Specialty Retailers Can Develop an Effective Online Strategy
I’ve talked with scads of dealers over the past several years about literally an untold number of retail-related topics. One particular issue that has been reoccurring throughout almost all these conversations is this chronic need many retailers have had and continue to have regarding marketing online.
Realizing first that over 80% of consumers begin a shopping campaign—for just about everything they buy including flooring—on the Internet, many retailers have diverted much of their ad budgets away from traditional media but have not found as of yet a way to earmark those dollars to anything anywhere near productive online.
From where I sit many retailers seem frustrated because they appear to have seen the handwriting on the wall, pointing to a tougher and tougher road ahead for their lot as an independent retailer in the e-commerce arena, but they’re drawing a blank as to how to deal with it.
They all seem to be aware the big box players with their deep pockets are concentrating on expanding their footprint out of the brick-and-mortar sphere and into cyberspace. Less obvious are the major online players like Amazon, Build.com, BuildDirect.com and others who see profit in floor coverings and have the talent, the expertise and the resources to help delegate the unsuspecting independent flooring retailer to an online back seat and the second or third page of Google searches.
Now this is not going to happen overnight but inch by inch, month after month it’s progressively going to be tougher and more expensive for retailers to capture the same traffic and number of online leads they are capturing right now.
It’s my observation retailers, for the most part, really want to become more involved in Internet marketing and advertising, including social media, but they just don’t know where to start and what’s available to them.
That’s why we gave our resident marketing and branding guy Paul Friederichsen, president of Brand Biz, and Alex Hinojosa, vice president of media operations and strategy at EMSI Public Relations, a call and invited them on FloorRadio.
The following are some excerpts from these interviews to whet your appetite. You can listen to each interview in its entirety by visiting the TalkFloor.com website, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’ website, floortrendsmag.com and clicking on the “More Floor Radio” link.
TF: Many retailers have formatted websites, sites for example available from buying groups, mill affiliate programs and also from some developers. With these site the bulk of the content, copy and images are the same on all affiliate sites, with the only differences often being a local address and “about us” type of information. A Google search, as I understand it, will select only a few of these such duplicate sites to the disadvantage of the others. What would your recommendation be to the retailers who have these formatted sites to help them fare better on search engines? Would it be wise to launch a second site if one finds them self in this situation?
Hinojosa: Often, for brand consistency reasons you’re going to want an advantage to be a part of the main site. However there can be search engine optimism benefits from having a landing page, such as Carpet One of Atlanta, or Abbey Carpet of Toledo. Then the retailer can have that landing page connect to his main page.
Also it would be a good idea to have social media connected to that landing page. That would help and, essentially, give you more cards in the deck. Local is important as are specific phrases. On that landing page, the retailer can place a blog and in the blog make sure to include certain key words that search engines will respond to. It could be something as simple as inserting the name of the town the retailer serves and the words ceramic tile or hardwood flooring.
TF: Home Depot and Lowe’s are also local and they are investing substantial amounts of money to show up well in local searches in a variety of flooring categories. Local flooring retailers to get their share, it would seem, cannot afford to leave a stone unturned with local searches.
Hinojosa: Not only are the big box players buying pay-per-clicks and spending money within certain Zip codes, they are also taking advantage of running ads on Facebook. One of the prime reasons people gravitate toward those big box stores is their brand—they feel comfortable because of the branding these companies have been able to develop.
Consumers may see a local retailer in a Google search, but there is often no additional support information about that local dealer so as a result the consumer, often by default, gravitates to the known big box player.
But there is something a local retailer can do and that’s go to Google Places and Google Plus. Google Places is the local listing for Google and it appears high up in search results of Google when consumers look for local information.
The problem for many retailers is they are not controlling what they’re putting on that Google Places page. They can insert photos of their inventory, their personnel or their showroom. They can have people write fantastic reviews about their service or their various products. These are just a few factors that can tip the balance away from those big box brands and instead steer a customer to walk through the door of a local retailer. But regrettably, many local dealers are not taking advantage of these options.
TF: The process of buying words on search engines. Would you say this is pretty much a hit or miss situation? You try a word, see how it works, you maybe try it for a while and then try something else. Is that how the whole thing works?
