17 September 2020, 09:57 AM
  • In the first of her series of exclusive columns for Speciality Food, retail champion Kate Hardcastle MBE explains how and why independent retailers should capitalise on the consumer desire to shop locally
Consumer guru Kate Hardcastle MBE: “How to cash in on local credentials”

Consumers may choose to shop locally for a number of reasons:
•    It helps them feel connected to and part of their local community
•    They like to know that their pounds are supporting their local economies
•    They appreciate it when small business owners recognise the value of their custom
•    They like to know where their products have come from and who’s produced them
•    They appreciate the personalised service, the expertise and the familiarity that local retailers bring, we all know that ‘people buy people’

Independent retailers therefore have the opportunity to maximise all of the above, through delivering a positive and personalised customer service experience, showcasing their brand story and maintaining their position in their local communities.

It’s essential that independents continue to deliver the personal experience that bigger retailers often cannot, whilst maintaining the same consistency, speed and efficiency of service, often via the integration of digital. This should enable them to deliver a localised, online offering for their communities, which combines the ease and convenience of shopping online, with the familiarity, personalisation and service of a local store. This doesn’t have to require huge amounts of investment in online - many small businesses are using tools Whatsapp to serve their customers and generate sales.

Consumers are looking for affordability and value, coupled with authenticity and service.

Good customer service must feature two key components - personality and efficiency and when it comes to the service expectations, customers often want:
•    To be made to feel like an individual – independents can achieve this through analysing data to properly understand their customers, engaging with them via meaningful, two-way conversations with them via social media
•    Efficiency: businesses must deliver on what they promise
•    Speed and responsiveness of service: they want ‘insta-service’ and multi-channel communication, so retailers must be prepared, with the relevant systems in place
•    They want small businesses to demonstrate that they enjoy supporting them, are always “happy to help” and are willing to go above and beyond to deliver for them

A key unique selling point (USP) for independents is their brand story and product provenance, this should be highlighted at every opportunity, from website homepage, to product packaging and POS. Customers love reading about the local farm that provides their produce or the beekeeper bringing them honey, so make sure these stories and messages cut through across all touchpoints, in a really clear and simple way.

As more consumers than ever are embracing online shopping, retailers must follow suite and deliver an online service experience to match what they deliver in-store. Customers love seeing the people behind brands and video is one of fastest ways to connect with them. One way of engaging is via video – we’ve seen so many independents successful use it to share their brand stories and personalities, showcase their products and build better customer relationships which go beyond screens. It’s always worth investing in this medium and with a small investment of time and planning it can prove extremely successful in generating sales and engagement.

We’ve seen communities come together in 2020 and as many consumers report feeling more connected to their neighbours, they often value businesses who operate with the same ethos.

Highlight some great things you’ve done for your community, sharing the stories and purpose behind your work but remember to keep it simple – as lockdown restrictions ease and life gets busier, consumers have much less time on their hands.

Community support isn’t always about making costly donations, it’s often about playing a role and lending your voice and position to support your community, e.g. collaborating with neighbouring businesses and championing local causes.

Highlighting the wider community impact that shopping with you has is also key and customers like to know that their pounds are helping to support local economies. Share details of your local suppliers and how spending with your business has a direct impact on both the local economy and community.

Finally, it’ so important to maintain that ever-important human touch, that customers value so highly when shopping with local businesses. Take every opportunity to share your brand story, deliver personable service both in-store and online and have genuine, human conversations with your customers wherever possible, catering to their individual wants and needs.

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