Chatrooms aren’t just for the lonely they’re great for communicating with retailers, writes TAN PARSONS
Online chatrooms may have a reputation for giving solace to lonely housewives and househusbands but they’re now proving a useful way to encourage best practice and better communication among wholesalers, retailers and their suppliers.
It “absolutely” grows loyalty among customers, says Booker’s retail sales director Steve Fox, describing the wholesaler’s new online forum. Launched a few weeks ago, the forum allows Premier retailers to log in and post a thread to which other retailers and key people at Booker can respond.
It means the wholesaler joins the likes of Nisa, which already has an online forum, while at least two other symbol groups are set to launch similar services for their members this summer.
“There are well over 600 people using it regularly and it puts the three important parts together – retailers, suppliers and our colleagues at Booker,” says Fox.
7 REASONS TO HOST CHATS
- KEEP YOUR FINGER ON THE PULSE: A forum allows retailers to post threads to which other retailers can respond, helping you to keep close to your customers’ issues.
- PROVIDE A SUPPORT NETWORK: Retailers can share top tips on and suggestions for doing business better – you and suppliers can also chip in to the discussion.
- DEVELOP A POOL OF KNOWLEDGE: If you have customers with specialist areas of expertise, make them mentors and offer other customers the chance to liaise with them online.
- GO NATIONAL: Retailers from across the country post advice on Booker’s retailer forum, helping customers to benefit from a wealth of experience.
- GET YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: It’s not just retailers that benefit from online chatrooms – you can also post questions and get quick feedback from your customers.
- DRIVE TRAFFIC TO YOUR WEBSITE: Attracting retailers to your website has got to be a good thing – and who’s to say they won’t stop to shop afterwards?
- INSPIRE CUSTOMER LOYALTY: Hosting an online chat forum is just another way to tap into customers’ constant search for ‘added value’.
“We are seeing some great success – retailers helping retailers, putting up their top tips and suggestions for doing business better. It’s a chance for them to have their say and we have the chance to listen to them and respond – it’s about working together.”
With a slightly different take on the idea, Musgrave symbol group Londis has just made live its online retailer mentoring programme. Retailers can sign up to become mentors with specific specialities, provided they meet certain criteria based on their experience and business performance.
Other retailers have access to the mentors in their regions through the group’s website and can contact them by phone or email to arrange next steps. “Through discussions with our retailers we have learnt that the retailer community is a powerful one and sharing knowledge is key,” says Gita Kahlon, brand implementation manager at Musgrave Retail Partners.
“Helping our retailers grow their business is vital to us. We recognise that we need to work together – retailers working together and Musgrave working with retailers – to achieve this.”
The group has also launched The Londis Voice, an online ‘community panel’ that allows it to put questions to its retail members and get quick feedback. David Morris, Nisa’s head of IT and e-commerce, says the ability for retailers to share experiences, best practice and general ideas about trading and innovation through the company’s web forum has been a success.
“Many retailers are indebted to colleagues who can articulate their experiences of retailing, which ultimately improves business all round,” he says. “Understanding the challenges retailers face and getting a mass of feedback helps Nisa understand the best way to assist the retailer and, ultimately, the consumer.”
However, he also warns that any wholesalers looking to launch something like this for their own customers should be careful not to regard it as a replacement for traditional contact – a forum is not a substitute for existing processes such as helpdesk functions, plus any debates should be positive, constructive and monitored well by the wholesaler to ensure they do not lose focus.
Suppliers have also caught on to the idea of giving retailers extra ways to contact each other online. Imperial Tobacco has relaunched its website with an additional function that lets retailers publicly comment on articles about industry news and share them with their friends and associates by email or using social media.
Although not a full forum as such, it is a way of giving retailers ‘ownership’ of online content, according to Imperial Tobacco’s digital communications executive Neil Rooke.
He said: “If someone reads an article they want to pass comment on, or say they agree with or disagree with they can do that now on our website.
“If a retailer sees an article about tobacco legislation, for example, they can say ‘This is a story that matters to me and I want people in my community to act’.
“The benefit for us of offering those comment and sharing options is that they drive traffic to our website and also allow us to get closer to our customers. Retailers can give us instant and valuable feedback.”