Leveraging Vacant Shop Windows

The recession is hitting the High Street like nothing we’ve ever seen or are likely to see again. It’s a sort of High Street teraforming. A High Streetageddon.

Businesses with more than one store in a city are finding it hard to justify the premium of rent and have begun to reduce overheads by closing the doors on the less profitable outlets.

In the rush to shut stores a lot of the big brands are missing a trick. What I’m about to suggest won’t massively affect their sales or boost conversion but it is useful to their customers. It will help promote a better image of the company and hopefully loyalty.

For example, in response to severe problems, AllSaints have cut their portfolio of stores. Glasgow has gone from having three stores within two minutes walk of one another to having one store on the busiest shopping street in Glasgow: Buchanan Street.

Closed Store, Open to Misunderstanding

Here are their Google Places listings in the SERPS. Seem’s they’ve forgotten to update their listings and mark their stores as closed.

All Saints SERPS

All Saints local search listings in Google Places

A tourist or visitor to Glasgow, or someone who is less aware of their surroundings, might not realise that two AllSaints stores are closed and have been for some time.

That potential customer has a couple of options when arriving at a store which is closed. Break out Google maps on their mobile and tour each location until they find the one which is open or  just give up and go shopping at their next favourite brand.

With the economy the way it is, it is absolutely possible that if someone saw one store closed they could make the assumption that the company is gone entirely and move on to their competitor.

How can companies help the customer find them?

It’s simple and almost embarrassing when you think about it. Tell the person the location of their nearest open store. And if they don’t have one in the area point them to the online shop.

OK. That’s easy. Couple of vinyl window stickers and BOOM you’re sorted and many stores already do this.

Not exactly contemporary, though, is it? You can do so much better.

Drive traffic, enhance the experience

Here’s a list of things you’ll need:

  • QR Code
  • Google Maps
  • Landing Page
  • Call To Action

QR codes are free, Google Maps is free, landing pages are not free but aren’t particularly expensive. Calls to action – a good copywriter will nail this fast.

Here’s the current window:

allsaints shop window

I would have done something  like this:

new allsaints window

Use the the QR code on the left and you go to a bespoke landing page on the website which gives customers the nearest location, plus walking time, and a map with directions.

allsaints landing page

What makes the difference for the customer – the one person who can get you out of these tough times – is that you’ve done all you can to help them find what they are looking for. Just as a friendly retail assistant would do in store.

The customer will feel that you care. You understand what they want.

All I’m suggesting is common sense. I’d like to see more retailers adopt this (obviously some can’t due to contractual obligations with the unit) and do more to help customers spend their money with them and not their competitor.

Read more about High Street chain store closures in this morning’s BBC.

What is Content Marketing?

I’m not looking to write the definitive answer on what content marketing is, rather, just give a brief insight into what I see it as and some of the benefits it can bring to companies.

Content marketing seems to be an easy to topic to write blog posts about but a difficult thing to do in real life….or more specifically, difficult to persuade business owners to spend money on!

While TV adverts can cost millions to make and the same again in media costs, this is an accepted part of marketing (or advertising) and is easy to talk to business owners about. TV makes phones ring, drives visitors to websites and builds brands, there’s a million Power Point presentations on its effectiveness and people understand it. ‘Content marketing’ can be a similar beast but there’s still a lot of unknowns that can put people off.

Someone could come and sell me a TV ad costing £X to make and £Y to buy advertising slots with. The Power Point and Excel graphs could then tell me that Z number of people will see the ad and we can then work out the value of this based on thousands of other bits of research. What if, however, we were to make a movie/song/graphic/game and then use the internet to distribute it and drive people to your website or shop? This seems like a great idea because we can ditch the expensive TV campaigns and reinvest in even better content.

As an aside, it’s true that the best TV ads can live on for decades and the invention of YouTube means that they can keep building your brand forever.

So, what if we were to create content that isn’t an advert and is just entertaining and/or educational for our customers? The best way to describe this is really to look at some examples…..


