Should retailers be preparing to engage with social media-savvy audiences as series six of The Great British Bake Off gets underway this week?

Over the last six years, retailers have been feeling the 'Mary Berry' effect from this ever-popular TV show. John Lewis claimed The Great British Bake Off was behind its increased sales in food mixers and last year Waitrose reported a 25% year-on-year increase in home baking sales during the final episode. The grocer also reported increased sales of cake decorating ingredients by 40% and other baking ingredients including ginger was up 180%, while the showstopper statistic was a 178% increase in sales of fondant icing.

And those customers who did not fancy the challenge of whipping up a batch of Paul Hollywood's custard tarts, headed to the bakery. Last year sales of Waitrose cakes rocketed, with those cakes featured in the final – Victoria sponge and lemon tarts –  increasing by 42% and 75% respectively.

Argos has also benefitted from customers wanting to perfect their signature bakes. Lee Tinsley, buying manager at Argos, said: “We expect the Great British Bake Off to get the nation baking just like it has done in previous years. During last year’s show, we saw items such as food processors, stand mixers and bread makers surge in popularity as the show captured people’s imaginations and encouraged them to roll up their sleeves and have a go at baking.”

These sales increases are unsurprising as figures from Mintel stated 12% of people are inspired to buy kitchen homewares if they saw them on television.

Daniel Todaro, managing director at field marketing agency Gekko, said: "It’s that time of year again where we turn into a nation of obsessed bakers. Since the show’s launch, its audience has widened from 2 million to pull in 13.5 million viewers last year, and this is only expected to rise. With every workstation modelling the latest must-have kitchen appliances and gadgets, retailers need to be well-prepared for the British ‘bake-off effect’ to meet peak season demand.

'#GBBO digital strategy'

But as well as preparing for the baking craze by lining shelves with an abundance of baking products, retailers should also be thinking about their '#GBBO digital strategy'.

“As soon as the show launches this week the number of social media interactions commenting on The Great British Bake Off is going to be huge," added Todaro. "And when it comes to popular shows like this, it is important that brands have mini digital strategies in place to ensure they’re not missing out on key sales opportunities.”

Rebecca Marks, retail consultant at Conlumino, told Essential Retail there is definitely a clear link between sales of kitchen products and the timing of The Great British Bake Off show. But she points to Sainsbury's which last year reported a big peaks in online sales of baking equipment between 7-9pm on days the show was being aired.

"And it's not necessarily the equipment – Mary Berry last year wore a bomber jacket from M&S which sold out during the show," she added.

The technical challenge for retailers is engaging with The Great British Bake Off audience on social media. And Marks said retailers should be using Twitter because the TV show has such a strong following.

Last year MHP Digital monitored the show's Twitter activity and discovered a 217% increase in mentions of The Great British Bake Off during series five. As of today, the official Twitter account for The Great British Bake Off has tweeted over 100,000 times and has 272,000 followers.

"This audience is watching more than one screen at a time," explained Marks. "And The Great British Bake Off is good at taking advantage of that."

Marks pointed to House of Fraser's digital strategy last year, which took advantage of the final, by tweeting a competition to win a KitchenAid if customers tweeted who they thought was going to win The Great British Bake Off.

"Even if they don't win the KitchenAid, they realise House of Fraser sells them and brings attention to their website," she said.

So far this year, Lakeland has attempted to stir up excitement by posting an image of the contestants on Instagram, while John Lewis told Essential Retail it has no firm plans to engage with the show, but it "always looks to engage when popular programmes are on TV typically on a reactive basis".

Authentic engagement

But Andrew Grill, global managing partner at IBM Social Consulting, said retailers need to be authentic with their social engagement.

"Socially Savvy consumers can see an automated tweet or Facebook post a mile off, and so brands need to treat social media as a conversation, something they would be comfortable having down at the pub. This means that brands cannot simply follow a formula, they need to fully understand not only the language of social, they also need to be in tune with the programme they are talking about.

"Knowing how to engage with viewers of a cookery programme that they may have no association with is a fine art, and the end result isn't always a call to action to simply buy a retailer's products," he added. "The 'cool factor' from knowing when and how to engage on social may lead to a longer term association with a brand than a simple product sale."

Marks agreed: "I think retailers need to also get involved in the fun too, such as uploading photos of what has been baked in head office and consumers will then want to know what products have been used."

Don't forget the store

But she warned Great British Bake Off retail strategies should not ignore the store. "Three quarters of consumers still shop in store for baking goods, so employees need to be aware of what has been featured on the programme, as consumers will come into store looking for certain products –  it's about building consumer loyalty as well."

Gekko's Todaro agreed: “With an ever increasing ‘I want it now’ culture, customers will expect to walk into a store and get their latest baking must-have straight away. To meet expectations, it’s not just about preparing and managing stock levels in-store, but enhancing the customer journey as a whole. If sales staff are unfamiliar with the show’s latest product range, how to sell these items or they’re out of sync with the latest promotions, then they’re missing a trick which will affect sales."

So retailers, in the words of presenters Sue and Mel:  "On your marks... get set... BAKE!"

Series six of The Great British Bake Off starts on Wednesday 5 August at 8pm on BBC1.