Customer Experience Customer Services Luxury Marketing Retail Strategy

What can the independents learn about marketing from major retailers?

Marketing lessons from corporate retail that can be applied to independent retail.

If all the independent retailers shut down, the high street would be a dull place to be. “Not very likely though” I hear you saying, but if you wander through a typical town now, it is very different to just five years ago. Like a David Attenborough documentary, I’m highlighting that some of the creatures we love could, if we are not careful, become extinct.

If any of the following were put on the ‘endangered species’ list, my world would be just a little less fun:

Ottolenghi (Deli)

I love this deli- 100% focused on quality of ingredients and their presentation. For me, they are deservedly at the top of this list, and can do no wrong.

Pizza Makers (formerly Clever Wallys) (Pizza Delivery)

When this pizza delivery business opened, the owner commented in their newsletter that to sell raw pizza for cooking in your own oven was either a really smart idea, or really stupid, hence their original name. Once you’ve tried one of their pizzas it is difficult to go back to anything else.

Morgan Motor Company (Cars)

I love these cars. The automotive equivalent of a Saville Row suit, you can have them made to order in whatever exterior and interior colour you choose. I don’t drive one, yet, because I don’t think I’m old enough…

Kaffeine (Café)

Best coffee in Central London?

Lola and Simon (Café)

Best coffee and cakes in West London? When Lola and Simon (who aren’t really called Lola and Simon- that’s the name of their dogs) opened up, it was a bold move. There wasn’t a single ‘contemporary’ retailer on their stretch of the high street and it could have been a short-lived experience. Fortunately, it has paid off, and I’ll highly recommend a visit.

La Fromagerie (Cheese)

Easy to include this one when you’re a little cheese obsessed.

The B Store (Clothing)

A unique store that was launched to represent young fashion designers and now has a collection of their own. I have often walked around this store wondering if it shows an insight into what independent clothing retailers will look like in the future.

Matches (Clothing)

For an important interview, or an important date, whether you’re male or female, Matches is a store you can walk into and say ‘make me look good’. Their advice and expert eye is almost as impressive as the clothing they choose to stock.

Turnbull & Asser (Clothing)

I’ll never forget my first visit. “You’re probably a 16” collar with 34” sleeves, I’d say. I’ll measure you just to check but I haven’t been wrong for a while.” And then on my second visit: “How was that party of yours sir?” Turnbull & Asser have managed to retain some of the aspects of the past that are still relevant today. The only store for formal shirts.

Joey D (Clothing)

At the opposite end of the spectrum (and country), Joey D in Edinburgh does things with clothes that guarantee you’ll be wearing something unique. If you’re brave enough. Ask for the “Richard O’Connor” discount and you might find you save a little money too.

Monmouth (Coffee)

The perfect coffee beans. I’ve never found any to equal these. And perhaps more impressive than the coffee is the passion demonstrated by all the staff that work there. I’ve always found the owners attitude to marketing rather appealing, even if it does contradict my own. She believes her entire focus should be on quality of product, and if she gets that right, customers will come. She has never invested in any form of advertising or promotions.

Alfred Dunhill (English eclectic)

Fortnum and Mason (English eccentric)

Without these two stores, London just wouldn’t be the same.

Tommy Guns (Hair Salons)

The first time I’ve ever been offered a beer while I had my hair cut. And a friend of mine had her hair cut for free while she waited for me. Trustworthy, cool, honest, unique.

Crazy Bear (Hotels)

If Crazy Bear were ever sold, I can’t imagine the hotels would retain their unique features. This is modern luxury at its best. Good food without patronising service.

Riverford Organic (Vegetables)

We look forward to receiving our veg box every week. Supermarket vegetables don’t taste the same as these. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t been chilled for days before delivery. Great to receive a phone call or email from the farmer every now and again too!

Jura (Watches)

I like this store. They have invested heavily in making it stand out, which is a challenge when you are based near Bond Street. I also like the unique way their staff are encouraged to consider the price of each watch irrelevant; the experience remains the same whether spending £250 or £250,000.

(I’ve excluded restaurants; they are a different story, for another time.)

So, what could independent shops like these learn from the retail giants? Strand have been thinking about how to apply some of the big budget marketing principles to a smaller business with limited spend. I suppose you could say ‘What would you do about marketing if you opened a store of your own?’ Well here are some of our thoughts:

Major Retail Marketing for Minor Retailers (Chapter One):

1. Capture email address and mobile number:

There is so much that can be done with just these two tiny pieces of data. I’m not asked for it often enough.

2. Capture customer ID:

If you can record which customer made each purchase, you’re beginning a journey down the road of Customer Relationship Marketing, which might sound a bit dull but it can actually be rather profitable and sometimes quite fun too. I’ll go into more detail in a future post because this can increase sales by 5 % to 10% if used effectively.

3. A flash sale:

Nothing more entertaining than to organise a last minute sale and text your customers with only a few hours notice! With one of the large high-street retailers, we’ve seen a response rate of 30% to an SMS flash sale. It was targeted (we knew that the customers all lived within 5 miles and had shopped recently) but impressive all the same.

4. Loyalty programmes – Join Wedge:

To run a loyalty programme properly can be a major investment. By properly, I mean to make it profitable rather than becoming an additional cost. A quick way round this is to sign up to Wedge, the loyalty programme for local retailers. If you have more than 5 stores, it’s probably worth launching a programme of your own.

5. Reward fans:

Are your best customers proudly announcing to their friends and followers that they’ve just been in your store? Reward the regular users of Facebook Places and FourSquare and you might find you have gained some more customers in return.

6. Communicate sensibly and suitably:

Newsletters and stock announcements on a Facebook page (does your store have a Facebook page?) are a start but they shouldn’t be the only communication you send out. What else could your customers learn from you?

7. Measure the Average Transaction Value:

And reward staff for growing it. If your customers are spending £10 per visit and your staff manage to encourage them to spend £15 per visit, then that will soon make a considerable difference to your business. Do the maths; it’s worth rewarding them.

8. Supplier Partnerships help:

Your suppliers are keen to speak to the same audience as you. Ask them; you might be surprised to learn that they could support an advertising campaign or press announcement, either with stock, design expertise or even a financial contribution.

9. Store layouts are important:

Where are your best selling items? What about your most profitable? Have you left room for spontaneous purchases?

10. Random Acts of Kindness work:

I was in a new store the other day and you know what? They gave me a free notebook, showing a few images from their latest collection and the rest of it was blank for my own use. They even gave me a pen. Actually the story is made up, but the principle remains the same: if a customer receives something they weren’t expecting, then they are sure to tell someone else.

So who have I missed? Please add your own favourites to this post, because, like my life, at times it can a bit focused on London.

What else can we teach smaller retailers? Perhaps we can use our experience with marketing for the major brands to keep the smaller ones profitable and continuing to entertain us for years to come.


(Featured Photo by Christelle BOURGEOIS on Unsplash)


  1. great article, although I’m not sure about Turnbull & Asser being “The only store for formal shirts”!!!
    I found the ‘Wedge’ point particularly interesting. I hadn’t heard of them before. I’ve read their website and left them a message. It’s a really cool idea.

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