A Tip for Small Retailers

It's tough to be a small retailer.  Small retailers have to manage and operate a store, find great products to stock on their shelves, and compete with mass market and online retailers.  Small retail business owners are busy!  But there is one thing that many of them are not doing that would be well worth their time: sending out a customer newsletter.

A customer newsletter is not the same thing as a customer email blast that advertises a sale or special discount.  A customer newsletter has a voice, the reader should feel as though it was written by a person.  It may contain information about a sale or special discount, but might also contain an anecdote or other piece of news.  The frequency with which a store sends a newsletter will vary depending on that store's business and customers, but a good rule of thumb is to send one at least once a month.  

By writing a newsletter you develop a storyline around your business which your customers can follow.  Since you are a small business you can create a sense of personal connection with your customer, something that a larger company cannot do in the same way.  Your newsletter can help to reinforce your brand as one that is "accessible, approachable, and specialized," some of the characteristics noted in this article from Inc. for why being small is your biggest advantage.

Adding a newsletter to your to-do list might feel overwhelming, you already have your hands full with a Facebook page and Twitter account.  Except for stores that cater specifically to tween or teen customers, a newsletter could be more valuable for you than Facebook or Twitter.  While there is widespread adoption of social networking sites, chances are that most of your audience does not engage with your social content on a regular basis.  Some customers, especially in an older demographic, may have accounts which they seldom log onto.  Engagement will likely be greater for a newsletter with original content.  Your newsletter can also be a foundation from which you pull content to post to Facebook or other social media sites.  

It will take some time to generate your newsletter list, but you could consider offering an incentive to generate sign ups.  It has also become increasingly common for retailers to ask for e-mail addresses at checkout, as J.Crew does.  I'm not a big fan of this practice, since the sales associate often asks for an e-mail address with no indication of how the company plans to use it.  However if you phrase the question appropriately, "Are you interested in providing an email address to join our newsletter list?" and the customer had a good in-store experience, they are likely to oblige your request.

There are numerous tools to help you manage your newsletter and make it look professional.  Two popular ones are MailChimp and Constant Contact.  Both let you easily manage your list as well as track open rates and click through rates.
A newsletter is not the only potential outlet around which you can create a storyline or voice for your business.  Another potential medium is a blog.  The strategy you ultimately pursue should depend on your business and your specific communication and marketing needs.  If you're daunted by the potential work that this may create, I recommend reading Jack Mitchell's Hug Your Customers for inspiration.  This is an amazing book that every business owner should read.  One of the way's that Mitchells/Richards "hugs" its customers by sending personalized notes.  Not only thank you notes for purchases, but also birthday cards, anniversary cards, or just a note to say hello.  You may not be in a position to manage such personalized communication, but a newsletter would be a great start.

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