Palladium Boots – This content is so good that you should just click on the link, go to their site and learn more about cities from around the world than you will from any travel guide! Seriously, go and do it now! Their main way of distributing the movies was through their own site but their YouTube channel still has over 1.8m views. These aren’t just views of people who see a TV ad in passing, a lot of these people will have sought out the movies or been referred via Facebook (lots of them from me) and actually WANT to watch them. From this (I’m guessing significant) investment, Palladium Boots have managed to

  • build themselves a lot of links and social shares (I thought I should try and tie this back into SEO) and by the looks of it, this wasn’t even why they did it. I think they could have actually got lots more links if they had pushed the content more.
  • They have also created a reason to go to their brand site rather than just go to another footwear retailer with a selection of brands
  • Made me want to buy their products even thought it’s not the kind of footwear that I’d normally want to buy

It would be great to hear more about how this was sold into the company and what effect it has had on sales. If you’re reading this and know anyone over at Palladium Boots then please put them in touch.


GoPro – These guys are so good at creating content, getting people to create content for them and distributing it around the internet, that it’s hard to know where to begin! Now, it helps when you company builds video cameras but their YouTube channel has over 200m views, their Facebook pages has over 4.4m likes and a email database that must be huge due to their ‘everything we make daily giveaway’. This is so clever because they’ve given people a reason to follow them and then shown them thousands of reasons to buy their products. Like Palladium Boots, I doubt these campaigns have been targeted at SEO/ link building, but because they are so worth watching, they have built links and built the brand at the same time!


This takes me on to the point that I think lots of people are missing about content marketing; it’s not just about search engines, it’s about making your company or product stick out as the expert in it’s field, the best place to shop for products or information and a real company with real people and real lives. This is something that Nicholas Woodman of GoPro does really well as he’s so passionate about the product and what can be done with it – he doesn’t just hide away behind marketing teams or boardrooms.


Now all of these concepts and ideas are great if you are an international company with big budgets and an amazing new product to sell, what if you are a small company with a less innovative product?

Hint: you can do more than start a blog!


Dales Cycles – I’ve chosen to look at this local Glasgow company as they have started down the content marketing route but haven’t quite gone all the way. They have two pages of blog posts going back to March 2012, most of which have pictures or YouTube videos of products they sell or people they sponsor. The content looks decent enough to a non cycling enthusiast but it’s not the kind of stuff that would really attract me to the site. They also have 25 videos in their YouTube channel which again, look more OK than amazing.

So what could a smallish company like this do? He’re a few ideas of the top of my head that I think could make them even more of a destination both online and offline:

  • Product videos. You don’t need to show every bike out in its natural environment but a short product video would be really good to get a better idea how it looks. Having this presented by an actual expert/enthusiast would be even more valuable. I know some people will think “why make a video for online when the viewer will just go and buy it from the cheapest shop”, and I would answer with “because it gets them to your site in the first place or stops them leaving your site and going to one with videos.
  • Expert videos. I’m only an occasional cycler and as such I know hardly a thing about maintenance or tuning my bike. If Dales were to have videos showing me how to change a tyre or fix my chain (I mean really good ‘how to’ videos) then I could buy the parts from them and do it myself. Since I’m a bit rubbish at that kind of job then I would probably still take the bike in to them to get the work done, but at least the videos would show me how good their experts are and I’d probably share them with the next person I talked to about bike maintenance.
  • Get photos of every cycling event in the country and host them on the company site. Hire a photographer or pay the expenses of the guys who already go to the events, get them to photograph every cyclist as they cross the finish line, stick up a banner that tells everyone where the pictures will be hosted and Bob’s your uncle, every competitive cyclist in the country (and beyond) is visiting your site and quite probably linking to it too.

There’s loads more content ideas that you could do with a company like Dales, it’s just a case putting yourself in the mind of a customer and thinking about what you would be interested in seeing. The greatest thing is that you’re not just creating content for the purpose of feeding the Google SEO machine, you’re actually helping your customers AND getting the SEO benefit!


Still, Dales Cycles are quite a big company and have staff, resources and marketing budgets, YOUR company might not have these things. Can you still do content marketing and make it profitable? Yes!!!

