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What do you want, difficult challenges or beautiful problems?

If your answer is “neither, I’d prefer an easy life”, you’re probably not cut out for retail.

At last week’s BT Expedite and Fresca Retail Client Conference we had over 80 delegates from some of the UK’s (and the world’s) leading retailers lock themselves away for two days to get down to the real nitty-gritty of retail IT. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted.

This annual event is getting bigger – and better – every year. This year there were more retailer-led sessions, more technology demos and more user groups than ever before. We even had Kryten from Red Dwarf.

And there seems to be a little more optimism around again. We’re not completely out of the woods – it is retail we’re talking about here – but things are looking up.

Last year we gathered together like post-apocalyptic survivors, guiltily checking off the names of those who had gone under in the previous six months. We were in the midst of a massive economic downturn and all thought revolved around survival. So what’s changed?

Two things stood out: Social media and international expansion. It seems, like life, retail will always find a way.

The 40+ retailers who crammed into the first, steamy breakout session of the day highlighted this. During the session, Lyle & Scott’s Will Dymott outlined the brand’s website refresh and mobile focus, and ran through its social media strategy and successes. He presented himself as a bit out of touch with it all – drawing inspiration from the derision of his nieces – but it’s clear the success is no happy accident. Lyle & Scott has developed a ferociously loyal following – and there’s no great secret to it, as Will pointed out. If you’re going to get involved, get involved properly. So Lyle & Scott takes a very active part in their customers’ social networking. This takes in everything from organising Twitter races and underground music events to launching a Facebook commerce page.

More tips on launching a Facebook commerce page>

Designing for mobile e-commerce>

In the afternoon, another standing-room only session explored international expansion – with two retailers offering a different take on it. One, Aurora Fashions, has gone down the e-commerce route. The other, Aldo Group, is working through franchisees. Both have had successful years. Both have made mistakes – and have learned from them.

Five steps to successful international e-commerce>

And it was in this session that I heard about “a beautiful problem”. It summed up the whole mood at this year’s conference. And the nice thing is, we’re talking about the same old problems, but we’re looking at them in a different way. The world is no longer lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce out and crush you. We’re not automatically taking defensive measures. There’s a whole world of opportunity out there now – with no more difficult challenges, just lots of beautiful problems.


On Facebook

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I read last month that Facebook has now exceeded 500 million worldwide users and over 28 million in the UK. Looking across all BT Fresca clients, Facebook is in the top 10 traffic sources to all sites.

It’s now as important as email communications in a brand’s overall marketing strategy. But, it’s really interesting how different retailers approach it.

Retailers are fast learning that social is not just about marketing, but community, endorsement and customer service also. It’s about getting the balance right. And, there are some really great examples out there.


The biggest mistake any brand can make is to not interact with their customers. Your customers expect you to respond and talk back and even better they want to get involved and feel part of your brand.

Encourage them to chat, this is your customers and they want to talk. The feedback on your business is invaluable and gives you insight into what is and what isn’t working.

There a plenty of great examples out there of brands doing just this. Two that are worth taking a look at are Liberty and Easyjet.

Add Email Sign Up

Don’t be afraid to cross channel market. You add social links to your email
campaigns, so why not go vice versa? Add an email sign up box to your profile and use it to grow your database.

Marks & Spencers actually have a box on the profile displaying their latest newsletter for people to view.

Facebook on your site

2010 was about incorporating Facebook functionality onto your own website. The ‘like’ button being the most popular tool.

The Levi store was one of the early adopters of this functionality. But some other nice examples are ASOS and BT Fresca client Dig Deep

I also love the Orange Glastonbury microsite, where you can tag your friends in the crowd pictures from Glastonbury.

Turn a negative into a positive

The delivery issues caused by snow at Christmas were certainly a test for some
retailer’s customer service abilities. Negative comments on your facebook don’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it’s about how you manage them. But, the
worst thing you can possibly do is ignore comments.

Sometimes your fans will even do the work for you. I referred to Easyjet earlier, when they were experiencing flight issues with the snow, customers were pointing other customers to where on the Easyjet website.

Negative comments on your Facebook page give you a chance to turn around that customer’s perception of you, so embrace it.

Make the space yours

Ok, we’ve moved on from My Space, but your brand page is a representation of who you are and what you stand for.

What is your key message, how can you engage differently but still on brand via Facebook? With a little bit of creative help, it’s very simple to personalise the page.

Take a look at the Starbucks, Tiffany and Skittles pages for some inspiration.

Reward your fans

Customers that ‘like’ your brand should be treated like any loyalty database you own and manage. Give them something back in return for this loyalty.

At Christmas, John Lewis did a video for customers on how to set the perfect Christmas table. Pringle have a video from illustrator David Shirgley and to celebrate reaching 500,000 likes Next gave away 25 gift cards to customers.

Happy customers will spread the word and do your work for you.

Encouraging Sign Ups

On a penultimate note, I just wanted to share this fun page on Zappos encouraging likes.


And what does 2011 hold? I look forward to seeing more from Facebook places and shopping on Facebook…

Laura Summers heads up the BT Fresca Online Marketing team and manages online services for some of retail’s biggest and most successful UK websites. If you’re interested in discussing Facebook marketing, drop Laura a line via [email protected] or call 0870 8506880.

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