What Does Independent Retail Advertising Look Like in 2021?

Written by Amanda Evans

March 18, 2021

marketing megaphone

Since last March, we’ve all been forced to try different tactics and messages to market to consumers. While in previous years we might have launched one or two strategies and thoroughly tested them for effectiveness, 2020 pushed us to pivot as changes came day by day. Below are some of the strategies that proved most successful for Nationwide Marketing Group Members in 2020.


Online traffic was up significantly for appliance, bedding and furniture searches over the prior year. In just a few weeks from March to May, we saw 200+ retailers activate chat via their websites. This touchpoint proved just how nimble the independent channel could be. In addition, we saw close rates between 70-90% for retailers who took time to train members of their sales teams in chat best practices. In 2021, commit to training a few of your salespeople on chat best practices and turn your website into a true retail location.

Shop by Appointment

Shop by appointment is not just for those with immune-comprised health, age factors or a general unease of shopping with the masses. This easy add-on to your website via tools like youcanbook.me allow you to meet with highly qualified customers at a time that works best for both of you.

At the height of the pandemic, these appointments kept some retailers’ sales flat year over year, when they were allowed only to be open by appointment. In testing this strategy, these appointments lead to a 90% sales close rate. As we transition into a post-pandemic environment, shop by appointment is another way to engage those customers looking for a unique shopping experience or for those shoppers looking for your higher-ticket products. Remember, local independent retailers are known for their high level of service, and this is just more opportunity to provide a VIP-level customer service experience.

Product Availability vs. Price

Competitive pricing has always been of key importance in sales ads, web pricing and for sales associates on the floor. But what we’ve learned through the pandemic is that showing what you have available or a realistic in-stock date has become almost more important to consumers. This is a great place for independent retail and protects your margins.

As most manufacturers look to steady their supply chains and get to better inventory positions by mid-year, independent retailers cannot sit out in the first half of 2021 with advertising dollars. We’ve already seen a steady increase in media from Big Box in Q4. So, what can you do? Shift your advertising message to promote what you have in-stock. For retailers who partner with Nationwide Marketing Group, we’ve tested implementation from both individual inventory feeds, as well as working with key manufacturers to bring in what’s in the closest regional warehouse. Also, make sure you promote all the reasons to shop independent, including product selection, trained associates and service after the sale.

Support Local

Millennial shoppers have long expressed their willingness to support local businesses and those who promote social responsibility. And post 2020, we’ve seen a larger push by all age groups to support local business owners vs. mega-retailers. In fact, Google reports that searches for “support local business” are up 2,000% YOY.

We did a small test to measure the effectiveness of brand messaging compared to retailer messaging. For Google text ads and on Facebook, retailer messaging drove higher clicks, and Google display creative was split 50/50. So, what do we take away from this? As we’ve always known, you should promote your own brand name first. Consumers are looking for products so yes, you’ll still need to advertise for specific category keywords, SKUs and brands. But it’s vitally important to raise your brand awareness for not just what you sell and where you reach but also why customers should choose you.

Digital vs. Traditional

It’s no surprise that budgets shifted to a higher spend in digital as work-from-home became the norm for much of the country. Billboards and drive-time radio spots were cut, as they had a much lower impact on your local population. As you look at your 2021 advertising budgets, don’t fall prey to the deals that many of these companies will put in front of you. Remember what COVID did to the shopping journey and consumer expectations. The majority of your advertising budget should still be spent digitally to connect with the shoppers who are actively searching for what you sell.

Promote your brand name, run Shop Local specific ads, invest in Google Shopping to drive high conversions, and saturate social media to promote your staff’s experience and shopper testimonials.

We’ll see more Save Stories and new product introductions coming mid-year 2020 and more brand advertising, but grab those customers looking to buy with your first half advertising and you’ll be well on your way to a successful 2021.


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