crucial part in a strong defence against retail-chain takeover. It’s a great reason to encourage and help retailers without an internet presence to get online, and those with dormant sites to dust off the cobwebs.

Current figures show that the majority of independents in Cowbridge have already responded positively to the challenges and opportunities presented by the web. If the outdated websites gradually get upgraded, Cowbridge will soon be able to claim that over 75% of its 111 independent retailers have introduced digital as an integral part of their marketing strategy.

For those needing a helping hand, advice can be offered through individual presentations and/or workshops, highlighting examples of how neighbouring retailers have benefitted from adopting digital as part of their marketing strategy. Such an initiative would have clear benefits: both for individual retailers, and the future of Cowbridge High Street.

Richard Edwards MA
Scott Manning Associates

Scott Manning Associates sponsors cowbridgefashion.co.uk, an online platform dedicated to promoting Cowbridge as a centre for fashion, food and culture. Since 2010, Cowbridge Fashion has promoted retailers free of charge via a website, mobile app, TV channel and social media.

We offer free digital marketing appraisals to independent retailers in Cowbridge (more info). We are also planning to approach business support organisations and local Government to measure interest in targeted workshops.

Notes

* Link to the ‘Digital retailing in Cowbridge’ report

** Link to Waitrose webpage regarding changes to Free tea or coffee


Appendix

From 1 May to 31 December 2014, there were some openings and closures on the high street. However, this hasn’t changed the overall picture.

Businesses closures and additions from 01.05.14 – 01.02.15

Independents closed:
Sweet Occasions
Café Nia
Stitching Boutique (Relocated to Cardiff)
L’Ariostos
All Pets

Independents opened:
Norma Davies Opticians
Creperie
GW of St Clears
Roma Café

Brand retailers closed:
Spar
R&B’s

Brand retailers opened:
Coop (replaced Spar)
Rohan
Broadleaf Flooring

The following chain outlets have not been included, as it would be unrealistic to compare their marketing resources with those of independent retailers.

W H Smith
Waitrose
Thomson Travel
Fat Face
Viyella
CC (Country Casuals)
Greggs
Tesco
Filco
Tenovus
Red Cross
The Dog Trust
Costa Coffee
Caffè Nero
Coop
Broadleaf Flooring

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