Social Snapshot: UK retail and social media (Part 2: Toys)

Here’s the second snapshot in our sector-by-sector examination of how UK brands are performing in terms of social media. This chapter sees us move away from casual outdoor fashion that we wrote about last time to look at a different end of the retail spectrum… toy shops.

As every Facebook login shows, proud parents have colonised social media with pictures of their kids. Community portals like Mumsnet and Netmums have become powerhouses capable of influencing social policy. And the blogosphere is bursting with mummy diarists.

So toy shops have been blessed with a readymade social media audience; an audience that’s keen on sharing content and prone to analysing online reviews before committing to purchases. These retailers should be really taking advantage of this phenomenon, using social media to engage with toy-buying adults. The key social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) are as relevant here as they are for any consumer facing business.

But are toy retailers doing everything they should to improve social media visibility amongst their customers? We looked at seven different players that have good exposure in the UK – The Disney Store, Early Learning Centre, Hamleys, Smyths, The Entertainer, Toys R Us and Toymaster.

To get a general picture of their social media performances we looked at a number of different factors, including audience size, engagement levels, customer service, information and promotional techniques. Our analysis found two distinct camps: those that do social media well and those that require some work.

Group 1 – Those that do social media well (Early Learning Centre, Hamleys, Smyths and Toys R Us)

We were pleased to find that the retailers in this camp have made a significant investment in trying to make a success out of social media.

On Facebook, each shop has built up a decent fan page presence with a good sense of community and some solid experimentation when it comes to the network’s tab-based functionality. That said, there’s room for improvement. For example, competitions are better hosted through dedicated Facebook tabs to capture information for wider marketing purposes. Also, it’s vitally important to respond to each and every customer complaint; not only does this help improve relations with the individual customer – it shows the rest of the community that you really care.

Twitter is also used well by two members in this group: The Early Learning Centre and Hamleys. Smyths has only just started to use Twitter and Toys R Us has no dedicated UK presence on the site. These retailers would surely profit from the level of engagement that the others have benefited from? Both Smyths and Toys R Us need to find their voice on Twitter, engaging with the large and vocal parent community that exists on the site. Each retailer in this study needs to realise that Twitter is a vital customer service and feedback platform which could benefit their businesses in a really positive way.

It’s great to see, again with the exception of Toys R Us, that each toy retailer has developed a YouTube channel with a respectable number of views and selection of videos. Video content showcasing a toy’s benefits and functionality can obviously strike a chord with the target audience and further investment here would lead to greater engagement and audience uptake. Great content travels far across all social media.

Finally it is interesting to see that Google+ has been adopted by The Early Learning Centre, although there is little activity or engagement to date. The retailer, plus others in this snapshot, could benefit from exploring Google+ further.

Key recommendations for Early Learning Centre, Hamleys, Smyths and Toys R Us:

  1. Iron out social CRM procedures – every single customer question deserves a response so make sure you put the right processes in place
  2. Continue investment in innovative Facebook tabs and quality content to share with community – video and photography
  3. Toys R Us should establish a dedicated UK Twitter presence
  4. Other retailers should follow Early Learning Centre’s lead and develop a Google+ presence
  5. Ensure that accurate measurement and monitoring systems are in place, so that the true impact of social media on sales and revenue can be assessed

Group 2 – Those requiring some work (The Disney Store, The Entertainer and Toymaster).

This ‘must try harder’ group has some way to go in our opinion. Whilst The Entertainer and Toymaster are experiencing some social media teething problems, The Disney Store’s main issue stems from the international nature of its strategy.

The Disney Store has made an obviously large investment in social media and has a massive Facebook and Twitter following with 565,000 fans and 43,300 followers. This, however, is centralised through the store’s US HQ so activities do not relate to UK consumers and there is no UK outlet for customer service. Despite social media being a global phenomenon, consumers expect to have a dialogue at an individual level so it is worth regionalising some of the successes of The Disney Store’s wider strategy.

The Entertainer and Toymaster, on the other hand, have only just begun their social media journey. Both have a Facebook fan page with a small audience of around 1,000 fans, and despite a reasonable level of activity from the retailers, there is no real sense of whether the community is engaged. We found some clues suggesting neither retailer seems to be making a big investment in social media. Firstly, Facebook is the only platform being used and there is no real effort to make the pages a proper customer destination with engaging tabs and competitions. More crucially, however, their Facebook pages are not being promoted via their websites. If social media was a genuine priority for these retailers there would be more effort to promote its activities. Overall, there should be a far more concerted effort on their part to realise the true potential of social media.  This will take accountability, focus and commitment.

Key recommendations for The Entertainer and Toymaster

  1. Think about what your objectives are for social media – brand awareness, an increase in sales, providing a customer feedback channel etc.
  2. Develop a complete social media strategy that looks at all areas where customers are congregating online (not just Facebook) and which looks at integrating social media into the wider business
  3. Find out what people are saying about you and your sector online by implementing a good social media monitoring solution
  4. Learn from your competitors in the other group, to find out what is working for them, what is being said about them and how you can make improvements
  5. Think about how you are going to resource this – is there internal commitment?, do you have this expertise in-house?, is outside help needed to achieve the right outcome?

It is encouraging to see each toy retailer in this snapshot having made some effort to make sense of social media. With social media moving at such a fast pace, it is not entirely surprising that we found all of shops can make some improvements to get more out of social media. It is important for each retailer to continue to evaluate their strategy, optimise their output and to keep on top of the latest opportunities. Resting on your laurels should not be an option – you have to be really proactive to stay on ahead in one of the fastest evolving channels in the history of retail.

Jonny Rosemont is head of social media at search and social media agency, DBD Media.