Friederichsen: Sometimes many seem to get caught up in the metrics of how key words are performing. Whether it’s the main page or your landing page you need to study Google Analytics. It’s one way to know if you’re going in the right direction.
First, you can find if people are visiting your website and, second, if they’re walking through the front door of your store front. When you check out Google Analytics you need to learn if [consumers] are visiting the places on your site that you want them to and if they’re actually taking the next step. To be successful you need to constantly analyze those numbers and adjust on the fly when you find something isn’t working the way you thought it would.
TF: From talking with retailers I get the idea that many, once they get their site up and running feel the project is completed [and] go on to the next project and don’t get very involved with the site much after that. This doesn’t sound like a very workable plan.
Friederichsen: We often use the analogy this is a marathon and not a sprint. A website is an effort that requires retailers to pace themselves. Many retailers seem to feel that everyone is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest so they try to do too much too quickly in an effort to try to catch up with the competition. It’s a worthy goal, but it can’t be done overnight and you shouldn’t try.
The prime goal should be do it right and to do that you need to pace yourself because a strategy of consistently posting on social media, with good quality content will win the day.
Another analogy is with your store itself. Would you ever build a store, outfit it and just leave it? Absolutely not. Most retailers are constantly re-arranging the sales floor—moving displays and reconfiguring, making sure the signage is just perfect and everything in the store is right.
You need to apply that same rationale—and on the same level—to your website. It boils down to content: The valuable information you are sharing and posting to your site coupled with the right key words, means that you are more likely to pop up when it comes to a search. On top of that, the more fresh information that is posted to the site the more people will get used to coming back.
TF: What about banner ads. Many retailers are considering running banners ads. What things should they keep in mind to be successful at this effort?
Hinojosa: One of the things I’m really a big fan of is the potential for a re-marketing banner ad. This is where a pixel can be placed on the retailer’s website so when someone visits his site a cookie will remember that visit.
With a remarketing banner ad they can, at some later date, issue a call to action, for example a “buy now, save 15%” coupon that might prompt that customer to [purchase] now, or to buy even more than she had originally planned. That re-marketing ad could pop-up on the various sites that customer might go to, building a sense of urgency and increasing the probability that customer will make a purchase.
TF: With the advent of the Internet and online marketing many retailers appear to have abandoned traditional media and concentrating their ad budgets online. Is this a good strategy?
Friederichsen: What a retailer really needs to consider is engagement across all media, not just on the Internet. And you want to offer value. One approach to developing leads is to offer something of value free. That could be a free estimate. Or it could be to simply offer to help customers answer some of the questions they might have about buying the right product for their specific needs.
They might ask: Are we going to end up spending a lot of money for a product that might get scratched by our pets or end up being worn out by our kids prematurely?
So one thing a retailer could do to capture a lead and offer value as well as build trust and get that customer in the sales funnel is to offer some sort of flooring analysis. Have the customer ask some questions, talk about her individual needs and even perhaps upload a photo of the area in question and, in turn, the retailer can get back to the customer with some ideas—and the conversation has been started.
TF: Prompt service appears key in this the age of the Internet. What about a strategy that calls for the retailer to jump through hoops if necessary, even to a point of spending more money, say to get a certain product delivered more quickly to create a happy customer, who in turn writes a positive review for all to see? Is this a viable strategy?
Friederichsen: One of the challenges of online customer relationship building is quick response time. People expect an answer within 24 hours or less. The patience people have in waiting for a response is remarkably short and getting shorter.
A factor that retailers have to build into their master plan is being speedy in responding to inquiries. And, yes, to spend a little more on the front end to establish in the consumer’s mind you are a singularly unusual retailer that performs above and beyond the call of duty with the payoff of generating a positive review for hundreds to see is indeed a good investment.
Editor’s note: We wish we had more space to continue this outstanding conversation. However, you can listen to the three-part interview it in its entirety by visiting TalkFloor.com, click on the link “More Floor Radio” and scroll down to the parts titled, “Paul Friederichsen & Alex Hinojosa, Developing an Effective Online Strategy.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at email@example.com, or Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org.