16/04/2015

By Gareth Poppleton, Managing Director at independent payment processing specialist, Retail Merchant Services

Calendar events can do more than boost the profile of niche industries – they can drive new custom for independent businesses.

It’s amazing to think that a musical format pioneered in the late 1800s is entering a resurgence in the 21st century, but that’s exactly what’s happening with vinyl. Record sales reached an 18-year high in 2014, and an official vinyl chart has been launched this month to support Record Store Day, which takes place this Saturday (18th April).

Record Store Day has been created by the music industry to support independent, specialist businesses. Consumers are being encouraged to visit their local store this weekend in order to purchase exclusive releases, watch live performances by globally renowned artists or meet their favourite DJ.

Events like this are a great example of how small businesses can use their individuality to attract new customers. There are so many specialist interest days on the calendar – national hat day, plant a flower day, swap ideas day and homemade bread day, to name a few! – that pretty much any retailer can find a ‘hook’ for their company. The challenge is using that opportunity to drive sales.

So how can record stores make the most of this weekend’s event – and other SMEs when similar opportunities come around this year?

Objective number one is to bring as many customers into the store as possible, and this means raising awareness. While some interest days will be carrying out their own promotions for the overall event, it’s important for retailers to increase its profile in their locality. Window displays and posters can prove very effective, while social media is a great tool for generating buzz on a low budget.

For social media users, many of the main campaigns will have their own event hashtag – use that to join in wider conversations about where enthusiasts can go to get involved.

To make the opportunity even more enticing, companies should consider running an incentive around the event. For example, discounting flagship ranges, running demonstrations or workshops where members of the public can find out more about the processes behind the products, or offering a prize draw.

Hooking onto an initiative is as much about creating an experience as pushing sales – plus activities such as competitions enable retailers to collect customer information, which they can use to build a marketing database for future promotions.

Driving more traffic to the store is all well and good, but it’s critical that small businesses think about how to handle these increased volumes during calendar events. For example, it may be necessary to roster more staff for that day, to uphold customer service levels despite more visitors to the shop floor.

It’s also crucial to consider the end-to-end customer experience. After spending a great deal of effort enticing consumers to the shop floor, and creating memorable experiences to encourage sales, SMEs can still risk losing business at the 11th hour by failing to optimise their checkout experience.

Payment is the last point of contact between retailer and customer, and therefore should be the most impressive. Despite this, many independent stores still only have one option for transactions: cash.

Introducing card payment facilities gives consumers more choice, rather than limiting them to whatever change they have in their pockets. Not only that, it can speed up transactions; a contactless touch and go payment, for example, tends to take less time than rooting through a purse to find the right money.

The important thing to remember about initiatives like Record Store Day is that their impact can last long beyond the event itself – provided independent retailers create great customer experiences. If the entire store encounter is pleasant, from the moment of entry to the point of payment, customers are far more likely to make a return visit.