Why Marketing Fails In Retail

Over the past twenty years of my career in marketing strategy, planning and implementation, I would like to share some of the golden nuggets I have picked up along the way. Most marketing initiatives you implement in your business will fail if one or more of the three following factors are not in place:

1. Your staff knows exactly what is happening and when
2. Your staff buys into the excitement of what you have planned
3. Your staff is trained to handle customer enquiries and challenges that may arise once the promotion is in place

In all the years I have worked in retail marketing either as an employee or consultant, I have often witnessed poor communication and training in outreach to existing customers and prospects.

During my time as the West Coast Marketing Manager for the Virgin Megastore at the corner of Robson and Burrard in Vancouver, I worked diligently to put systems in place to ensure management and staff knew exactly what was happening and when. Each week, a “Tip Sheet” was posted in the lunch room with all of the marketing initiatives for that week. Ads were also posted on the bulletin board right next to the time clock. Management was debriefed and managers followed up with staff.

We also had the benefit of a DJ booth in the store. DJs were given a weekly script with all the promotions that were happening. They would announce each promotion. This benefited both the customer and the staff.

When a large promotion would take place, more training was required, particularly for in-store promotions where we would partner with other organizations or retailers. Some examples of this would be giving out Virgin Bucks at the cash register or getting staff to commit to putting bag stuffers in all shopping bags at the beginning of the day.

Although this was a large operation with many managers and more than 100 staff members during peak times, similar systems still need to be implemented even in smaller retail operations with few staff members. It is important that employees feel they are included in whatever promotions are planned before the customer learns about them. This can be as simple as staff getting a copy of an email blast that is going out to the customer database at least a day or two before it hits people’s inboxes.

Over time, your team may become complacent to each new promotion you launch. It is your responsibility as the owner to ensure they remain excited and passionate. It can be deflating when a customer enters the store holding on to an ad you ran in the weekly paper and is greeted by a less-than-excited salesperson. This customer most likely has not visited your store before and they may expect that, once they discover they need what you have, they will get your undivided attention. This is a crucial moment in successful sales and marketing.

Most of my retail clients have monthly, if not weekly staff meetings. This is a great time to provide your team with marketing updates. Not only do you want to inform them, you want to ignite a feeling of excitement about the next promotional campaign. You want to equip them with the information and tools they need to do the best job they can do.

This means having a discussion around any concerns they have as your frontline team. Once these concerns are aired, solutions can be implemented.

Last fall, I worked with two Pharmasaves on Vancouver Island. Both spent time on a daily basis educating incoming staff on their marketing focus. The Comox Pharmasave had a white board in their lunch room that could not be missed. It had a Monday-to-Friday calendar with important information on it. So, in between sharing the information with the team verbally every day, management provided staff with a reference point during breaks and mealtimes.

When I worked with Cobs Bread last year, brand manager Michelle Duck shared with me one of the tools they created to help franchise owners educate staff about how to handle customers who redeem coupons at one of their bakeries. The educational video shows employees how to deal with receiving coupons in a passionate and welcoming manner even if they have no idea where the coupon came from. This is a great way for Cobs to set the standard for their franchises, keep the Cobs Bread brand strong, and keep its customer service model in check.

I believe that employee training is the weak link for most small- to medium-sized retail operations when it comes to customer service and marketing. It starts with how the staff answers the phone to following up with customers after a purchase has been made. Right from the moment someone makes a phone call or sends an email, they have an interest in what you are promoting. This customer can either have a very positive initial experience or a very bad one.

I was at Essence last week purchasing essential oils. The salesperson was alone in the store. She didn’t know the answer to my question so I asked her to call another store to confirm if I could get a discount on my purchase because I was returning bottles. She was happy to oblige. While ringing in my transaction, the phone rang. I was asked if I could hold on for a moment while she took the call. During the call the person was told the employee was the only one in the store and asked if she could take down the person’s phone number and call them right back. I was impressed with her ability to treat me and the person on the phone as important customers without compromising either relationship.

As you plan your next marketing campaign, include involving, educating and training your staff. Once you do this, they are 100 times more likely to actively promote and endorse the campaign.

In summary, here are some key takeaway points to put in place or refine to make sure you have a well-oiled marketing machine:

1. Make time for regular staff meetings to discuss marketing campaigns
2. Give your staff an opportunity to discuss their worries or concerns
3. Allow them to be part of the solution process through discussion and resolution
4. Walk them through the campaign prior to its launch date
5. Check in with them once it starts to see how it’s going
6. Listen to and coach them on how they can be welcoming and passionate about customer enquiries
7. Circulate and post all marketing materials and deadlines so staff look and feel well informed in the eyes of the customer

Jen DeTracey, is a strategic alchemist and one of Canada’s Top Marketing Experts. Her proven 5-Step Strategic Marketing Process, the LIFFT® Process, has helped hundreds of business owners and their staff members understand how to get the most from their marketing efforts. To receive Jen DeTracey’s complementary One Minute Marketing Tips via a biweekly email, go to and subscribe.



  1. love your videos Jen!!
    and yes… social media is a good place to build those relationships
    and to also let folk know who you are + what you’re up to…
    i find promoting events somewhat useful tho not always reliant…

    thanks again… wx (((o)))

    1. Thanks weaver for your comment. Social media is only part of how business owners need to promote their products and services. It is custom to every business because your cutomers are unique. That is why I have created the Marketing Mastermind group so that I can work with a small group to help each participant market their business better:)

  2. Hi Jen! Thanks for this reminder. I have done this in the past and able to start a conversation. My business, Feng Shui, needs exposure about how easy it is to utilize for amazing results. More exposure can help educate others about services available. I’ll start sharing more this morning. 🙂

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