Spielwarenmesse: How toy retailers connect with customers

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How toy retailers connect with customers

from Eva Stemmer und Jörg Meister

A practical example: there is a lot going on at the Hartfelder toy store in Hamburg-Bramfeld, Germany. The new store, located in a shopping centre, is the fifth operated by Nils and Julia Hartfelder in the Hamburg region. It was already announced in advance on Facebook that the shop would bring a special little feature to the centre: the toy store boasts an Olchi slide and is therefore THE new magnet for little customers. But the other Hartfelder stores also demonstrate an entrepreneurial bent, with hands-on activities and goods presentations, competitions and product specials.

These are all announced in both the stores themselves and online. The retailer currently employs someone for 20 hours a week to plan the activities and communicate them via social media. And the feedback relating to the online activities is increasing. According to Nils Hartfelder, the stream of visitors on event days is one proof of this.

The retailer sees an online presence as both a means of marketing and a service aimed at boosting customer loyalty. Nils Hartfelder firmly believes that personal customer contact is still a great advantage over online competitors, and this holds for the toy trade as well. Of course, he cannot compete with cut-throat online pricing given his trained specialist staff and expensive store space. But customers accept a slight premium over online prices.

Retailers can bring their advantages to play in the area of service

For much of the range, the brick-and-mortar specialist retailer is open to price comparisons, even if special ranges are presented in the stores to suit the respective location. So service is one area where the Hartfelder toy stores can really excel: by providing instant access to the goods, an opportunity to try them out, knowledgeable staff, an accommodating returns policy, gift boxes - and running a customer campaign in each store every fortnight at least. This is a tight programme, but one that really contributes to customer loyalty and satisfaction and keeps the retailer in the minds of customers.

So would it not make sense for Hartfelder to operate its own online store as well and promote this via social media? This approach does not appeal much to Nils Hartfelder: you could not offer products online at the prices you need to achieve in-store. This can be seen in, among other places, the listing in the online shop run by the specialized trade association duo schreib&spiel: only items of the respective cheapest provider are bought there as well. This makes the association’s website a good place to sell off stock at a reduced price but not a strong business pillar. “And packing up parcels for shipping, paying shipping costs, checking returns”, says Hartfelder, “simply isn’t as much fun as directly handing over to the customer a toy packaged as a gift.”

The Internet as a tool for customer dialogue

For Hartfelder, the Web is therefore more a means of communication rather than a sales channel. It takes time to communicate professionally. However, once you get up to speed, it becomes clear that communicating via social media is not a one-way street. You can discern which type of communication, which activities and which content go down well and not only increase customer loyalty but also attract consumers into the store. Any questions and ideas can be responded to on the fly so that customers feel personally attended to and as though they are being taken seriously.

For brick-and-mortar retailers looking for a way to go online, this is definitely an interesting option:
they do not have to sell the same things online and offline as long as the range offered online is comparable to that of the competition. A cheaper alternative is often just a click away and this can quickly turn having your own online store into an expensive hobby.

Nevertheless, toy retailer Christian Krömer from Schrobenhausen, Germany, says: “The customer expects this of us - even if I have to accept I am not going to earn money with an online shop. I will actually have to pay out money for it in the end. You have to view this as a service and appeal to existing customers with your offering.”

The right communication channel for connecting with customers

However, online communication with customers is much cheaper to implement. Retailers can score here with what they are known for: service, a focus on the individual customer and turning the physical purchase experience into an event.

Facebook is just one of many possible channels in this regard. It is important that retailers find the right channel to suit them and keep it regularly updated, in a genuine manner. This might be Snapchat or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or a combination of several platforms: it all depends on where your customers hang out and where you can best showcase your content. Even messaging services such as WhatsApp are a useful tool in the repertoire.

 

We have branches in which 70% of orders are handled via WhatsApp. Customers send screenshots of online retailers and ask the store whether we have this item in stock. Completely different customer/staff relationships can be built through this. This is one very simple element in our overall approach to how we deal with customers, and demonstrates that we as retailers have to speak the customers’ language if we are to get through to them.

Christian Krömer, Spielwaren Krömer

Krömer continues: “My father already told me a saying many years ago: you have to move with the times, or you’ll get left behind.”

Time will surely show whether every contemporary online manifestation endures. But early adopters of a multichannel strategy who take an authentic and careful approach to choosing the means and channels of communication will find the subsequent hurdles are not quite so high.

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