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Screen-to-screen customer service boosting indies

Screen-to-screen interaction has become the new face-to-face customer service in retail, particularly as the number of people using mobile devices to search for and buy products has grown. The success of the third annual Independent Retailer Month (IRM) in July suggests that the independently-owned shops in the UK are adapting to this trend just as well as some of the bigger industry players.

Clare Rayner, who helped launch IRM in the UK in 2011 as a vehicle for encouraging consumers to support their local communities and boost flagging high street footfall, says that the companies embracing new technologies are those maintaining the traditional connection between shop and shopper.

"In my experience some of the better examples of online engagement of consumers have been delivered by independent boutique retailers," she explained to Essential Retail.

"Typically the store team are empowered to chat to customers via social media in exactly the way they would with friends or shoppers in the store. It makes for a very strong level of engagement, increasing customer loyalty and trust."

Rayner cited 25Ten Boutique in Greater Manchester and The Dressing Room in St Albans as being particularly adept at using social media "to become a friend" of their local customers, and this is essentially due to the fact that they have embraced technology and not treated the digital revolution as competition to their bricks and mortar business.

She added: "Social media is now part of their core customer communications approach, and they are aware that their customer is online, on mobile, all the time – so if they want to make sure that customer looks no further they need to also be available 24-7 to answer their questions via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc."

IRM came to an end on Wednesday 31 July, and Rayner said the campaign has received "unanimously positive" feedback. If nothing else, the initiative raised awareness of the work done by local shops and it actively helped small businesses with the likes of marketing collateral and tech guidance in fields such as social media.

British Retail Consortium and Google recently published research that showed total retail search volumes grew 15% in the second quarter of 2013, compared with the same quarter a year earlier. The interesting point about this figure, though, is that search volumes on tablet devices outpaced those on any other device – increasing 132% year on year.

The fact the number of searches made on smartphone devices jumped a huge 66% compared to the same period in 2012 further highlights the way in which consumers are choosing to find out information about retail.

The industry is going mobile, and there is still huge growth potential in terms of engaging with consumers through these platforms. For retailers in the UK – whether they are an independent or a multiple – mobile is a focus area that demands some attention.

Summing up the current environment, Rayner remarked: "It’s an extension of the old-fashioned 'nothing is too much trouble' face-to-face service we all remember from the traditional high street retailers of our childhoods, except these are modern retailers, who still deliver that service, but now it’s not just face to face, it's screen to screen.

"Whether the screen is on the move or not is academic, it's the approach to their customers, with online and mobile the medium, that matters."