The 2020 Travel Goods Show


Crystal Vilkaitis turns heads – even across the aisle in the TGA Lounge – with her riveting presentation on social media strategy, as part of the RETAIL LAB sessions.

As the country inches toward reopening of stores and businesses, it’s obvious we’re not going back to business as usual, but a very different retail landscape. And that extends beyond the new ubiquity of curbside pickup, closed fitting rooms and more vigorous store cleanings.

Now more than ever, smart marketing is a key component in attracting and retaining customers, especially during this time of limited in-person contact. Luckily, attendees at this year’s Travel Goods Show in New Orleans had the chance to take in the RETAIL LAB sessions – free presentations to help retailers and manufacturers alike raise their marketing and outreach IQ.

While the ongoing pandemic situation renders some of the RETAIL LABS content moot – such as the emphasis on in-store events – a lot of the information presented is extremely relevant. If anything, it’s more important now, when electronic outreach and social media are our primary means of keeping in touch. These are some of the more relevant points for the months ahead.

One terrific free resource worth a look: RETAIL LABS presenter Crystal Vilkaitis’ COVID-19 resource page.

Know Your Customers + Their Behaviors

Every RETAIL LAB presentation touched on the importance of knowing who your customers are and where they get their info.

At the macro level are generational differences, what’s going to matter to them and the buying power they represent.

But you also have to know how to interpret this data to reach them with messages that will resonate. For instance, Generation X makes up less than 25% of the population and commands 31% of total U.S. income, so conceivably has more money per capita, but…75% of them help their parents financially, and many of them are parents with children at home themselves, which means family-based messaging could be more powerful for them. And your bottom line.

Part of what makes Amazon a powerhouse, and the poster child for explosive growth, is how the company tracks customers and leverages the data. Brick and mortar retailers can, too.

“How do you really understand what’s going on in your store?” asks Nicole Leinbach Reyhle of Retail Minded. “POS is critical to capturing data on what’s selling and not selling, but understanding how customers are going through your store impacts not just how you’re making money, but how you’re spending money.”

Reyhle is a big fan of Dor, which uses thermal processing to map foot traffic and integrates with POS. “We lead with assumption or personal preference,” she says. “Foot traffic monitoring brings clarity to how consumers actually shop and spend, so you can make data-driven decisions about staffing and future operations.” Which in many ways sounds like Amazon, in a good way.

Facebook Best Practices

Done right, Facebook continues to be a good driver of traffic to physical stores, says social media guru Crystal Vilkaitis of Crystal Media. And while it can be a complex playbook, she presented some simple things that can dramatically increase its effectiveness:

  • Facebook weights video more heavily, so post video often. Showcasing an individual product is more effective than showing an entire category. And be “real” by shooting in your own store with your own people.
  • Engage! Answer people when they comment. Build a conversation. Facebook reads that engagement favorably and will push your posts accordingly.
  • Among people who like you on Facebook, just 1%-6% of them see your posts, so it’s important to advertise on Facebook to up that exposure.
  • Advertise to your clients, then create a list of lookalike customers who fit that same demographic and hit them too.

Vilkaitis shared an example about a Pennsylvania client: “Our client told us, ‘I just had a customer come in who has not been in in four years.” The customer had never liked the store’s Facebook page and wasn’t seeing the posts. By using a lookalike list on Facebook, our client was able to recapture that customer. “She was on Facebook and saw some of our new clothing, she came in with her daughter and spent $4,800. And that ad was $10.”

Claim Your Business

“Your digital presence is as foundational as your store signage,” says Crystal Vilkaitis. “Something like a wrong address or store hours can create a bad experience before you’ve even engaged with the customer.”

For local businesses, there are several online listings that have information about your store.  “Google is the biggest. There’s also Yahoo and Bing and MapQuest. There are over 60 sites that have information on your business – your name, your phone number, your address, products you sell. It’s important to have the right information and optimized information everywhere.”

It might be tempting to ignore that erroneous info, so long as it’s right on Google, but guess what? Google relies on the information that’s correct on those sites to deliver information about you.”

Claiming your business also includes listing the brands you carry, because that’s often how people will search for a retailer. And that strategy extends to methods of payment. “Less than 50% of millennials have credit cards,” according to Nicole Leinbach Reyhle. They make purchases right from the phone using PayPal, Apple Pay or Google Pay. If they can’t tell if  you accept their preferred payment platform, they’ll simply move on.

Email Ain’t Dead

“Email is still very very very very valuable for commerce. It’s one of the biggest drivers of commerce,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle. “It’s important because you’re driving people to your store through those emails.”

Reyhle notes there are several email marketing platforms such as Snap Retail, Constant Contact and Mail Chimp. “Snap Retail is my favorite because they have templates designed specifically for retailers that offer promotions, selling ideas. You’re just dropping in your images or adjusting a few things to add authenticity to your brand voice.”

It’s also important to push the email. “A good email open rate is 18%,” notes Crystal Vilkaitis. Leverage your Facebook page by telling people to check inboxes for a special offer. This helps capture some of that 82% you’d miss otherwise.

Think about the audience. SMS marketing is preferred by younger generations and works in real time. “Consider what you’re sharing in social media is different from email messaging vs text message,” Reyhle reminds us.

Be at Every Touchpoint

“The path to purchase is simply not straight,” says Retail Minded’s Nicole Leinbach Reyhle. “53% of customers will touch digital on the path to purchase,” but digital consists of multiple channels. Reyhle describes how many consumer product searches can begin with a hashtag on social media, like #luggage. Which leads to peer-to-peer review sites, the manufacturer website, and then the local retailer. And she notes that each of those touchpoints is an opportunity to lose the customer, so it’s vital your own digital footprint is dialed.

“We need to maximize mobile – 80% of smartphone users will reference their phone while in the store, four out of five shoppers use their mobile phone as part of their shopping journey. And 65% of people will leave a website if it’s not mobile friendly.”

Much of the customer experience happens before the customer even gets to your store. “Shopping is happening on mobile in physical environments because it’s helping people make educated purchase decisions. One in three customers does not want to talk with sales staff – they would prefer to look up a stranger’s opinion online. They’re looking at peer-to-peer reviews about the item, about your business, and other information like warranties. ”

With multiple touchpoints, one thing to be cognizant of is the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel. Multi-channel means the purchase pathways aren’t integrated as a system – your online and physical store systems are discrete entities. Omni-channel means every channel is connected, so you can track customer behavior across channels – like whether that person who went straight to item X, paid, and then left already did their shopping on your website. “Integration as part of your selling strategy provides that omni experience, but also integrates your selling avenues. Capture real-time sell-through data, analyze it and then react to it,” counsels Reyhle.


BOPUS – buy online, pick up in store – will likely be a powerful retailing trend in the age of COVID-19, and something every retailer should consider. But even before the pandemic, 74% of online shoppers wanted same-day delivery, but only 23% of them were willing to pay for it. Which sounds like one way for the neighborhood retailer to out-deliver Amazon with something as simple as same-day in-store pickup.

The other reason to embrace BOPUS? It’s a commitment to visit your store on the part of the consumer. They have to physically come in to pick it up, so unless you’re doing curbside pickup, that customer will come inside your store and be exposed to your culture and wares. With luck, they’ll buy more. And come back again.

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