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How can local retailers engage their community?

local retailersCustomer relationships are vital for all retailers. For small businesses, however, their local community are the lifeblood of their business.

While they may gain some national reach through online platforms, local custom can be the difference between success and failure. But how can small, local retailers compete with bigger, national and global competitors in their locality?

A local first initiative is all about engaging the community in meaningful ways. It’s about creating strong connections that will create brand advocates that: spend longer instore, bring repeat business and recommend new customers through word of mouth referrals. In this guide, we will look at some ways local retailers can create and engage local customers.

Instore and offline engagement

Creating a feeling of community around your retail store begins with relatability and authenticity. One of the biggest advantages local businesses have over big corporations is their familiarity and connections within the local community. You have a face and personality behind the business that a customer can get to know on a personal level.

To relate to your customers, you need to know who they are, what they want and need from you and the things you both care about to draw important parallels for an authentic connection. Invest in getting to know your customers and community, go to where they are, and build long-standing relationships through shared experiences and causes. This includes running and attending events, raising money for charity, using your store as a venue for a local club or event or sponsorships such as paying for the kit for the local sports team. All this positive exposure can be truly cost-effective in localised areas.

You can get to know your customers through questionnaires and surveys, general conversations and instore competitions, for example. Relatability can also be reflected through quality customer service where assistants get to know your customers and can recall things about them like their name or items that will complement their last purchase.

You want to show that you care about building connections just as much as selling products and services. Showcase this with loyalty schemes, referral and membership programmes, discount codes or free gifts that not only encourage repeat business but make customers feel valued. You may even consider doing some regular outreach, heading out into the local community to hand out samples or discount flyers to encourage more store traffic.

Online engagement

Engagement can be strengthened through multiple (but relevant) communication platforms, allowing your customers to get in touch and engage with you however is convenient for them. This comes from brand platforms as well as collaborating with external sources.

Show your connection with local causes by sharing them alongside branded posts on your social media, documenting your online and offline efforts. Show your support for local first by sharing other businesses posts as well; encouraging reciprocal sharing practices could put you in front of more local customers. Just be sure that everything you share feeds into your brand ethos and identity.

Other ideas for online engagement include creating and sharing content that places you within the community such as at local events. Create social media adverts that target your local audience with a clear message about what you offer the local community and a call-to-action to engage with your business.

Community bases

External sources also include hubs for communities such as organised events and specialised forums and sites. For example, adding yourself to and utilising the packages of local business directory sites will not only build authoritative links to your site, improving site visibility but will add brand awareness to customers looking to convert. What’s more, some community sites will have recommendation features that allow customers to engage directly with the company, offering praise and constructive feedback that can be utilised by the business.

Do a little research online to see what platforms and groups have great engagement rates in the community and get involved. Make your voice and messages known in genuine ways to encourage two-way conversation between you and potential customers. Remember: if your outreach feels like it’s just a way to only benefit your business, people will realise this. They also don’t like users who spam. It’s all about creating a sense of community around common values and interests that will nurture a sense of advocacy for local retailers, supported by a strong brand identity.

Consult the experts

If you need a little help with marketing to your local audience, get in touch with the experts. Consult guides online, review the benefits and costs of services that target local audiences, join networking groups or even sit down with digital marketing specialists to take your local marketing to the next level.

By Yellow Trumpet, a local marketing expert with a directory and recommendation site for North Devon.