Digital Marketing in the Retail Sector

The technological revolution has transformed many commercial sectors but perhaps none so much as retail. Gone are the heady days of “Are You Being Served”! These days if a retail business does not have an effective digital marketing strategy it may as well put up the Closed sign. In this article we examine six ways in which retail businesses can make best use of digital marketing.

Improving your Website

It seems inconceivable to us now that it is only since around the Millennium that most websites have offered ecommerce facilities. Even then, many of these were either limited in the range of products available or somewhat “clunky”. But it is essential to have a welcoming website that is easy to navigate around, find the item(s) you want, add to basket and then check out. Don’t forget to make it mobile-friendly too!

The balance between online shopping encouraging shoppers to come to a store – and therefore the emphasis of the website – will vary greatly amongst different retailers. For example, Marks & Spencer’s website sales were up 23.4% in the year to March 2016. The company had previously had difficulties with its website in 2014, but has now improved its infrastructure and adopted the approach of combining content and commerce online.

It also uses the website to entice people into its store by offering next-day collect-in-store and also a return-to-store option. It also adopts the progressive approach of attributing online sales to the stores in which they are picked up.

Companies big and small need to continually improve their website to help aid their digital presence and something that Xcite works with clients to achieve. A recent example of this was the overhaul of the Fair Finance website – a London based not for profit lender.

ff homepage


We mentioned above the importance of making your website mobile friendly. John Lewis have found that 56% of orders for fashion are now from mobile devices and mobile is now the first point of interest even if the purchase is made elsewhere.

The company has therefore been investing not just in developing its mobile website but also mobile app experiences. As a result it regularly tops polls of mobile-friendly online retailers.

John Lewis has also added loyalty functionality to its app in August 2015. Whilst many companies have found creating a digital equivalent of a loyalty card difficult to achieve, John Lewis are experimenting with this and hope that it will gradually be able to wean some people off the plastic cards, and tie in in-store purchases to a customer’s online account via mobile loyalty functionality.

Apps can be utilised for numerous functionality and also vary in placement – most ‘apps’ are purchased through an ‘app store’ of sorts but other channels are opening their doors to the app market; like Facebook! Competitions or campaigns on Facebook can be hosted within a app format similar to the ‘Like me like my price’ campaign Xcite did for Pizza Express.

pizza express FB

Multichannel / omni channel

Retailers are making great advances in using multichannel marketing and some are pioneering the use of their digital agency to be responsible for both advertising and digital marketing strategy. The idea is that having one agency in charge will result in more coherent and impactful campaigns, both on and offline.

Christmas is the time when John Lewis excels at multichannel marketing. The annual John Lewis Christmas ad continues to makes a significant impact on television and is also phenomenally successful on social media. The combined reach of these channels has so far kept John Lewis at the top of the list when online shoppers are deciding where to go for their click-and-collect purchases at Christmas.

Yes it’s important to touch on as many different channels as possible but we appreciate not everyone has John Lewis’ £7m+ to spend on their Christmas campaigns. But fear not; whatever the budget there is always improvements that can be made.

A good example of a SME multichannel marketing campaign which Xcite have run would be that of Loans 2 Go where we ran a concurrent UX, SEO, PPC, Paid social ads, Social, Content, Email campaigns and Analytical analysis. By joining up the disparate channels and making sure users get consistent messaging the results speak for themselves.

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Many companies are realising the importance of placing increased emphasis on UX – user experience. For retailers it is essential to give potential buyers the best possible UX to ensure they make it as far as the checkout. One UK retailer that has attracted a lot of attention in this respect is Graze. Their website is visually appealing with good product imagery and it is abundantly clear what the company does. When it comes to choosing your product, there is a simple choice of three options, with a brief explanation under each one.

More established businesses are also increasing the emphasis on UX. Marks & Spencer has a current strategy of “putting the customer at the heart” and is putting in place many customer experience improvements both digitally and in store. There were many lessons to be learned by M&S from problems with its relaunched website in 2014, when many of the complaints that visitors made were about poor UX.

They included:

  • being unable to register on the site or reset their passwords
  • finding the navigation difficult to use
  • being unable to finding specific items that they wanted
  • if eventually able to place an order, then facing delivery problems – including items being delivered to the wrong address

There’s no denying that UX can assist with not only the overall user journey but also conversion levels of a site. However previously there has been a lot of importance placed on UX of e-commerce type platforms as opposed to a ‘shop window’ style site. Marketeers are now realising that UX is equally important for ANY site.

A good example of this is when the North Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group (NHCCG) approached us to help make their site more accessible, easier to traverse and help users find the information they need quickly. All of which we achieved!

nhccg homepage

Linking online to store

We saw above how Marks & Spencer are making a success of click and collect, where customers buy online and collect in store. This is a growing trend which has improved speed and convenience of the customer experience in many retail businesses.

Other stores are adding digital revenue streams into their stores. Boots has a mobile app to handle photo printing and collecting. Influenced by the success of its parent company Walgreens in this arena, the Boots app enables customers to select photos to print from either their camera roll or their social media photo albums. Their printed photos can then be picked up in an hour from their most convenient store.

This is a perfect example of a retailer adding a revenue stream that is mobile-first and also drives visitors to the store. The Boots app also handles appointment booking and online shopping and we can expect to see more technological innovation as Boots begins to develop in terms of multichannel sales and greater loyalty.

Whilst the examples mentioned in the above five strategies are from the retail sector, many of them are general digital marketing strategies that can be usefully applied to any type of business. At Xcite Digital we have experience of helping clients across a range of sectors improve their digital marketing strategy which usually includes several of the above elements.

We are experts in improving online conversion rates across each of the channels below: click here for more information, and to read more about some of our work click here:

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Whatever type of business you are running, an effective digital marketing strategy should be at the top of your priority list! Whilst the specifics may differ between your business and another, we recommend that you consider the above elements carefully to see how they could improve the success of your business.