Can social media boost sales?

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are a free way of marketing your store or brand, but can they replace word-of-mouth buzz? Dominic Sacco asks toy retailers...
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A1 Comics attracted 800 customers to its Braehead store in the space of a couple of hours. 

The queue itself lasted for four hours and it was the best day of retail for the indie in years.

The store didn’t spend a fortune on High Street flyers, posters or newspaper ads. It did not hire a PR agency to pull off a publicity stunt. It wrote something on Facebook.

OK, so A1 managed to get WWE stars The Miz and The Truth in for a signing event last November, but by advertising it well in advance, the retailer reaped the rewards with hundreds of customers purchasing Mattel WWE action figures and Topps trading cards on the day.

“Just over one week before the event, we posted around three or four updates per day, only using Facebook and Twitter,” A1 boss David Burns tells ToyNews. “That’s been the most successful event for us.

“This kind of advertising has to be taken advantage of – it’s completely free and we’ve just proved how effective it is.

“I think social media has become a primary source of marketing now, but nothing beats a good customer experience. Once customers are in store, the experience has to be brilliant or they won’t come back.”

A1 also runs limited-time promotions by posting its own video adverts on Facebook. These encourage customers to come in store and say a special phrase. For example, if they say “I’m having a ghoulish holiday” to store staff members, consumers can get ten per cent off any Monster High product.

Cuthberts Toys also updates its Facebook Twitter pages regularly.

“Twitter gives us the opportunity to engage with the local community with a view to raising awareness for the stores, while Facebook provides a much more targeted approach in that we advertise and run promotions, which allows us to drive traffic to our website,” says Cuthberts’ Kirit Patel.

Learning to drive sales

In the right hands Twitter and Facebook are certainly effective marketing tools, with millions of users already signed up in the space of a few years. But not everyone is familiar with using the websites.

Toymaster has been running annual ‘Web Success’ events for the past two years, hosted by internet psychologist Graham Jones, in a bid to help its members use the internet and social media to increase sales.

“Used properly, social media allows you to communicate with your consumers and establish a far greater level of interaction with them than traditional marketing does,” says Toymaster marketing and operations director Ian Edmunds.

“More and more of Toymaster’s members are seeing the bottom line benefit of social media in driving sales. There are no official stats for this, but why would they come to the presentations, at their own cost, if the end results did not justify the expense? You do not stay in business long if you spend money on things that do not generate real profits, so that is the biggest indicator to me that social media is working for Toymaster members.”

Promotion problems?

There’s no doubting the potential and growing power of social media, but some say toy companies shouldn’t become reliant on it as a sole means of marketing their products, brands or stores.

“Talking to customers in every way is vitally important in all businesses,” says Gary Diamond from the Barkingside indie Toyology. 

“Outside of social media we need to talk to customers about Twitter and Facebook, and within social media we need to talk to customers about the bricks and mortar shop.”

Edmunds adds: “It’s not for everyone. The smaller the business, the better-suited social media is. I can understand that multiple retailers are not willing to let individual branches have their own Facebook and Twitter presences as they have no control over what is on them, but that’s all the better for local independent retailers.

“To Toymaster stores, social media is all about promoting what is happening at a very local level. 

“Social media is just another way to talk to your customer before they get to the store, but that does not replace the need to talk to them when they are in your shop.”

A Trio of Toy Promos

“One funny opportunity we had on Facebook was a photograph of me with a huge radio control helicopter. Within minutes of putting the picture out, a customer actually purchased it just because she saw it on the Toyology Facebook page.”
Gary Diamond, Toyology, Barkingside­­

“We’ve had people on Twitter ask us who served them, as they liked the sales assistant’s accent. This was tweeted by a customer, which then generated an entire conversation on Twitter amongst the local community.”
Kirit Patel, Cuthberts Toys

Simon Read, owner of Blue Frog Toys, tweeted business tycoon Theo Paphitis during an initiative set up by the Dragon’s Den star. Paphitis then retweeted Simon’s message to his 250,000 followers and as a result, @bluefrogtoys has 200 more followers and has seen a rise in orders at
Simon Read, Blue Frog Toys

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