In this series of retail focused articles, we explore opportunities offered to retailers by trends and innovations online and in tech.

In his November budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer encouraged retailers to prove the negative forecasts about the British economy wrong. Amid the doom and gloom of falling consuming spending, here is one example of how high street retailers are finding new ways to engage with consumers.

#wdyt – encouraging high street retailers to engage online

80% of retail spend is projected to be offline by 2020, but 50% of that spend will be influenced by a digital experience.

74% of high street retailers do not have an active social media presence and 40% have no online presence at all.

#wdyt (what do you think) is a government endorsed pilot scheme, which is teaching high street retailers, towns and cities how to use social media to engage with new consumers, via the “wdyt” hashtag, to increase online influence, footfall and, consequently, revenue.

There is, of course, nothing new about retailers using social media to advertise their wares. However, the unusual aspect of the #wdyt scheme is the emphasis on collaboration between all retailers in a particular area (including competitors) in creating a cohesive digital marketing campaign by, for example by sharing news about one another or by running joint promotional events and local marketing opportunities.

Since February 2017, the scheme has been piloted in various towns in Gloucestershire, including Cheltenham, Gloucester, Stroud and Tewkesbury. By October, participating towns observed increases in average weekly footfall of 22%.

Examples of other successes of the scheme include:

  • By October, Cheltenham had climbed from 23rd to 11th in the UK Digital Influence Index and Gloucester had climbed from 50th to 12th (above Liverpool, Cardiff, Newcastle, Oxford and Bath);
  • Fashion retailers Ted Baker and Raging Bull reached out to over 20,000 new shoppers in one week;
  • Market Harborough recorded a 33% increase in year-on-year footfall, following a concerted effort by local retailers to promote one another online.

The scheme illustrates a clear link between digital activity and local footfall. Evidently proactivity and collaboration has been successful in providing high street retailers with opportunities to engage with a wider audience of potential customers.

However, it is notable that the results published so far refer only to increases in footfall and social media engagement. It is not clear from the information available whether the scheme has increased the revenues of the retailers who engaged in the campaign.

Clearly the scheme won’t put retailers on a level playing field with the vast marketing power of major online retailers, such as Amazon. However, the scheme does provide high street retailers with an opportunity to engage with and target consumers on a more local, and therefore personable, level.

While some would argue that the Internet is killing the high street, the #wdyt initiative illustrates that embracing social media provides independent retailers with new opportunities to engage with a wider audience in a different way to their mainstream online competition.