NEW YORK – The days when buying groups were only about providing volume discounts to independent dealers are long gone.
While programs with core vendors still afford dealers competitive pricing, these retail confederations additionally provide guidance and support for virtually every aspect of running a store, from financing and floor planning to fixturing and forecasting.
But as more and more business is moving online and going mobile, digital marketing – including social networking, geo-fencing and website optimization – has become one of the most critical services these organizations offer.
The biggest of the bunch, the $15 billion Nationwide Market Group (NMG), has a fittingly expansive five-part plan to keep its dealers competitive onand offline. The turnkey effort, dubbed “Just Say Yes,” seeks to provide easilyimplemented digital services that will induce cyber-shy dealers to “just say yes” to online marketing.
NMG recently recruited Bostonbased Promoboxx to implement the program, which provides website banners and vendor landing pages; nonpromotional social network postings; customer encouragement of store reviews; and the addition of dealer logos to manufacturers’ store locators to optimize visibility.
Nationwide has also expanded its subsidized mobile info pad program for sales associates with the addition of a 7-inch Asus tablet for $40, and is offering a new point-of-sale system for smaller dealers that ties into the tablets. The devices provide sales associates with detailed product information, inventory availability and competitive pricing on the fly to help combat showrooming.
The latter is also being aggressively addressed by BrandSource, the $14 billion co-op for independent dealers of majaps, CE, furniture, bedding, flooring and outdoor goods. The group was first to market with a dedicated mobile app – now the No. 1 appliance app on iTunes – that allows members to capture mobile shoppers and manage social media engagement.
To further harness mobile shoppers, BrandSource will begin offering iBeacons to members later this year. The small Bluetooth transmitters can be placed at specific points within showrooms to broadcast preloaded vendor messages about pricing, promotions and product features within a 6- to 50-foot area for both Android and Apple devices, and can also track customer interactions.
Like Nationwide, BrandSource is also helping dealers encourage customers to post their positive in-store experiences. Its recent “Expert Review” program, provided by Review Inc., also helps dealers find and ameliorate negative reviews. BrandSource CEO Bob Lawrence said online reviews have become critical to businesses, as 86 percent of customers now use online ratings; 72 percent trust them as much as personal recommendations; 84 percent will likely buy from a five-star-rated business; and only 3 percent will try a seller rated two stars or less.
Meanwhile, Mega Group USA, the buying group for bedding, furniture, appliance and CE dealers, introduced an updated m-commerce platform at its spring convention in March. The effort represents an enhancement of Mega’s WebFronts Premium Plus website platform, which now boasts improved mobile functionality.
The mobile-specific version is designed to load fast and make it easy to get directions or call a member’s store, and its enlarged buttons for use on a small touch screen make it easy to view any product featured on the regular e-commerce site. The mobile site updates automatically and features all the thousands of products of the conventional Mega ecommerce site, the group said, and both the traditional and mobile sites are seamlessly linked to save retailers time and effort.
“With the proliferation of both showrooming and the widespread use of smartphones during the shopping process, our retailers require cutting-edge mobile sites to compete and win business, both online and off,” said Mega chief information officer Scott McFarland.
Elsewhere, Bob Hana, managing director of the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA), has made digital marketing a strategic cornerstone for the buying group, which serves custom integrators and specialty dealers. Through partnerships with digital marketing and search engine optimization services, as well as printed brochures and idea books, HTSA has proactively sought ways to redirect its energy and financial resources toward helping its members find and retain clients and business development.
HTSA now communicates to some 1.6 million customers through its evolving database of current and former customers of member companies, and around 700,000 of those customers are accessible via email. Additionally, most of HTSA’s members rank at the top of online search results, Hana said, because HTSA has invested so heavily in search engine optimization (SEO), paid clicks and display ads.
“It’s huge in lead generation and huge in return on that kind of investment,” he noted.
HTSA will revisit the subject at its Marketing Summit III in July, where a keynote from Google will address “Competing in a Digital Ecosystem.”
Not to be outdone, Azione Unlimited (AU), the education and buying group for custom retailers and integrators, has introduced a bevy of new services for members including a website design tool. The program is provided via AU’s ad agency 23K Studios, which can deliver sleek and dynamic websites that are fully functional within two weeks for less than $4,000. “Because we know this market so well, it was easy to build a website platform that combines a robust user experience with the ability to customize each website to the unique needs of each retailer/ custom integrator,” said agency president Tom King. “With this price point and rapid deployment, it should be a no-brainer for members.”
Steve Smith and Jeremy Glowacki contributed to this article.
Buying groups are giving independent dealers the tools to compete in cyberspace as well as in-store.