The 7 Deadly Marketing Mistakes Retailers Make

Most storeowners never went to business school; instead, they had a hobby or felt passionate about a particular industry and so they decided to open a store and offer their expertise in the form of products for sale.

That means all too often they struggle when it comes to marketing their store.

Whether it’s finding new shoppers and convincing them to stroll through their door for the first time or bringing existing shoppers in again and again, marketing can make the difference between thriving and hosting a “going out of business” sale.

1. Don’t assume foot traffic past the front door is all the marketing your store needs.

While a retail business’ location can have a huge impact on whether the business succeeds or fails, even the best location won’t guarantee success if the business does nothing else to promote itself.

This is especially true for new stores—while foot traffic or car traffic may cause the occasionally shopper to drop by, retailers should also do other outreach. That may mean anything from placing a coupon in the local Sunday paper or buying a radio ad, to partnering with other local businesses.

2. Sales are NOT the only way to get people to buy.

Many retailers panic as soon as they start to struggle financially and decide the only way to boost income is with a sale. This is just blatantly untrue. While promotional events are a great idea, they are certainly not limited to sales events.

One clothing retailer I’m familiar with holds “preview” events each season, where they offer VIP customers a chance to stop in, drink some win, eat some cheese, and shop new merchandise after hours before it’s available to the general public.

As another example, many pet retailers host puppy parties where shoppers can bring their pets into the store for free treats for both two-legged and four-legged guests.

3. Failing to optimize online efforts for mobile users.

When a consumer needs something, more than ever their solution is to turn to their phone. In fact, according to, 50% of smartphone shoppers use a GPS/mapping app (such as Yelp or Foursquare) to find a retail location. And even more searches are done each day via mobile browsers.

Regardless of how a user discovers your store, there are three key pieces of information they need to be able to find quickly and easily: the types of products the store carries, the store’s hours, and the store’s location. Without those three pieces of information easily accessible, the store is unlikely to bring mobile users into the store.

In addition to these, it’s often a good idea to offer an added incentive to convince mobile users to come into the store—whether that means a special deal, a coupon, or just highlighting a product related to their initial search.

4. Not engaging with your customers online.

Consumers today expect businesses and brands to not only use social media, but to be responsive. In fact, according to The Social Habit, 42 percent of consumers complaining in social media expect a 60-minute (or less) response time.

That means it’s more important than ever not just to have social accounts, but to regularly monitor and check them.

But retail businesses aren’t limited to social media. They can also engage with shoppers via message boards and
forums. This works particularly well for retailers in hobby-related niches, such as bicycle shops, aquatics retailers or model train stores. The store can leverage its expertise by answering shopper questions and offering up solutions to shopper problems.

It’s worth nothing, however, that the key to engaging online is not to open accounts on every type of social media in existence, but rather to figure out which types of social media the store’s target demographic is most likely to be using, and use those.

It’s more important to engage with shoppers successfully in one or two places online than to fail by spreading efforts too thin.

5. Not using new technology and the Internet at all.

A surprising number of retail businesses have failed to keep up with the times at all—many still do not have websites or have websites that haven’t been updated in the last 5 years. Don’t fall into that trap.

Make sure you not only have a website, but that it has engaging content that will convince internet users to come visit you in person.

Another place where many retail businesses fail is in successfully using their email lists. Most stores take the time to collect at least some email addresses in store—but then they don’t use them. This is a huge mistake.

When a customer signs up for your email list, it’s essential to email them almost right away (at the very least, within the month) to keep them engaged with the store. After that it’s important to continue to share valuable content on a consistent basis to keep the store fresh in email subscribers’ minds.

6. Discounting word of mouth (It’s really not a mythical beast)

While it’s true that customers are most likely to talk about you when you’ve failed to live up to expectations, encouraging favorable word of mouth isn’t impossible.

In many ways, good marketing is all about making your store the first one to come to mind when they think of your niche. That way, the next time their friend mentions they’re looking for something who sells , it just seems natural to mention your name.

There are many, many ways to reward customers for spreading the word about your store. V8 once sent me free products for recommending them to a friend on twitter. Many retailers also offer a discount to both the new customer, shopping because of a friend’s recommendation, and the customer who recommended them.

But beyond just offering rewards when you catch word of mouth in progress, it’s important to think about opportunities to inspire share-worthy stories.

Going above and beyond when it comes to customer service can encourage shoppers to share a good word.

7. Not having a loyalty program.

The average cost of marketing to acquire a new customer and convince them to shop at your store will always be more expensive than the average cost of convincing someone who shopped there once to buy again.

Once you’ve overcome that initial hurdle and brought a shopper through your door, be sure to capture their information (so you can follow up with them, add them to your email list, and add them to your loyalty program). Then be sure to actually offer them some incentive to return.

That may mean keeping them updated on the latest new products or an upcoming sale, but it may also mean just
keeping in touch with useful information so that the next time they need a product you offer your name is the first one that comes to mind.

After all, that’s what marketing is all about—putting your store in a consumer’s mind, so that they recommend, visit, and buy from you as often as possible, allowing you to stay in business.