How to prepare your in-store campaign for Christmas 2019

‘Tis the season for Christmas marketing campaigns: the Coke lorry is on the road, the TV ads are already competing for attention, and – if you’ve planned as far ahead as we’d hoped – your in-store marketing experiences are already rolling out.

But what about next year? Is it too early to think about 2019? For consumers, yes. For brand managers, Christmas 2018 is the perfect time to start planning for next year’s festivities. This year’s results will undoubtedly have an impact on what you do next year. So, what sorts the Christmas crackers from the lumps of coal?

Ten tips for making the most of the season

Goals. What are you trying to achieve in 2019, and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Assessing what happens this year is a great place to start. Were your goals simply sales? Or brand building? Were they realistic? Do you need to push harder? Setting goals is the cornerstone of any great strategy.

Vision. What do you want customers to feel and do? Did you deliver a coherent and fulfilling experience that reinvigorated your customers and put them in a positive, pro-purchase frame of mind in 2018? What can you do differently next year to improve or refine? In short, what is the big idea?

Seasonal context. At Christmas time, marketing is all about differentiation. You’ll be competing against everyone else’s rebrand, campaign, discounts and events. How have you managed to stand out from the crowd?

Audience. Christmas is fun for the whole family, but that doesn’t mean market segments cease to exist. Who are your most profitable customers, where are you trying to achieve growth, and what appeals to the personas that represent these market segments? Do you need to go “bah humbug!” or be a jolly old elf?

Brand cohesion. You may have decided to put a seasonal spin on your branding – special packaging, tie-in adverts, Santa hats for staff – but you’ve still got to hold that branding together and keep it associated with the vocabulary, tone and style you’ve established in the rest of the year.

Creative. There’s a fine art to festive marketing. It’s easy to sink into twee clichés and turn your audience’s stomach over; you need design, promo material and a script that balance the festive theme with impactful claims. Sometimes, less is more.

Execution. Stores are busier, shoppers are preoccupied, and time is short – you only have a few weeks for a Christmas campaign to make a splash. Did you nail the logistics, the timing and the staffing, or is there room for improvement?

Comms. Don’t forget that your in-store marketing needs to be marketed. As ever, you’ll need to set a budget, and put people in charge of monitoring your social feeds to manage the feedback, share the content and address any complaints. Beware of oversubscription too: #Christmas is, shall we say, a somewhat crowded hashtag.

Data collection. Next year’s campaign will depend on your learnings from this one. You’ll need a way to collect insights on who’s attending, what they’re feeling, whether or not they purchased – and you’ll need to make the collection swift and seamless so it doesn’t slow down the Christmas shopping experience.

Before/during/after. Christmas marketing doesn’t end on Christmas morning. It needs to feed into whatever you have in mind for the January sales, and beyond into Q1 of the New Year. For that matter, it doesn’t start on the first of December either – if you’re running a month-long campaign, you need your plans in place by Hallowe’en.

So much for nice: what about naughty?

There are two major ways a Christmas campaign can go wrong.

Starting the campaign too early. People aren’t in Christmas mode in mid-November. Yes, Christmas products have started to appear on the shelves by the time the pumpkins are on discount, but the marketing push has to wait its turn. The backlash against Christmas creep is real, and your campaign will have outstayed its welcome if you set it off before Black Friday’s been and gone.

Solely sales thinking. In-store marketing is a sales push, but it’s not about pushy sales. People, after all, don’t want to be sold to – especially not at Christmas. Overt and in-your-face salesmanship alienates customers; experiences that add value bring them on board.

Christmas offers so much potential for in-store sales activations. If you can win a customer over at Christmas, then between gift-giving and word of mouth, their whole family could end up with your products in their hands. Reflect on your Christmas marketing, and plan ahead to make next year’s Christmas campaign a proper winter wonderland.

Want the deeper insights into experiential and in-store strategy? Download our comprehensive experiential marketing guide.


