<< back to News

Online Shopping with Social Etiquette – Solocal Group


This enterprising organization launched in France, with a presence in Spain, Austria and now UK, has a clear business focus: to cement brand business, primarily retail business with the retailer’s customers.  It’s transactional mapping software. Net, net the juju that they do so well, provides a slicker shopping experience and a deeper customer relational experience.  Are you feeling it? Well, 700k customers across Europe are.

In the UK their focus is on brands with multiple locations, the 30 plus network number as a target. Apparently, this is where the Solocal services come together at an optimal level.  How do they help connect with customers?  It’s solid customer research and behavior that puts quality on this French retail customer focused menu.

What are we doing with our consumer-hungry retinas poised 24/7 over the multiple online shopping options available? It’s a lifestyle behavior we now all exemplify but worth articulating. Online research now represents 80% of pre-sale behavior, whether it’s quality, price, location or just plain old-fashioned surfing, the die is cast. We are web-rooming, show-rooming hunter-gatherers now and here to stay.  Mobile platforms are quickly hoovering up whatever remaining percentages nervously remain unaccounted for, as the platform du jour, and will I am sure account for all shopping behavior worth knowing about eventually.  And yet strangely, most of the purchases still happen in the store.  We still want the human touch. Thankfully. Praise the Label.

solocal 2But today’s shopper is an impatient, unforgiving customer who wants immediate information to make their online choices. And brands that fail to provide the right combination of services will get this wrong to their cost. It’s all about having more touch points, intuitively integrated with the shopper’s web-driven habits. Touchy tetchy petulant impatience. 

Bruno Berthezene, (pictured right) Country Manager and Head of Group Partnerships (France) of Solocal, in London for a series of business presentations, outlined the three major steps on the path to purchase the retailer must be able to finesse.

The discovery level. Targeting and pushing the right advertising to a customer, made relevant at a local level, where they live or work.  Once your brand has been thus ‘discovered’, the short-termism gratification altar we are in thrall to is given an access all areas by either Google or Facebook. Click. But before ker-ching, you better be on that top results SEO finders-keepers list. As Lionel Richie presciently posited pre-SEO optimization: hello, is it me you’re looking for? If you are not visible, you WILL lose the opportunity, and like getting an online SEO wedgie, it’s painful.

The second step to retail heaven is what happens when, beside themselves with ruthless me-dom, the customer clicks onto your website.  Give me that easy-peasy product inventory now, in a way I wanna see it. Click, collect, I’m done. Or you’re toast.  “You would be surprised how many brands underestimate the importance of a store locater.”  You stop to think, for every poorly trained, non customer-relations-arsed shop assistant, the ones that are practically pushing your money back into your pocket, and your backside out of the store, what if this ripples all the way up the CRM chain, to the business critical part of the company, and they really just haven’t thought it through?  And yes, it’s more than possible.

solocal 1

Solocal are in fact making a business out of what might be considered profound retailer negligence in the face of web-literate customer focused demands. It’s not however quite as simple as that.  Scale tends to provide its own problems. Going from a handful of boutiques to a multiple store network, that may have been accelerated by the internet  – a sudden surge for example by some celebrity endorsement, and all manner of hitherto untested complementary service elements are put under massive strain. A brand’s expansion beyond it’s wildest dreams, could very quickly translate to a retail nightmare, and the brand’s reputation slaughtered before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy success, because of a failure to respond professionally to the customer demand. Oo-er. We ran out of stock, on levels we weren’t even monitoring. Impatient hunter-stock gatherer has gone to another store.

solocal 3The level of sophistication in managing this interface increases in importance with scale and with the reputation of the brand, hi-end brands in particular, many of which are still in the throes of presenting their wares to an online audience, still convincing themselves it’s not for them. Yes, it is. No it isn’t.  It tells its own story when you realize Solocal have Fendi, Givenchy, Dior, Tag-Heuer, I-3 as customers. Ah, why didn’t you say? If they’re doing it, it must be ok. Important? Vital? You betcha.  So what exactly do they do? 

“Each shop has a dedicated micro-site mirroring their own web platform. Brand content, e-commerce catalogue, stockists – all fully transparent to the retailer. We operate this part of the website for the brand. Our software is designed specifically to optimize both SEO and the customer experience.” All the stockist has to do is feed (their own microsite) with live content: opening hours, types of services, sales information and product inventory.  Time for a Jeremy Clarkson ‘and on that bombshell’ cold shower retailer wake up moment! “According to AIB research, of the top 50 retailers, looked at via mobile internet search, 50 percent don’t have store locators. And of the one’s that do, often it’s just a page which isn’t interactive and you have to read (whoa, read???) to find out where to go, and who to call.” Astonishing. No linky-poo schmoozing up and down the motorway there then. There’s dropping the customer ball. And then there’s throwing it as hard as you can into your competitor’s bank accounts.

