According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), online trading in general represented 18.6 per cent of total non-food sales for December 2013, an increase from 16.5 per cent a year earlier. However, rather than losing out to the web, in some cases, increasing choice through integrated online and offline shopping channels and marketing can help retailers in winning the battle for customer loyalty.
With a young, web-savvy director at its helm, Petra Jewellery, an independent family jewellers based at the Viables Craft Centre in Basingstoke, is among a growing number of smaller shops that are actively putting the web and web-based technologies at the heart of their retail and business strategies.
The firm was established in 1979 by Petra Moore, who had trained as a goldsmith in Germany before getting married and moving to the UK. Eight years ago Petras daughter, Mitch Lloyd, joined the business as a director.
During this time, Lloyd has introduced some fundamental changes, starting with the creation of a company website as well as the introduction of card payment technology in the shop. Soon after, she began using social media channels such as Facebook to interact with customers and drum up trade.
As with most other retailers, December is a peak period for Petra Jewellery, with turnover for doubling compared to the rest of the year. Interestingly, January is not far behind, mostly due to couples getting engaged over Christmas.
Yet, instead of accepting that sales will peak and dip, in 2013, Lloyd also ramped up her marketing efforts over the quieter summer months. Its very arrogant for shop keepers to think people are just going to walk into your shop,” she says.
You need to think of new ways to draw them in. We have a loyal customer base but they still need reminding and inspiring. Traditionally, the school holidays are a quiet period for us so this year, we did an email campaign inviting people to bring in their unwanted gold to be melted down. It brought in some really good business.
As well as using the web to create a visible presence for the business online, Lloyd and her team are also making the most of connected technologies to help with back-end processes. Recently, she used her extensive database of customers and prospects as part of a VIP event designed to secure trade and help clients find the right gift for their partners.
From a cash flow perspective, we simply can’t afford to wait for a last minute rush of desperate men, so we built on the success of this event by continuing to keep a very open dialogue with customers. We also decided to make shopping with us as fun and convenient as possible by planning more events and offering late night opening, too.
Petra Jewellery has also become extremely proactive when it comes to managing its finances. This year, the business took its books online following advice from its accountants, The Wow Company. Having the ability to keep close tabs on cash flow and exercise more control over financial performance has been hugely important. Putting our accounts online marked a real turning point for us,” confirms Lloyd.
Dipping into Xero, I can look at detailed profit and loss reports. This really helps me when it comes to making informed business decisions, such as whether or not it is the right time to commit to buying-in a new collection or whether I can afford to invest in marketing.
As well gaining more control and visibility over its accounts, the company also benefited from strategic advice from its current accounting practice, which advised it to become a limited company so that it would no longer miss out on important tax breaks.
The fact that both the accountant and the shop benefit from shared access to up-to-date finance data in the cloud enables them to access and discuss Petra Jewellerys books, without having to be in the same place.
Being able to operate remotely gives me the flexibility to run the business online and pay close attention to cash flow,” says Lloyd. Ive gone from being really blind about finance to having a good understanding of how it all works.
Gary Turner is managing director for Xero UK.