Image (CC) Gerald England

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Steal from digital series: All about data

By Andy Youings. 7th December 2018
Steal from digital series: All about data

The world of digital marketing has set a precedent for collecting and analysing data to its advantage. But it didn’t invent data. Long before any social media platforms were dreamed up, people stood in stores with clipboards conducting surveys and gathering statistics. The great thing is that now retailers can combine the best of real world and digital tactics to build a rich set of information that provides real insight.

While Amazon may dominate the digital marketplace with predictive analytics (their personalised recommendation tool generates 35% of their annual sales), they’re still interested in the high street – opening a variety of pop-up stores around the world. Digital can learn from the physical and, of course, vice versa.

So what can in-store campaigns pick up from their pixelated cousins, and how can they apply data thinking to hone and improve real world marketing efforts?

Collecting in-store data

While ‘big data’ is typically thought of in digital terms, in-store and experiential efforts can collect and manipulate data just as ambitiously and effectively. Whether it’s punched into a mobile device or scrawled onto a clipboard by hand, the most important thing is the data itself. So what can we track?

Sales statistics are a rich body of data that can be analysed to help you make informed sales decisions. It will tell you sales uplift, footfall for the store overall, geographical data, time of day and days of the week so you can ascertain the impact of your campaign on the bottom line. These stats come from us, working closely with the retailers themselves.

A more direct route to data gathering is surveys. Perhaps you want to know how customers feel about a new tactic or product. By asking them there and then, while they are still in the store, you can capture their immediate thoughts and observations, rather than relying on memory and perception at a later date. Don’t rely on your customer remembering to fill in a form online once they’ve got home – take advantage of your captive audience and set up a kiosk with questions on a touchscreen. Instant feedback.

It’s something we do for a lot of clients – for example, Fizz has used exit surveys at Food Warehouse. They wanted to know what customers thought of the food samples available, to gauge whether to continue with that kind of activity. They found it to be an informative exercise – telling them how many people went on to purchase the item, and their overall perception of their experience in the store.  

A final route to getting that all-important insight is coupons and vouchers. The benefit here is in tracking the customer after the initial demo. We can find out when and where customers spent their voucher post-purchase (or whether they used it at all).

How in-store data can be used

Data on its own is worthless, the real value comes in the stories it can tell you, and that comes from effective analysis. In digital marketing, for instance, you might find that you’ve encouraged ten thousand more visitors to your website than last month, but e-commerce conversions have dropped and overall sales are down. You’re attracting more people, but they’re not your audience. Either that or your e-commerce system has broken, or product pages aren’t optimised for conversion. So what can you learn from in-store data once you have it?

Well, sales data can be used to inform future campaigns, and give you info on where and when to focus other marketing activity. Do you sell more whisky (for instance) in the North East? Perhaps a focused, personalised marketing or advertising campaign for that audience could work? Do more people buy your chocolates in April than June? If so, a timely promotions campaign would make sense around that time of year.

Surveys, on the other hand, will provide demographic information, again split geographically. Not only will people give honest feedback on products giving you ideas for product tweaks or special editions in the future, you’re also building up an all-important picture of the most important people – your customers.

Surveys can help to build up a picture of your customers

Meanwhile, tracking coupons and vouchers can give vital insight into shopper habits. Did the in-store campaign have a lasting impact beyond the demonstration on the day? Did people keep the voucher and return for more? We may only be able to track the next purchase, but we can see whether the campaign has started to force habit. From here, we can see if the sales uplift is long-lasting or short term.

We want to encourage sales in the short term, of course, but part of the job of in-store is to change people’s habits and get them buying more of your products long-term. Understanding where and when people use your vouchers can again give important insight and sales data for marketing teams to assess.


Digital marketing is built on metrics and data. Because information is based on zeroes and ones, the depth of information can be a lot richer than in-store. But that doesn’t mean you can’t extract all-important details from in-store interactions.

The point is, in-store is one tactic in the brand manager or marketer’s arsenal. In-store data may not be as illuminating and thorough as those online, but when you put it together with other sales and marketing insights, it can give crucial information that isn’t available from other channels. No other form of marketing happens so directly at the point of sale than in-store. By analysing all this data holistically, savvy marketers can truly start to harness the power of in-store, and have the numbers to back it up.