The third thing that Bruno flagged as critical was not surprisingly, conversion.  In short, it’s the click and collect part you don’t even want to know or care about. Unless it doesn’t work. Just do it.  Now this is where things started to get a lot more clever-clever about a service, I was beginning to think was another Emperors new couture clothes, smoke and mirrors: it’s all about the appointment booking. Making it easy for the customer to feel special, to get one-on-one treatment, and know they can engineer the sort of service level they want.

OASIS has been using Solocal’s real-time appointment booking software for the last seven months in a 15-store experiment. And before we dismiss it as only for the privileged few, “50 million appointments have been booked through the Solocal system, with all kinds of individuals and retail services.” And it’s not a doctor’s surgery type service focus they are looking for; the retail fashion space represents 20-25 percent of their total market, with mainly luxury brands. It’s powerful. When considering the current move towards personal shopping, getting access to new collections faster, in real-time, choosing the selections you want in advance, it’s suddenly a value-added differentiator for the brand.

What is Solocal’s strategy for winning new customers? Aside from the me-too’s of the global brands persuaded by the existing roster of clients and the common-sense of it all, theirs is very much an ‘outbound approach’ as Bruno explained. That’s booking appointments to explain the value proposition via presentations to you and me. The main target is the brand with 30 plus stores, though any independent store can subscribe on a trial basis. Ensconced in trendy Mayfair is fifteen staff, mostly engaged in sales and marketing, which is organically developing as the head office for international development, while the majority of the client base is still in France.

solocal 4Why set up in the UK? Quite simple. The UK is the most developed digital market – we have more revenues generated online, more e-commerce than any other European market.  It’s quite revealing how totally immersed from online to in-store we have become culturally and very interesting to track what this means across brands and cultures. Some very useful diagnostics off the back of all this, methinks. Just ask WGSN.

I was still a little gob-smacked at the butter-fingered customer-dropping retail behavior with no safety net. Why behave with such scant regard for our molly-coddled welfare?  Bruno explained, “before multi-channel became popular, online was developed in parallel mode, with stores regarded as an internal competitor.” And clearly they are now catching up with the business critical interdependencies across all platforms. A dashboard is provided with the Solocal service for the brand to do their own analytics.

The subtlety of the short term awareness and longer term strategizing that this service provides, is made more apparent with the ‘re-targeting’ offering in France. This particular service, tracking the route the visitor to your website took and then re-targeting them with a similar offering, is currently only on offer in France, to their French clients. A good reason. “We own Yellow Pages in France. We can combine brand websites with Yellow Pages.” This is no small piece of data finessing. Will be interesting to see how they manage to pull something similar off in the UK.

What are Solocal’s and Bruno’s targets for 2015? Well, with 15 people hitting the phone a stone’s throw from our Norwegian coffee shop chat, revenue unsurprisingly is the key target and getting a certain number of brands signed up. “We commit to a long-term relationship, providing a platform for daily needs. We have enough stats from companies we have worked with for proof of concept that the profile is raised – up to 10 times increased over a 12 month period.” Impressive. What makes the difference? “Architecture. Taking into account Google requirements, at national, regional, local/ city, store page level. Google like to see this.”  I’m sure they do. “Content. More opportunity for the brand to be in a page.” I asked about the smaller companies, who arguably are just, if not more in need of finely tuned customer service relations as they get their brand established? “We need a bigger sales force – in France we provide them with visibility online, SEO-optimized, with a call-to-actions.” The UK may just need to be a little bit more patient to inherit this broader-based service offering, but it sounds intuitively like it would follow without too much resistance, and probably be demand-led.

What are the costs of having some invisible French web maestros over for petit-dejeuner and letting them stay? Somewhere between £7-15k per year as a start-up cost, depending on number of sites/ stores. Bruno used the standard, how much do you spend on advertising question – to present a cost justification argument, that could be £600-800 per year per website, and £40 per month for appointment booking – all of which decreases per number of store. 

The other area I nearly completely ignored was staring me in the face the whole time. Many businesses operate as an online store, it’s all virtual, but the discovery step towards pushing relevant positioning, or appointment booking, for a virtual chat, is never far away.  ‘Local’ is a frame of mind as well as a lifestyle choice. I feel sure we will see more of this service seamlessly operating between the sheets of our future online/ retail experience. In the meantime, you can check out the OASIS, ‘Timendo’ online booking solution for a ‘my personal stylist service.’ Tell them Bruno sent you.


By Paul Markevicius

Related articles:

Digital Fashion Trends 2015

Essential Advice for Starting an Online Design Business

ME Commerce is The New Black

<< back to News