You know how spammers sign up to forum,  answer a question slightly related to their clients site and add a link? You can  do this without being a spammer and can make yourself seen as an expert in front of a captive audience desperate for your knowledge. I’ve seen this done really well on motoring forums, green energy forums, fitness forums and tech forums. Using a slightly more modern method, Oliver Emberton answers self help type questions on Quora and has built a following of people desperate to read about his methods of self improvement. After one of his posts went viral he was approached about book, tv and film rights for the novel he is writing.

If one man in his office can get a movie deal by sharing his expertise online, think about the amazing things that you can do with you business…..

High Street VS Internet: Round 1

With the recent demise of Jessops and HMV, there has been a lot of talk of how the internet is killing the high street and how terrible it is that we’re going to be left with ghost towns. It would be difficult to argue that the high street isn’t changing but I think ‘dying’ is over dramatising it and blaming the internet is missing half the story.

The internet is a very versatile place to do business and it has created businesses that could never have sprung up except in the biggest cities around the world.  Whatever your hobby, whatever niche you are interested in, there is a site you can buy the supplies you need and maybe even chat with people with similar tastes.  But, even in the short period that the internet has been around it has changed a lot and this has almost mirrored what has happened in the high street.

Offline shopping habits have changed from a similar situation of small niche shops to big out of town hyper stores that sell everything you could ever need.  Most local butchers and bakers disappeared decades ago as this business transferred to the supermarkets. Once they had secured this market they moved on to magazines, CDs, movies, greetings cards, electronics goods, clothes – do we see a pattern here that reflects the high street chains that have closed in the last few years?

So, where does the internet fit in and what trends have been happening there? Well the internet has clearly added to the pressure on the high street. Price transparency has been the real killer here! High street shops were able to make good profit margins on products because it was neigh on impossible to compare prices with their rivals. This created a perfect storm that flipped profitability from traditional shops to websites; shops had overheads and an audience limited by their location, websites could have low rent warehouses in the middle of nowhere and the whole world as their potential customers. For many companies, however, it didn’t have to be this way, they could have joined in the party much earlier, established themselves on the internet and made the switch to 21st century trading.

Here’s some examples of where it went wrong and some companies who did it right.


HMV – Were late to start trading online (compared to other sites anyway), did not have price policy where online and offline were joined up, did nothing to take advantage of their stores to take on and beat Amazon.

Jessops – Did not use their position as experts to answer the questions of people on the internet. This comes at a time when photography and DSLR cameras are more popular as ever and complete novices are buying expensive bits of kit. These people could have been better served by shops they could have kept going back to answer questions of + a great website that would have helped them become a better photographer + the option of classes/lessons in stores. There are offers on daily deals sites for photography classes every other week – the demand was there!

Comet – I suspect that Comet could have made a successful transition to internet trading if they hadn’t been lumbered with so many stores around the country that still had long leases left to run. They had a pretty decent site, not the best but OK. In their case it looks like the business model as a whole that failed, rather than their internet plans not being good enough. They came under pressure from lower cost rivals and they concentrated too long on the low profit margin products while missing out on the race to sell high end, high tech goods.


Who did it right?


Schuh – Taking what they did well on the high street and doing it even better on the internet. A very focused buying department, shops that are constantly renovated to appeal to their target market, staff that are 100% focused on customer service and priced at the right way to make sales and make profits. Although the Schuh stores and website might not always be the cheapest place to buy a pair of Converse, customers know that they will get fast delivery, easy returns and the latest styles – not things you can guarantee if you buy from Amazon!

Scan – OK, they aren’t a high street store (they have one store) but they have been around since 1987 and have transitioned their business to trade online and compete in a marketplace that is dominated by Amazon and customers looking to buy at the very lowest price. How did they compete then? They became experts in their field,they show people they are always ahead of the tech curve, they have best customer service in their market and they use the supermarket technique of selling ‘loss leaders’ to get people through the door.


This, however, is not the end of the story as the internet is evolving much faster than the story of the high street. Amazon is the Tesco of the online world and is gobbling up the markets that lots of smaller websites used to turn a profit on.

We’ll follow on from this story soon and talk about how retailing is changing online…