Confessions of an Online Shopaholic.

Confessions of an Online Shopaholic.

‘Your order has been shipped’. If I had to choose five words which kept me going during during lockdown it would be these.

 In a world where every social media site or news source was flooded with the latest Covid-19 statistic or isolation horror story the home pages of my shopping apps felt like a safe haven with the only reminder of reality being a patterened face mask. My frequent shopping habit was problem enough as it was before lockdown but the pairing of hours spent scrolling through ASOS and Zara’s ‘New-In’ section along with increased disposable income now there was no outtings and you had yourself a dangerous combination.

What doesn’t help is that we live in a generation where looks and aesthetics are more important than ever before and especially among young women; being seen as fashionable can be viewed as a very valuable currency. A largely followed Instagram page for girls these days can be the goose that lays the golden egg, because along with clout comes opportunity and even more conveted is the seemingly endless stream of free stuff. While ‘OOTDs’ and ‘Look Books’ were previously confined to Instagram and Youtube the spillage onto TikTok was detrimental to my bank account. Every third video seemed to be a different variation of the same types of outfit, flared trousers with chucky trainers and an oversized jumper, a tennis skirt with a sweater vest and collar and then a strappy mini dress with a leather jacket and Doc Martins. Despite everyone seemingly having the same rotation of outfits, this new style seemed to require a lot more items and therefore more shopping. ‘Basic’ style is basically blasphemy in todays world of online fashion, long gone is the reign of the old faithful skinny jean and nice top combo, and the irony of it is, is that standing out has never looked more like fitting in. Unknowningly once again it seems, it is the same outfits just in different fonts.

There is comfort however in knowing that there’s many of us in the same boat, even if it is one that’s sinking. A common trend on twitter during lockdown did seem to be the on-going joke that many people started to get on first name basis with their delivery drivers. It’s hard not to love seeing them coming when it was one of the few things to look forward to during lockdown. While buying something physical instore is a rush, there has to be something said for the process of online shopping and how each stage provides its own release of satisfaction; ‘Your order has been processed’, ‘Your order has been shipped’, ‘Your order is out for delivery’ and then waiting feverishly for the driver to arrive only brings greater enjoyment to finally having the parcel in your hands.

One of the worst parts of online shopping however is how easy they make it to buy things you know you shouldn’t. Buy Now Pay Later is a cruel mistress and one not to be played with. Students are typically well used living beyond their means ‘loans in, wits out’ a phrase used far too often by people living large during freshers week and then scraping by until the next payment comes in, but now with the likes of Klarna this doesn’t apply to online shopping. Klarna is just one of many online financing services which allow you to pay in installments or at a later stage. While it’s well and good to use it once in a while when you’re short on cash and need something for an emergency it should be used with caution. All too often I have had friends become trigger happy with it and then been hit with reality when a hefty bill eventually comes through.

Unfortunately it seems that 2021 will mostly be a case of ‘all dressed up and got no where to go’ so here’s to hoping for the health of our finances that the fashion gurus won’t go changing up styles anytime soon.

Sophie Fox is studying BSc Hons Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. You can contact her on Twitter and LinkedIn

The Christmas Shopping Experience: 2020 Style

The Christmas Shopping Experience: 2020 Style

Shop ‘Til You Drop – Christmas Edition

Despite the bright light displays and festive decorations, most of the time Christmas shopping isn’t as idyllic as we hope. We all know how Christmas shopping creates madness and havoc every year as people flock to the streets on the hunt for the perfect gift. Whether you’re the calm and collected type who always has a list to hand or the type to start your Christmas shopping in the days leading up to Christmas (or the day before). Never the less, this time of year is usually characterised by overwhelming crowds and people queued out of the shop doors.

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Despite how much we try to avoid it, last minute Christmas shopping is inevitable. We always find ourselves running to get finishing touches and according to Mintel, 76% of people in the UK continue to make purchases right up until Christmas. Despite all the stress, UK consumers love Christmas shopping! In reality, our arms are heavy from dragging around shopping bags and it’s never a successful Christmas shop unless you come home completely exhausted. However, our Christmas shopping experience will be very different this year.

Expectation vs Reality…

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Keep Calm, Christmas is Coming

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and according to Mintel, 77% of consumers believe that it’s more important than ever to have a good Christmas this year to make up for the events of 2020. This increases the pressure to give the perfect gift this year.

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The announcement that restrictions will continue until 11th December means that many consumers will opt to shop online. However, the potential reopening of stores may promote a Christmas rush, which is dangerous for consumers and retailers. Postal services have slowed down during the pandemic, which creates issues for last minute shopping. To add to this, during Christmas, postal delivery times are often unreliable, which may urge consumers to take to the shops in the run up to Christmas. Consumers who don’t use technology will also suffer as they’re not familiar with or don’t have access to online shopping.