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Christmas in-store: 5 sure-fire ways to drive sales over the festive period

Christmas might be a nightmare for many consumers, but it’s a bounteous time for brands and retailers. For two months at the end of every year, consumers descend into a mad panic in order to fulfil the desires of their loved ones and inspire a little of that crucial Christmas Spirit. We need to be the ones making this annual process less challenging; guiding them in the right direction and making the most of the frantic festive free-for-all.

Of course, with the season now officially descended, most of us will have already sorted our Christmas in-store campaigns. Indeed, we will probably have settled on them months ago. However, there are plenty of things we could be doing throughout December to leverage the festive atmosphere, the innate hysteria of the season and the increasingly fickle fancies of the general public.

Below, we’ll examine five last-minute ideas brands could use to stand out this December: tactics that will draw attention, drive sales and (perhaps) claim loyal customers.

1. Get social

“Getting social” at Christmas used to mean rallying the troops and knocking on doors to drum up business. These days, things are a lot more immediate, but a lot more complicated. It means utilising social media to make sure people know you’re there and that you’re ready to help them get in the festive spirit.

The best way to nurture a convincing and attractive social media feed that will draw in consumers is to make sure your brand ambassadors and in-store teams are given access to your feeds. This could mean anything from documenting daily in-store activities and referencing popular trends (or even memes), to promoting in-store competitions and sales.

You don’t want to give your ambassadors too much freedom, of course. Give clear instruction and limitations around the type of content and the tone you want to convey, but give them enough freedom to be creative.

By its very nature, social media is a beast in perpetual motion. Leverage this by never standing still and updating feeds at least a few times a day to keep up not only with your competitors but also with shifting trends.

Social media outreach doesn’t need just to be a national concern either. Indeed, there are thousands of local Facebook groups and Twitter feeds that you could be taking advantage of. Don’t just rely on your brand feeds, as these will only be reaching the already converted. Make sure you share your relevant posts to local groups in order to grab the attention of local consumers. If you’re lucky, you might even get a share from a local influencer, which is always a major free advertising boost. Over the season, you’ll also find social media groups that are specifically tailored towards Christmas events and activities, so try to keep these on your radar too.

Be brave, and be different!

2. Festivise your brand ambassadors

Whilst you don’t want to go too far here as it could risk turning away consumers who are a little timid and perhaps not quite as inclined towards the festive delights of the season, there’s a lot to be said for simply making sure your team gets into the spirit of things. It can’t hurt to make sure your staff are dressed to impress and are referencing the season in some way, without going overboard.

Everyone is also sick of hearing the same Christmas songs on a loop in every store they visit, so why not avoid Wham and Band Aid this year and instead pop a few more esoteric and playful songs on the playlist. This will not only lead to less employee and consumer fatigue, but could also even be promoted online and in-store as a shareable Spotify playlist or bespoke compilation CD.

As the day itself approaches, you might also want to consider ramping up the festive cheer by encouraging carol singing and festive in-store karaoke. These are ideas it would be ill-advised to even entertain at any other time of year, but Christmas is special so don’t be afraid to make a noise.

3. Incentivise your brand ambassadors

Simply giving them a song to sing and allowing them access to the Twitter feed might not be enough to incentivise your workers to increase productivity over Christmas. It’s a busy and stressful time for everyone, remember. In order to keep staff spirits high, give them added incentives to draw attention, footfall and sales.

On a local level, you could create incentives such as a special Christmas present for the staff member with the most inventive Christmas outfit or the best rendition of their favourite Christmas song. These are all ideas that can, of course, be shared on social media to draw in local customers who might want to involve themselves in the festive frolics.

Incentivise your brand ambassadors with Christmas gifts

On a national level, meanwhile, consider offering a prize to the best performing store over the Christmas period. You’ll have to consider a fair and reasonable way of comparing performance (a store on a busy high street in London is always going to perform better than a store on a deserted high street in Kidderminster), but competition has always been a guaranteed way to motivate team members.

