How boutiques can fine tune their digital strategies in the run-up to Christmas

By Natasha Frangos, head of corporate at haysmacintyre

The pandemic and associated lockdowns have had an indisputable effect on bricks-and-mortar retail, in an era that has already triggered considerable change in the sector. The fashion industry has long been pursing a targeted omni-channel strategy, but how can boutiques effectively target a ready-to-buy audience in the face of such disruption?

As the Christmas season approaches, brands will have to recognise the changing routes into the market in order to make the most of the high-sales period. In September 2020, the ONS reported that online sales still averaged a 45 per cent increase on figures from February. Given the shift of focus towards online shopping, it is now imperative for boutiques to demonstrate the same unique quality of service that consumers experience through their digital offering as through physical stores. What has traditionally been a focus of the in-store shopping experience must now be mirrored online.

Just as polite service is a fundamental of the in-store experience, so too are user-friendly websites, a fast speed of delivery, low shipping costs and a good presentation upon delivery essential for online retail.

In a busy market and disrupted climate, brands need to look to creativity and developing a personal connection in order to catch the attention of their target market. Many consumers are spending increasing time on social media to remain connected with friends and family, making social media engagement an essential for a digital brand currently.

Social media is a tried-and-tested method, but success depends on a brand finding its voice and committing to engaging with its consumers through the chosen channel. As a third-party voice, relevant influencers can drive traffic through promoting or endorsing products – both driving sales and increasing brand awareness. Factoring social media strategies into financial planning, alongside wider marketing and SEO strategies, should almost be a hygiene factor for brands in the current climate, such is the significant effect they can have.

Aside from a brand’s own individual reach, online marketplaces are difficult to ignore. They account for a sizeable proportion of online sales, and often attract shoppers in lockdown looking for a virtual replacement to shopping centres and high-streets. Brands are exploring the potential to collaborate, but the breadth and depth of multi brand e-tail platforms can make it very difficult for an individual brand to compete.

Telling a story though blogs on customer experiences or tracking the manufacturing process of the brand’s products will help make an individual label stand out, as e-tail platforms rarely have the capability to devote the same time to all of the various brands they sell. Valuable content is more likely to retain consumers’ attention and resonate with them.

Returns are particularly crucial for online retailers as shoppers are unable to feel or try on items, meaning there are higher chances of multiple refunds. Streamlining the process and making it as easy as possible for customers to return items will encourage repeat purchases from the site.

However, we also cannot forget that shops will reopen, even if it is next year. In addition to keeping up momentum through lockdown using digital sales, boutiques must be preparing for when consumers return to physical stores.

Faced with the combined challenges of pandemic disruption, shifting consumer habits and fierce market competition, every brand needs to bring its best efforts to attract and retain loyal customers online and, when possible, in physical stores too. In September the Bank of England reported that the total net improvement to UK consumers’ balance sheets totalled £85 billion, a significant amount of savings burning a hole in consumer pockets. Brands that have built the best digital presence may have a head-start on the competition by tapping into this market.