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How to Avoid The Nightmare Before Christmas

There’s something about the obligatory shopping trip to Belfast at Christmas that unleashes your Christmas spirit. Walking around the shops and seeing the Christmas displays, decorations and lights that just adds to the Christmas build up. You also cannot forget to pick up a sweet treat and hot drink (or something a little stronger) from The Christmas Markets. However, shoppers are urged to shop early this Christmas to avoid the Christmas rush and increased COVID19 cases.

Many shoppers usually opt to shop in-store to benefit from professional help as experienced staff are on hand to give advice. This is a feature that online stores cannot fully replicate. Help from a sales advisor makes choosing a gift easier and is less overwhelming, compared to the wide amount of choice available online. Another advantage of shopping in-store is that consumers are able to feel and test the quality of products. This is important for gift shopping as consumers want to see the product before they buy to prevent unnecessary returns. Security online during the Christmas period is particularly important as scammers try to take advantage of consumers.

To avoid any mishaps, it’s important to be prepared this year. By shopping online, we can shop at our own convenience, from the comfort of our homes and avoid long queues. Primark in Belfast has been criticised for crowds gathered outside, before further COVID19 restrictions are introduced. Online shopping prevents this, whilst providing a safe platform for consumers during the pandemic. Consumers can save money in the run up to Christmas by shopping online as it’s easier to compare prices. Online retailers also offer discounts and sales which aren’t available in-store. By shopping from a department store like Debenhams, consumers can purchase all their gifts from the same place, saving on delivery costs. If you’re a Christmas procrastinator, then click and collect services are perfect for you! They limit the time spent in-store whilst still receiving your gifts in time for Christmas.  

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Save Time and Money – Splash the Cash on Black Friday

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If you’re shopping online this Christmas, it’s useful to get involved in big sale events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They’re a great way to avoid the Christmas rush whilst getting guaranteed Christmas delivery. The US tradition has become increasingly popular within the UK in the last 10 years, and is continuing to grow each year. According to Mintel, 70% of Black Friday shoppers use the event to purchase their Christmas presents.

Shop Local This Christmas

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We tend to shop at large chains for convenience reasons however, they’ve benefited from the pandemic unlike small local businesses. There’s been an emphasis on social media to shop local this Christmas by supporting local retailers. Small businesses often make personalised, hand-made gifts that come from the heart, with extensive time and effort put into making the gift. Why not create a gift hamper, filled with products from local businesses. You can create a unique gift that’s heartfelt and has an extra personal touch. Christmas is known as a time of giving back, so by shopping local, you can help small businesses to survive, whilst supporting your local community and creating jobs.

Support Local NI has been set up to encourage NI consumers to shop locally. Click here, to view their gift guide which is useful to find exactly what you’re looking for.

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Lauren Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Linkedin.

2020: The Year That Changed Consumerism

2020: The Year That Changed Consumerism

With 2020 drawing to a close and Christmas around the corner, it is now more evident than ever how significant an impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had across the world, affecting every aspect of life including how we shop. With ever changing lockdown rules that are seemingly unending, people have been changing how they spend their hard-earned cash.

Back when lockdown first hit in March consumer spending dropped to an all-time low with shoppers surviving on the bare essentials. As we begin to transition back to normality people are torn between supporting local businesses and giving in to the convenience of online retail giants like amazon. With next day delivery and even same day delivery in certain parts of the UK that trip to the shops is becoming a chore that people no longer need to complete. With a phone and access to internet you can have something ordered within five minutes and delivered to your house by the following morning.

It is already very clear that the high street will look very different in the coming years as retailers’ transition to online stores and weaker players begin to disappear. However, these impacts are not limited to smaller stores as even the likes of Arcadia along with its brands Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Wallis, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Outfit have collapsed into administration. With 444 shops under their belt heading into town for a look around the shops may become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, Arcadia’s retailers have fallen out of fashion in recent years, as it failed to respond to increasing competition from younger firms such as Asos.

Simon Geale, senior vice president of client solutions at Proxima said “There are now other brands that are cheaper, more convenient, and have greater variety to their ranges. These are the brands that are winning the battle.”

This shift in buying habits creates a new wave of challenges for businesses as they need to evolve to keep up with competition and implement effective marketing strategies in order to stay relevant in the eyes of the consumers. Over lockdown there have been no shortage of examples of brands embracing lockdown and coming up with clever campaigns to market their products and services but a personal favourite of mine came in early November.

