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Navigating a "Bricks & Clicks" Holiday Season

Consider “brick-and-click” shopping – a hot topic for retailers, restaurants and luxury brands this holiday season. Whether it’s a national discounter, a boutique or gallery in Old Colorado City, a GAP mall store or a downtown eatery, all face the same challenge: how to build and maintain customer relationships and sales in a competitive tech-driven environment? 

Enter multi-channel or omni-channel marketing. Multi-channel promotion encompasses companies that sell through more than one channel, such as storefront locations, e-commerce, catalogues and kiosks. It is most often used by smaller companies.

Omni-channel – its more comprehensive cousin – usually applies to larger enterprises and involves data gathering and predictive analytics technology. From the 30,000-foot level, management can study trends, forecasts and how each piece of the business interrelates.

Examples include Walmart, Target and Costco – all of which can spend millions of dollars to create customer-friendly apps, add in-store e-commerce kiosks and provide direct-to-home shipping. Among restaurant chains, consider Panera Bread which spent $42 million last year to implement online and on-site tablet technology. So far the investment has paid off in both customer satisfaction and accelerated in-store and e-commerce sales.

But access to tracking and analytic technology – and the staff to manage it  – is expensive. Small companies simply don’t have the resources and time to manage elaborate platforms. Many local shop owners, restaurateurs and event venue managers are focused on just keeping up with walk-in traffic. That situation amplifies even more during the holidays when some retailers expect to generate more than half their annual revenues.

So how are local business owners planning to market during fourth quarter 2015 – and which marketing channels will they use most?

Luke Travins, co-owner of Concept Restaurants which includes The Ritz, two Jose Muldoon’s, Flatirons and Mackenzie’s Chop House, says his company began using Facebook and Twitter seven years ago or more. While he still buys print advertising, offers frequent visitor cards and promotes a growing Customer Loyalty program, his marketing is increasingly technology-dependent. 

Concept’s management sees social media as key to remaining relevant with its primary demographic – those 30 or older. Because Travins’ schedule is understandably tight with five restaurants to run, he has assigned online monitoring and social media marketing to his Flatirons general manager who regularly tweets and posts to Facebook and Instagram.  

“Maybe 10 to 15 percent of our customers rely on social media, but it’s what you do to keep up with the competition,” he says, noting that messaging volume varies from week to week.

This year, in addition to marketing to groups planning holiday parties, Concept will promote online gift cards and “shop and dine” promotions tied to events like the Festival of Lights Parade and the Acacia Park ice rink. Concept Restaurants will also increase the company’s presence on Instagram.

“Our customers like to interact when they see a picture of, say, a frothy drink or nice salmon dish. Sometimes they’ll post it to their friends. That daily contact works. It not only provides an online dialogue but helps us get a pulse on the market,” he says. “You’ll actually see the results in the restaurant.”

Sole proprietorships like Old Colorado City’s Hunter-Wolff Gallery also use aspects of multi-channel promotion with traditional advertising and art events. Gallery owner Sharon Wolff says technology’s role is not so much to sell paintings, sculpture and jewelry as to build and maintain customer loyalty.

“Galleries don’t usually put prices on their websites – we’d rather communicate with our customers and build a relationship,” she points out. As a result, her marketing focuses mostly on Facebook, phone, email, Constant Contact monthly newsletters to those who sign up, a website and a monthly blog. 

Since workdays include merchandising, unpacking or shipping inventory, and bookkeeping and customer service, any blogging or texts have to wait until after closing.

A former telecomm executive, Wolff evaluates not only the cost of the latest digital bells and whistles, but the time needed to keep information updated.

“It would take a strong ROI for me to invest. Will I get the value back? How quickly?” she asks.

Because social media can overwhelm, she aims for just two social media “touches” a month to avoid irritating customers who may “opt out.”

“Art is very personal. If you rely strictly on online marketing, it squelches the opportunity to meet and get to know your buyer. I like learning about my customers – whether they’re looking for a $100 or for a $10,000 piece,” she says. 

Both business owners agree the cost of multi-channel marketing – whether it’s about posts, coupons, emails, Instagram photos or a simple “thank you for your business”  – is worth it. 

“It’s vital to all of us,” says Travins.