4. PR stunt

The phrase “PR stunt” might have been a dirty one in years past that brands would shirk for fear of being seen as cheap and tawdry. However, with social media now amplifying these stunts organically and on a wider scale than we could have possibly dreamt of even a few short years ago; stunts sell brands.

This doesn’t need to be something as ostentatious as gift wrapping a helicopter, like Harrods did with their “Anything is Possible” campaign. There’s a middle ground to be claimed where extraneous stock meets the potential for shares and column inches. Raffling off extra stock or donating it to charity can create a positive buzz. Fizz managed to find this sweet spot when they distributed unsold Lindt chocolate stock to local schools. In 2016, meanwhile, Burger King allowed customers to exchange their unwanted gifts for free burgers, with the gifts being donated to local charities.

Whatever the plan and whether you’re aiming to make an impact on a local, national or even international level, think “show-stopping”, think creatively and think fast! Of course, it’s important to share on social media, but also make sure the press is at least aware of the activation. Local outlets, in particular, are always sniffing out light stories for the season and your local teams need to tap into this.

5. Link the in-store to wider advertising

Brands should always bring their wider advertising in-store in order to drive sales, particularly if their TV and digital advertising is gaining traction. This is doubly important at Christmas when brands are competing on a very public stage to capture the hearts and imaginations of the public. This can mean anything from having your Christmas ad playing on a loop in-store so your customers make the connection, to creating displays and activations that reference the ad and build on the world it’s created.

Aldi hit a goldmine recently with their Kevin the Carrot campaign when they decided to bring their computer-generated mascot into the physical world. The Kevin the Carrot stuffed toy sale went beyond traditional in-store success; it became a legitimate phenomenon, with mainstream news coverage, blanket social media posts and unprecedented in-store footfall. Indeed, Aldi couldn’t keep up with demand, to the extent that Kevin the Carrot toys are now being sold on eBay for more than 10 times their market value.

If you’re fortunate enough to have created a campaign or a mascot that transcends its origins to become a cultural touchstone, don’t neglect it; capitalise on it. John Lewis do this almost every year. Whereas at other times of the year you would run the risk of burnout, the Christmas retail season only lasts for 2 months of the year, giving consumers just enough time to get emotionally invested in your brand’s virtual ambassador, but not too much time to get sick to death of them.

‘Tis the Season

A long-term strategy is always important, but being creative on the day/week of your in-store campaign is equally crucial, particularly in the lead up to Christmas. You don’t have to lose sight of long-term goals by focusing on short-term gain, however. The Christmas season is a true anomaly in the retail world, and one that we should all be taking by the reins.

Christmas comes but once a year, after all.


Of course, in-store isn’t just for Christmas. Check out some of the creative (and successful) campaigns we’ve launched for brands all year round here…

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The 10 best Christmas experiential marketing campaigns

Experiential marketing and Christmas go together like mistletoe and wine. With all the merriment and excitement – not to mention the shopping – it’s the perfect time for brands to get creative with how they engage and delight customers.

Just as Christmas does, experiential marketing makes us stop and draws us in; it has the power to bring people together in real time and put smiles on their faces. Over the years we’ve seen everything from the poignant to the spectacular, but one thing every campaign has shared is the ability to amaze and create wonder.

So, with the Yuletide season around the corner, here’s our pick of the very best Christmas experiential marketing campaigns…

Ferrero Rocher, Behind The Layers

Year: 2017

What is it: With their 2017 campaign, Ferrero Rocher were really spoiling us. Westfield shoppers were invited into the brand’s luxurious pop-up to discover what lies ‘behind the layers’ of everyone’s favourite Christmas chocolates.

Once inside the branded brown and gold interior, customers could savour the chocolates, sip Ferrero Rocher-inspired cocktails and enjoy a multi-sensory five-layer taste experience. Complete with ambient lighting, mood-enhancing sounds and nutty chocolatey smells, the campaign was designed to remind people of the uniqueness of Ferrero Rocher.

Why it works: The Ferrero Rocher campaign was as layered as the chocolates themselves. Apart from being totally immersive, it underlined the core brand message and USPs; effectively reminding consumers why they love Rocher. It also gave the brand the opportunity to learn more about what resonates with consumers.