With further lockdowns being imposed on the UK, the fitness industry retaliated, insisting they be deemed as essential in order to help the public’s physical and mental wellbeing during these tough times. Grenade (a sports nutrition company) jumped on the band wagon in an attempt to further the cause by driving a bright orange tank carrying James Haskell and Paul Olima through central London before parking up outside parliament. Not only did this create great PR for the company but also helped raise over 566,000 signatures towards a petition to keep gyms open.

These are unsettling times for businesses, with a recession likely to be on the way it can be easy to neglect marketing strategies and instead focus solely on survival. This would be a huge mistake as implementing marketing strategies has and will continue to be a huge part of a business’ survival. This is not a time to play on people’s fears or run a tone-deaf campaign that ignores what’s going on in society but instead a time to utilise strategic marketing campaigns with the consumer at the heart, highlighting brand values and making the best of a pretty grim situation.

Although Covid-19 is still a threat, people are trying to get on with their lives and so, brands need to continue to market to their customers. The businesses that disappear out of the public eye during these times will face huge consequences just like Arcadia. The businesses that continue to adapt and persevere alongside the public, implementing creative strategies and maximising customer engagement will flourish and continue to do so as we come out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Joshua Van Loggerenberg is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on: LinkedIn and Instagram.

It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Scam Us – Beware Xmas Shopping Online

It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Scam Us – Beware Xmas Shopping Online


Avoid losing your money to others looking to make a quick profit this Christmas

Well, it’s that time of year again. The run up to Christmas. It may not be as exciting as previous years, but thankfully we still have a holiday to look forward to. It’s around about this time that people will do their Christmas shopping, and now more than ever, a lot of it will be online.

Sadly, the good spirited nature of the season doesn’t spread as far and wide as we’d like to think. The online world can be very predatory to those who aren’t fully aware of the fact. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of surprising loved ones with splendid gifts or treating yourself to some seemingly lucrative business opportunities.

Well, this post is here to catch you up to speed. People want to cheat you out of your money this Christmas, and this year you will not let it happen!

If It’s Too Good To Be True, It’s A Pyramid Scheme

As the year 2020 painfully drags on, I’ve noticed a trend on social media that caught my eye.
Someone I followed on Instagram promoted a health drink that claimed to benefit the body in a list of ways. These unbranded coffees and juices somehow aid sleep and weight loss, boost your energy levels, increase your metabolism AND suppress hunger cravings. Sounds like a miracle in a glass for someone who wants to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.

At the time I laughed it off because there is no way one drink can do all of this by adding the sachet of powder to some water. You can’t replace eating well and taking care of yourself by downing a glass of unbranded juice every morning. I thought after seeing that first post that I’d never really come across it again. How wrong I was.

Fast forward a month or two and the same unbranded “health products” start popping up on my Instagram again. Now a handful of individuals are promoting these products and praising the company behind it to no end.

So, I’m just cynical, right? These young people have taken the plunge on a business investment on a relatively new company. I’m just jealous that they’re riding the wave of success and I’m not.

I decided then to give these posts the benefit of the doubt. I paid attention to every single post I come across that mentions these miracle drinks.
Again, I noticed a trend:

·      In all the promotional material I’ve seen, a company or brand name is never mentioned even once. It’s always, “My company,” or “Our company.”

·      These people promote the business with the same generalised work benefits. You can work around your own schedule, there are seven ways to earn, and you can reap amazing bonuses like brand new high-end cars that the company will partly pay for.

·      The posts will ask poll questions like, “Do you want to hear more?” or “Do you want to start a new job?” The problem being that the only two answers to the polls are different ways of agreeing to the question asked.






This nameless company however has a name. If you were to look closely enough at the products being advertised, you’ll see the name Valentus.

If you google Valentus, the first result is their own website. It shows all the ways you can either buy their products or purchase their starter kit to sell items yourself for profit.

All the results following that, however, don’t paint the company in the same positive light.  

If you were to look up Valentus on the online forum site Reddit, for example, it only contains anecdotes about how they are a scam company and the people promoting it are only doing so to negate their own initial investment.

If you see anyone trying to promote any kind of product like this, or company like this, do not enquire about it. They will pander this investment to you. They are deceiving you to make a profit for themselves, so you’re left out of pocket, with junk product to sell.

Item Is Currently Out of Stock. Everywhere.

 Then there is a different breed of opportunist for emptying your wallets this festive season. Scalpers.

 Every year, there is always that must have product. In years gone by it was pieces of tech such as the Nintendo Wii or the original iPod Touch.
For 2020, the moniker for must have product falls on to the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

These products don’t even have an age demographic. I know ten-year-olds that have them on their Christmas list and people forty plus who want one. I want a PlayStation myself.

From my experience, this is probably one of the more reasonably priced launches of a new gaming console. For example, the PlayStation 5 can start at around £350 in the U.K. depending on what version you buy.

It may sound steep but go back thirteen years ago to the launch of the PlayStation 3, and that would set you back £425.

