Social Snapshot: UK retail and social media: (Part 4: Booksellers, Card Shops, Jewellers and Opticians)

Foyles book store at 113–119 Charing Cross Road, London, EnglandBefore our analysis of social media performance moves on to examine fresh territory, we thought it’d be prudent to round off our look at UK high street retailers’ use of social media by putting not one, but four, retail sectors under the DBD Media knife: card shops, jewellers, booksellers and opticians. This broad range gives an overarching indication of how successfully – and seriously – the space is being used by the retail sector.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that retailers are dropping like flies. It seems that every week a different household name goes into administration – Borders, Habitat, MFI, Oddbins, Woolworths, Game…the list goes on. At the risk of stating the obvious, many in the retail sector are struggling due to the combined effects of the economic downturn and the shift to online.

But many retailers are also bucking the trend.  How are they doing this?  They are refining their retail propositions and investing in digital – both traditional online and mobile. The most successful are making sure they develop an informed social media strategy that covers owned, paid and earned channels.

So, how well do our chosen subsectors stand up to the theory?

Booksellers

Here we’ve looked at W H Smith, Waterstones, Foyles and Blackwell’s.

It is no surprise to find that W H Smith, a retailer whose financial woes have been well reported, has shown very little investment in social media.  By failing to have a social media presence to promote its products and services to today’s consumer, they are not dispelling the idea that they’re struggling to adapt to the modern retail environment.

Waterstones (35,000 Facebook fans, 40,000 Twitter followers) and Foyles (5,000 Facebook, 12,000 Twitter), on the other hand, are doing some great things in social media, confidently showing that there is still life in books and interest beyond the rise of the Amazon Kindle and e-books. Both are harnessing their communities’ love of books and encouraging a significant amount of dialogue.

Blackwell’s, the other company we looked at, has managed to build up a reasonable sense of community with its 5,000 Twitter followers but it could be doing a lot more to exploit the well-established relationship it has with the UK’s student body. Blackwell’s absence on Facebook represents a real missed opportunity.

Card Shops

With the exception of one company – Cards Galore – there is a degree of consistency between the other high street retailers in this space.

Paperchase, Clinton Cards, Scribbler and Hallmark have each built a reasonably-sized community on both Facebook and Twitter. Clinton Cards leads the way with 13,500 Facebook fans and 5,400 Twitter followers, although Paperchase is hot on their heels.

For each card retailer, there is a good level of engagement with people responding well to competitions, polls, product pushes and other tactics.

Jewellers

Of the jewellers we analysed, Links of London is evidently doing some things right with an audience of nearly 60,000 Facebook fans and over 7,500 Twitter followers. That said, and given the size of this audience, you’d expect the business to be more engaged with its fans. Perhaps people are deterred by the significant focus on pushing product? This is a good reminder that social media is about intimacy… soft sell, not hard sell.

Other household names like H Samuel, Goldsmiths and Ernest Jones have garnered a social media audience of a moderate size but another retailer, F Hinds, is lagging way behind with just 93 Facebook fans and 330 Twitter followers.

Opticians

We have much admiration for Specsavers which has evidently made significant strides in social media. Its investment is paying off in the form of impressive audiences: 70,000 Facebook fans, 6,500 Twitter followers and over three million YouTube views. The retailer has even experimented with developing interesting Facebook gaming apps that cleverly relate back to their blockbusting TV commercials, for example: creating an ‘Angry Chef’ game (a nice play on ‘Angry Birds’) to complement its Gordon Ramsay ‘Sauna’ campaign.

Alas, the same cannot be said for other high street opticians. Vision Express, David Clulow and Optical Express have all developed a social media presence but there is little engagement from their respective communities.

Conclusion

Despite the on-going industry chatter saying how beneficial social media is to retailers, it leaves me slightly alarmed to conclude that the sector, with the exception of a few leading lights, is failing to properly grasp the opportunities represented by the meteoric growth in social media. The majority of retailers appear to be dabbling, but with little direction. It’s ironic, really, that a sector so affected by the current economic climate is looking this gift horse in the mouth.

As shown by the social media success stories in this and our previous posts on the retail sector, it’s clear that social media really does ‘work’. So why aren’t the majority of retailers fully exploiting this medium? For me, this simply boils down to one important point: education. Retailers need to be educated on the realities of social media. They need to understand that, for a relatively small upfront investment, social media will, in the long-term, make them more money and buy real brand loyalty.  This will be critical to future success. Dive in and find out.

Jonny Rosemont is head of social media at search and social media agency, DBD Media (www.dbdmedia.co.uk)