High street recovery means retailers must change their marketing message

It’s early days, but optimism is returning to the UK high street. The BRC’s latest monthly figures show that retail sales were up 1.8 per cent in August and now retailers including John Lewis, Argos and Dixons are all reporting solid sales growth.

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Yet so far, this isn’t universally being mirrored in retailers’ marketing strategies. Brands are still in defence mode, pleased to have any customers buying goods, whatever the price, rather than seeing them head off to cheaper rivals. So for many, their marketing is still focused on discounting and sales promotions.

There are a couple of issues with this. First, it’s easy for a retailers’ wider brand identity to get lost when its marketing is full of buy one get one free offers or 10 per cent off discounts.

Secondly, retailers are missing out on a big opportunity to increase revenues. The level of discounting means the average price of non-food items is on the slide as shops attempt to lure customers with deals and offers.

Yet actually consumers, for the first time in years, are willing to shop. Figures from the Bank of England show that the credit squeeze is over, meaning people are switching from paying off debts to spending money.

They are still being careful, particularly because wage growth remains below inflation, but there is an opportunity here for retailers to change their marketing message to take advantage.

This means moving marketing campaigns away from a focus on price and deals and instead highlighting added value. A good deal no longer needs to equal a cheap deal.

Some retailers have already started on this track. Marks and Spencer’s “Leading Ladies” campaign is aimed at highlighting the retailer’s style credentials in a bid to boost sales. It is also revamping the in-store experience to give a more confident tone to its Autumn Winter collection.

John Lewis is another retailer that has seen huge benefits by marketing the high quality of its products, while still providing value.

It’s an area the supermarkets are also jumping into. Sainsbury’s and Tesco are both attempting to improve perception of the quality of their food by highlighting provenance, while Morrisons is focused on its fresh food and own brand products to drive value.

Morrisons might be struggling due to its slow shift to convenience stores and online shopping, but it’s marketing is bang on message.

There is still some way to go before this can be labelled a full-scale economic recovery. But the mood among both retailers and consumers is lifting.

After a successful summer buoyed by the good weather and with the crucial Christmas shopping period just around the corner, now is the time for marketers to go on the offensive.

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