Pret A Manger, A Little Thank You

Year: 2015

What is it: Nothing says Christmas like a giant gift – and that’s exactly what Pret A Manger transformed one of their central London stores into in 2015. Simple yet impactful, the brand literally wrapped up their Broadwick Street shop, inviting customers to tear through the wrapping to discover the gift of a free festive sandwich.

The experience was created to launch their Christmas sandwich range and to raise awareness of their ‘A Little Thank You’ campaign, in which 50p from the sale of each Christmas sandwich was donated to charity.

Why it works: The Pret Christmas campaign established the charitable side of the brand, aligning perfectly with the seasonal message of giving. Visually impactful and interactive, it got people talking and was great for social sharing.

Carlsberg, If Carlsberg Did Christmas Trees

Year: 2015

What is it: How do you make a Christmas tree even more magical? Cover it in beer bottles, of course. Carlsberg’s 2015 ‘If Carlsberg Did Christmas Trees’ campaign saw people queuing to get in on the free beer action.

Unveiled at London’s Southbank, the tree was studded with 100 limited edition ‘beerbles’: glass baubles that doubled up as drinking vessels for people to drink Carlsberg from and then keep as a memento. People who couldn’t attend the event were able to join in on social media by guessing the number of beer bottles on the tree for the chance to win a variety of prizes.

Why it worksFun, festive and perfectly Instagram-able, the ‘If Carlsberg did Christmas’ campaign ticks all the boxes for Christmas experiential marketing. It stuck to the core brand message, and, with the social media competition, it managed to extend its reach beyond the location as well as increasing dwell time.

WestJet, Christmas Miracle

Year: 2013

What is it: If you’re feeling like a bit of a Grinch, WestJet’s 2013 Christmas Miracle campaign is guaranteed to warm your cockles and make your heart grow three times bigger.

After scanning their boarding passes at an interactive digital stand, flyers were able to speak to Santa and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. A team of staff at the arrival destination then quickly rushed out to buy all the gifts and wrap them in time for the plane’s landing.

Instead of their luggage coming out on the carousel, customers were greeted by wrapped presents with their names on them. From smartphones and train sets to a hockey stick and even a giant TV, there was barely a dry eye in sight as they unwrapped the surprise gifts.

Why it works: WestJet’s campaign is a masterclass in how to pull off the element of surprise and that all-important feel good factor. Making use of their captive audience (pre-boarding and at baggage reclaim), they were able to film the personalised campaign, maximizing both reach (48m views on YouTube) and impact.

IKEA, The Other Letter

Year: 2014

What is it: Tapping into the importance of family and togetherness at Christmas, IKEA’s emotive ‘The Other Letter’ campaign asked children to write two Christmas letters. In addition to the letter to the three kings (the Spanish equivalent of Santa), the children were also asked to write to their parents asking them for something.

Astonishingly, the children didn’t ask for any material goods, rather for their parents’ time. The letters were then given to the parents to read, reminding them and the rest of us that the best things in life are free.

Finally, the children were asked which of the two letters they would send if they could only send one. The answer: the one to mum and dad, of course.

Why it works: ‘Ikea’s campaign managed to cleverly link to the brand message: the importance of home. The concept was simple and low in cost yet powerful and emotionally impactful.’

Coca-Cola Christmas Truck


What is it: It may be controversial, but, like it or loathe it, there aren’t many sights as synonymous with Christmas as the famous Coca-Cola truck. Huge, red, dazzling and bearing a jolly, 1930s Santa Claus image, the truck reminds us instantly that the ‘holidays are coming’.

For the past eight years, Coca-Cola have taken their iconic TV advert on the road with the truck touring sites from Glasgow to Croydon. Each year, thousands of people turn up to greet the famous vehicle, and so far over 50,000 images have been generated and shared on social media.

Why it works: Coca-Cola prove that a consistent brand message can effectively allow a brand to ‘own’ a season. By using the same visual and audio elements each year, Coca-Cola has become synonymous with Christmas.’

