Retail Franchise Industry Report
The Influence of Technology
Where to Buy?
Higher levels of discernment and instant gratification are trademarks of society today, and the access to more and more technology is bolstering consumers’ ability to research and compare retailers – occasionally on the spot. The smartphone is quickly becoming a tool of the shopping experience, not just a supplement. According to the 2012 Customer Insights Survey by Empathica, more than 50% of smartphone owners use them to check prices as they shop, and nearly 10% use their smartphones to write reviews of retailers.
It’s a trend that only likely to spread. The number of consumers with smartphones is increasing steadily – as of February 2012 half of U.S. mobile phone subscribers owned a smartphone, an increase from the 36 percent of smartphone owners from the previous year.
But mobile usage by consumers isn’t just for comparing prices or product reviews. In 2010, direct mobile commerce sales were estimated at $3 billion. By 2016 that number is estimated to grow to $31 billion – and the mentioned figures don’t even include the amount of money mobile phones will influence indirectly.
Mobile commerce is the technological extension, or evolution of, online shopping (e-commerce) and related activities. Since the emergence of the Internet there has been a question of whether to buy in-store or online for consumers. That question has only become more prevalent as options have become more sophisticated over recent years. Amazon, an online-only retailer, is the fastest growing retailer in America underscoring the need for brick-and-mortar retailers to figure how to keep customers coming into their locations.
As mentioned above in the location discussion, though price is a major determinant for consumers on where to purchase, it isn’t the only factor in the overall value of a purchase experience. In-store retailers – including retail franchises – must provide to the consumer a purchase experience that outweighs the typically lower prices of online retailers. Some ways in-store retailers can accomplish this are:
- Employing knowledgeable, service-oriented and friendly salespeople.
- Making customer service actions (exchanges, repairs, returns, etc.) as clear and easy as possible.
- Creating an inviting environment through design and entertainment elements
- Using in-store programs and promotions to cultivate regular visits from customers.
- Utilizing social media to make contact with existing and potential customers on a regular basis.
Localization and Social Media
“People want to do business with people. They buy from people. Sure, the brand may get them in the door, but it’s the person representing the brand that they want to business with,” says franchising expert Paul Segreto. “So, as consumers technologically advance it’s not uncommon for them to check out the local franchisee’s Facebook page or LinkedIn profile, perform a Google search of the franchisee, etc.”
In fact, findings from the 2012 Customer Insights Survey showed roughly three of every four consumers use Facebook to make retail (or restaurant) decisions. With more choices in the marketplace than ever before, it’s important for franchises to go beyond the price and quality of the products being sold and reach out to consumers where they are. Because of this, franchises are well served by letting franchisees foster relationships within their local communities that could lead to brand loyalty. Increasingly, this is being done through social media.
Whether is with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp or any other site, engaging customers and informing them about the choices they have in their backyard is always a good move. Relating the flow of money to the human body, David Boyle, researcher at The New Economics Foundation said in a Time Magazine interview, “Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going. [When spent in non-locally owned entities] it flows out, like a wound.”
A franchise with a good advertising and marketing strategy that includes attention to local initiatives is very valuable to franchisees because no two markets are alike. As such, the advertising and marketing for different markets should be similar for brand continuity, but not exactly the same. Furthermore, many consumers find products and services by performing local searches, not searching out the corporate website first. Cultivating local media with tailored messages for specific areas is important to make a franchisee’s services relevant to that area’s consumers.
According to Segreto, “franchisors should not take a rigid approach with respect to messaging and social involvement. New media is all about interaction and engagement, and as such, requires a ‘personal’ touch at the local level.” One franchise system that has adopted the personal, localized social media and website concept is Apricot Lane Boutique. Each Apricot Lane franchisee is provided social networking set-up programs (including support and content for a Facebook page for their store, as well as Twitter and Pinterest). Franchisees also have their own customized website for their store.
Localized social media efforts can translate from friend to friend resulting in the word-of-mouth recommendations businesses of all types crave.
One emerging way of rewarding local patrons through social media is offered by Foursquare. Foursquare recently launched a “local updates” tool geared towards letting businesses send messages about specials and events to customers wherever they happen to be at the time. The specials and events aim to capitalize on word-of-mouth advertising from those who buy from their store and take actions that advertise that store to their circle of contacts.
Ways Some Franchises Are Using Technology to Enhance the Overall Customer Experience:
Carl’s Jr. shows how promotions can reach consumers wherever they are located by using multiple platforms (mobile and computer in this case).
Edible Arrangements strives to make customer service as easy for the customer to navigate as possible with a well-designed and thorough web page.
Sharing is a crucial element of social media. Relax The Back uses giveaways to encourage fans of their company to share their experiences with them. The giveaways also keep customers engaged with the brand, hopefully strengthening their loyalty.
Some companies want a more controlled environment to interact with their customers in. Planet Beach is one company that has done this by creating their very own social network to engage their fans.