Reaching Customers Online with a Personal Story

Chains like V&D, Schoenenreus, Miss Etam, and Perry Sport found themselves in such trouble last year that bankruptcy or a restart seemed inevitable. Others are currently teetering on the brink. The shopping streets in the Netherlands are changing. With the disappearance of big chains, more vacant storefronts are emerging, making city centers less attractive to consumers. What reasons are there to shop at city retailers when the range of stores is shrinking and you can order the same products (often cheaper) online?

Besides the fact that shopping at a physical store is still faster than waiting for an online order and offers the opportunity to ask questions about a product and see it in real life, there’s an often underestimated advantage. The human contact absent in online shopping is found when shopping in the city. This contact can even make consumers feel connected to a particular store, leading to return visits. Due to the resulting goodwill, it suddenly doesn’t matter that the same product is a few euros cheaper online. To create this goodwill before someone visits the store, the Facebook page Winkels Leeuwarden was launched two years ago.

Not Just Coffee

With the looming threat of online shops, Leeuwarden’s retailers have long sought a way to stay connected with customers. A few years ago, the initiative for ‘new shopping’ was born. A platform in the form of the website winkels-leeuwarden.nl was established to provide consumers with a quick overview of city-center stores. Each retailer had their own spot on the website. Typing in a word, like coffee, was supposed to yield relevant results. However, it didn’t just bring up cozy coffee shops but also Blokker, because they sold coffee cups. That wasn’t the intention! Another stumbling block was that retailers themselves were responsible for posting content, leading to significant differences in the quality and quantity of texts and offers provided. The platform flopped, and the search for a way to reach shoppers continued.

Give Shops a Face!

It was decided to evolve the Facebook page Winkels Leeuwarden, which had been used primarily as an online flyer with little reach, into a community of both retailers and shoppers. We were tasked with elevating this page to a higher level. Since shops need a face to create goodwill, we started by telling stories. A writer and photographer set out to capture the stories of the merchants. The aim was to find the person behind the shop, so the local Intersport is no longer just part of a large chain but seen as Gerrit Jan’s store. Importantly, no offers or products from the retailers were posted on the page. The page should not feel like spam, but rather be enjoyable.

Not Bad for a Page Focused on a City with Less Than 108 Thousand Residents!
But other types of posts also do well on the page. For instance, Leeuwarden’s residents are regularly asked via the page what they think of a certain plan for the city center. The news that fashion store Zara would definitely be established in the former V&D building was picked up by over 150,000 people. Most merchants who appeared on the Facebook page with their story reported receiving a lot of responses both online and offline.

Applicable to Any City

A concept like Winkels Leeuwarden could, in principle, be applied to any city. Retailers who want a piece on the page pay a small monthly or annual fee, which entitles them to a portrait and a platform to report fun events around their business. Additionally, it’s good to regularly post messages that respond to current events in the city. This keeps consumers informed about the story of the city, making them feel more connected to the merchants and more likely to step into a store. Reaching customers online with a personal story, that’s truly the new way of shopping!

Postscript: After establishing a solid foundation for the Facebook page Winkels Leeuwarden with about 25,000 followers, it was handed over to a new owner in September 2018.**