KLM Bonding Buffet

Year: 2016

What is it: KLM’s 2016 Bonding Buffet campaign aimed to bring solo travellers together in a positive, heartwarming experience.

The airline constructed a large dining table in their departure lounge at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam – the only snag being that it was high up on a platform which would only be lowered once all the seats were filled. This encouraged those sitting to interact with passers-by, inviting them to join in.

Once they were all seated, the table magically lowered, revealing a festive feast, complete with silver cloches, wine and Yuletide decorations. Cue photo opportunities, laughter, festive fun – and that lovely warm fuzzy feeling.

Why it works: ‘Similar to Westjet, KLM’s campaign capitalises on consumers being in a situation where they have time to give. It effectively draws on the human attraction to the promise of a reward as well as using the persuasive power of crowd mentality. Most importantly, it highlights the core brand message of bringing people together.’

Hamleys Toy Parade

Year: 2017

What is it: Hamleys’ 2017 Toy Parade did exactly what it said on the tin. The renowned toy shop pedestrianised Regent Street, transforming it into a vibrant Christmas fiesta complete with live music, giant balloons and floats.

The colourful parade attracted thousands of visitors who turned up to interact with their favourite kids’ TV characters and get into the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, last year’s event saw a few of the grown-ups getting a little bit too spirited so the parade won’t be taking place this year.

Why it works ‘Hamley’s toy parade took the brand to the consumer, delivering it in a spectacle that literally brought its products to life. The interactive nature of the campaign made it easy for the audience to share and connect.’

Argos, Ready for Take Off

Year: 2017

What is it: Give parents the chance to see their little darlings as the stars of a Christmas TV ad, and they’ll jump at it. Argos’ ‘Ready for Take Off’ ad campaign invited parents to submit pictures of their children in a social media competition which had three lucky winners.

The chosen ones got to star in a Christmas ad which ran for three nights in a row – and the rest were honorary winners, each receiving their own personalised version of the advert.

Why it works: ’The Argos campaign achieved the challenging task of personalisation without adding extra cost. Their clever use of social media ahead of the campaign increased participation rates and raised awareness.’

Not On The High Street, Gift-o-Matic

Year: 2015

What is it: Free gifts are lovely, but add a little creativity and they can become exciting and immersive. Not On The High Street’s 2015 ‘Gift-o-Matic’ campaign did exactly this with their Christmas vending machine concept.

Targeting last-minute shoppers, the vending machines were placed at Paddington and Waterloo stations on 21st December, or ‘Man Dash Monday’. Passers-by were invited to stop and tweet Not On The High Street with one of five hashtags, such as #gardener or #foodie, and the clever machine would dispense a corresponding free gift.

Why it works:

Not On The High Street’s Christmas campaign is a good example of how brands can effectively implement a ‘holy trinity’ of experiential marketing: personalisation, an element of surprise and strategic social media to extend the reach.


Whether it’s fun, indulgent or sentimental, great Christmas experiential marketing is about capturing the magic, joy and hope of the festive season. It’s about creating an emotional connection and going the extra mile to delight your customers. Most of all, it’s about creating positive memories; ones they’ll remember long after the last of the festive leftovers have been eaten.

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5 things big retailers can learn about customer experience from indies

It’s a good time to be an independent retailer. While household names like M&S are struggling to get people through their doors and closing branches, small locally-owned shops are opening at record rates. In 2017, 762 independent stores opened in the UK; an increase of 27% compared to the previous year. Why?

Shopping habits and preferences have changed. The fact is, we don’t have to go into shops at all – we can buy a book from the comfort of our own beds, purchase a jumper on the tube or order a sofa in between meetings. If we’re going to venture out to the shops, we expect more than functionality – we can get that without leaving the house. Independent businesses understand this. They know that customers expect much more than just ‘stuff’.

From the personal touch to creating a memorable experience for shoppers, here’s how big retailers can harness some of that indie power…

1. The personal touch

If your brand doesn’t speak directly to individuals and make them feel valued, they’re likely to take their hard-earned cash somewhere else.

When you walk into a small store, there’s often someone there to greet you – or at least someone in sight in case you need help. Staff are usually knowledgeable and passionate about products and services – and there’s the feeling that they’re not bound by corporate red tape. If you have a request or a suggestion, rather than ‘computer says no’, the response is more likely to be ‘why not?’

Big retailers can compete with this by hiring the right staff, and training them the right way. A disinterested shrug or lack of knowledge can do more damage to your reputation than you might think. You need to ensure staff are engaged and properly trained in both customer services and product information.

John Lewis & Partners recognise the value in recruiting the right people and investing in them. Instead of just viewing their employees as staff, they think of them as Customer Service Ambassadors, in a bid to put quality personal interactions at the top of their minds.

Their ongoing commitment to ensuring staff are helpful, engaging and able to offer expertise in specific areas has paid dividends. While other brands struggle to get customers through the door, John Lewis remains beloved. The key? A reputation for excellent customer service – something which drives loyalty and keeps people coming back to their stores. All of John Lewis’ staff are also partners in the business, rather than employees, meaning they have a vested interest in the retailer’s success and up their game accordingly. Their recent brand change demonstrates the depth of their commitment.

Beyond this, there’s personalisation. Independent retailers make personal recommendations based on a deep understanding of their regular customers’ needs and concerns. While big brands with multiple locations can’t be as integrated with local communities, there is another way to achieve a personalised experience.

With significantly bigger budgets than most independents, big retailers can make use of their customers’ data history to create a curated, individual shopping experience. This isn’t just a nice-to-have: a report by Gartner found that brands which use personalisation could boost their revenues by up to 15% in 2018.

The IoT (Internet of Things) allows retailers to offer location-based personalisation. If you know a customer has been browsing armchairs, why not send them a special discount on armchairs when they’re near your shop? If you use digital signs in-store, beacons and shelf-sensors could display promotions or offers for products which they’ve looked at on their smartphones.

By merging the in-store experience with data from social media or online browsing, you can create a tailored, personalised experience for your customers. Instead of just hoping they’ll come into the shop and find what they need, you can direct and engage them, creating a win-win situation: a more useful, positive experience for the customer, increased brand loyalty and increased sales.

2. The identity

How would you describe the brand identity of House of Fraser, Debenhams or BHS? If you’re being kind, you might say they’re functional retail spaces: you could also say ‘uninspiring’.

From the signage to the interiors, independent shops trust the power of identity and aesthetics. More than ever before, the look and feel of a physical store need to be in synergy with the brand and product – and it needs to be enticing, because if it isn’t, people won’t come in.

Indies aren’t afraid to get creative with their aesthetics. They create spaces that people want to inhabit; spaces that are vibrant, tactile and inviting. You can even watch things being made, as in Bristol’s Art and Chocolate, where chocolate is churned and canvases are painted right in front of you – a far cry from the homogenous, this-could-be-anywhere feel of corporate retailers. So how can big retailers improve their in-store identity?

While it’s difficult for larger stores to mimic the cosy, idiosyncratic vibe of independents, they can use their size to their advantage and utilise experiential tactics to change the space, elevating their brand identity from the humdrum to the exceptional.

Le Bon Marche in Paris has featured imposing art installations by international artists including Ai Weiwei and Leandro Erlich (who transformed their escalators into an eye-catching work of art). Selfridges’ recent The Flipside exhibition invited luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to create in-house installations in their flagship London store. Also, John Lewis & Partners created a £2m pop-up apartment and made it available for free overnight stays.

These kinds of in-store events transform the space and give people an additional reason to visit the shop. As a bonus, their transient nature means they’ll create a buzz and urgency – the powerful Fear Of Missing Out.

3. The experience

More than ever before, consumers are driven by experiences. If people go into a physical shop, it’s usually because of want rather than need. Therefore, it’s crucial that the in-store experience makes people want to come in.

For independent retailers, creating a positive, memorable experience is relatively easy. With a smaller, more personal space, attentive staff, appealing aesthetics and the freedom to adapt to the needs of the customer, people are likely to leave feeling valued and engaged.

Chief Coffee in London has a ping pong table and pinball room; if you pop into Borough Wines, you can try your hand at cocktail making and Notting Hill’s famous bookshop, Books for Cooks, offers cookery classes.

For big retailers, in-store events, exhibitions and technology can help to create memorable, engaging experiences. US based retailer Macy’s provide a Virtual Reality opportunity for customers to create a 3D image of their own living room. They can fill their virtual space with furniture and soft furnishings – a hands-on try-before-you-buy experience which is both practical and fun.

In the UK, Selfridges have taken this experiential approach to the next level. On entering, the feeling is that you’ve entered a new world; one which inhabits multiple restaurants, pop-up boutiques, product demonstrations – even a tattoo parlour. Around each corner is a new discovery, accompanied by appropriately changing music and lighting. It’s exciting, it’s immersive – and the net result is that you want to stay as long as you possibly can.

Waterstone’s perfectly demonstrates the power of in-store experiences. They have coffee shops (which make the whole shop smell of teacakes and chai), children’s reading nooks, chalk boards and handwritten staff book recommendations. They host book signings, seasonal events and launch nights. The overall effect is a shop environment that’s warm, inviting and – most importantly – fun. You go in because it feels good – and because they’re more likely to have what you need. They’re the perfect blend of indie aesthetics and big brand supply clout.

Perhaps one of the biggest upsides of creating a memorable in-store experience is the shareability factor. When people see something impressive or unique, they tell their friends and they share it on social media. According to statistics from SMCG, 98% of customers create social content at experiential events and 100% of those customers share that content.

4. Social media

While smaller retailers can’t compete with the social media budgets of their larger counterparts, they can speak to their audience in a more direct and authentic way.

When it comes to the local community, their social presence means they can interact with other businesses and consumers to create an ongoing, real-time dialogue. This builds trust, engagement and makes it easier to promote offers or events without being too ‘salesy’.

They’re also not bound or slowed down by bureaucracy, corporate branding or a rigid tone of voice. Independent shops are free to engage in a chatty, informal way – something which isn’t always possible for larger retailers. While indies sound truthful, honest and real on social media, bigger retailers often sound slick, manufactured and inauthentic – everything they say and do the product of a marketers’ meeting.

How big retailers can learn from indies on social media

However, there are some big brands which have got the tone just right. Waterstone’s’ Twitter presence is a good example of how social media can be used to connect with customers in an authentic way. Each store has its own individual Twitter account, so it isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach, and their tone of voice comes across as jovial and spontaneous, adding real value to their posts. Customers can follow their local store meaning they hear about events and offers that are relevant to them and they’re more likely to get a response if they have a query.

Social media isn’t just about reaching people, making noise or better visibility. How you do it is vital. By adopting the personal tone and style of independent shops, corporate stores can make consumers feel like they’re being spoken to as individuals.

5. Collaboration

Indies often collaborate with or support other indies. It’s an effective, mutually beneficial way of doing business. If you own a cafe, why not source your bread from the bakery three doors down? If you’re hosting an event, why not work with a local supplier? It reflects well on both parties, shows a commitment to ethical, local trading and can often help to reduce costs.

Big retailers operate differently. Due to their size, scale and multiple locations, they tend to keep themselves to themselves. But collaboration can be a powerful way to get people through the doors and to raise the brand profile. One way to do this is by creating an in-house event or exhibition where you invite other brands or individuals to come and offer their talents.

That’s exactly what Liberty of London have done. Their sewing school provides workshops and courses, tutored by international designers and tailors. It adds value to the brand, raises the profile of talented and emerging artists and offers something new and exciting for customers.

Sportswear brand Lululemon take a similar approach, offering free in-store yoga classes, taught by top professional yoga teachers. It fits with the brand’s identity, adds value and, importantly, gives people another reason to visit their stores.


While the trend for independent shops only seems to be growing, the truth is that big retailers will always have the upper hand – as long as they’re willing to adapt. By offering customers a more curated, personal experience, creating a unique identity and focusing on experience over functionality, big retail brands can effectively reach customers and keep them coming back for more.

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