Although that price is meaningless if you can’t even get your hands on one. The PS5 launched on November 19th in the U.K. How long did it take to sell out entirely? Mere hours.

So, your child is begging you for the newest gaming console, but everywhere you look is out of stock. Naturally, you then check sites like eBay and Gumtree to see what you can find.

The penny drops.

These sites are over-saturated with hundreds of listings of either console, but not at retail value. The lowest you’re going to see is about £800.

Scalpers wait until launch day and have measures in place to scoop up as many units as they can. This then forces a monopoly onto the public who desperately need these products for Christmas. Making the scalpers almost triple their initial investment.

My advice for any parents out there who have children begging for these consoles. You will not get one by Christmas for a reasonable price. Please don’t indulge these selfish scalpers and help them make a profit. Come the new year, they will produce more units. These scalpers will fade away if given time, just wait it out. Waiting one more month and saving £500 is just plain sensible.

Just Be Careful Out There

No one needs any added misery this Christmas time. So wherever you may do your shopping this year, keep your head about you. Buy from reputable retailers and always research what someone is trying to sell you.
A more stress-free Christmas will make all the turkey sandwiches taste better.



Rory Skillen is a fourth year BSc student in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn.

The Online Shopping Revolution

As many of you have seen, ASOS have launched a new trial tool on its site called ‘See My Fit’ and personally I think its genius…

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See My Fit

This tool lets shoppers see what an item of clothing would look like on 16 different body shapes ranging from sizes 4-18 and heights 5’1” to 5’9”. According to Tim Carey, senior content manager at ASOS Studios: “the tool uses AR technology to put the power in our customers’ hands, so they can choose to view a dress on the model that they most identify with in a way that wouldn’t be possible using traditional model-shooting techniques”.

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An example of the ‘See My Fit’ app

Can’t please em’ all

ASOS are always one step ahead and the product that it built will change our shopping experience for the better. However a lot of people have made comment on the fact that the model isn’t actually wearing the item. Step into the 21st century hun….imagine how long it would take if ASOS was to shoot every item of clothing on its website onto 16 different models (eye-roll)

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My view on ASOS

DISCLOSURE: In 2019 I paid a £9.99 one off payment to avail of ASOS’s free next day delivery for a year. Yes this investment was great value for money as next day delivery usually costs £4.99 per transaction. But, believe it or not there are pros and cons.

A major CON being the fact that I get an ASOS parcel delivered to my work every other day if not every day. Due to the fact that it’s free delivery, I hold the mindset that “Oh well, I may as well order it, sure I’ll probably send it back” (truth be told I usually don’t)

(9 times out of 10 I return things that I don’t like- I do however return things a lot more for a different size or if it doesn’t fit properly, even if I LOVE the item)

Have you noticed that I’ve began with the cons…

I usually do so as by the time that I’ve listed the positives I have forgotten the cons, selected my size, moved the items from my wish list to my bag, pay now…you get where this is going.

There are major pros to ASOS, the main one being that if I have last minute plans and it’s raining outside I can order an outfit or 2 or 3 (for selection purposes…obvs) from the comfort of my bed and it will be there the very next day. ASOS are miles ahead of the game when it comes to time management and selection. It really is like walking into a huge shopping centre with a shop just for you filled with your favourite brands in your size.

BACK TO THE POINT…

Like many people I am not ‘textbook size’. I take a different size in tops than in bottoms and I am usually tripping over the mile trail left on the floor when I put on my jeans. I am what many websites brand petite and as a result I have in many situations been the perfect example of #ExpectationVSReality.

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Expectation vs Reality

ASOS do have a pretty good petite range, but it is what I would describe as ‘the best of a bad bunch’.
They still fall guilty of one size fits all shapes in many of their products.

The Revolution

The new tool ‘See My Fit’ could possibly revolutionise the future of online shopping. This tool allows shoppers to see what the item of clothing would look like on various different shapes. In my case I could select a small petite girl with my build.
This would have many benefits for ASOS and of course its shoppers. I may be pleasantly surprised with how an item of clothing looks on someone my height and purchase, where as before I would have never considered buying it. This could lead to a lot more sales for ASOS eliminating the self doubt aspect or it could do the opposite and prove that they need to up their game and provide more size variations in their products.

Returns

Simple online returns are a major part of any consumers shopping experience as it gives them a choice, however it costs the industry BILLIONS! This year on Black Friday returns alone predicted to cost UK fashion retailers 1.6 billion pounds , according to returns management platform ReBound Returns. With returns predicted to rise by 27.3% in the next 5 years, this could have a catastrophic impact on our favourite brands.

Could ASOS’s new app be the solution?

Well if customers can see what the product would look like on someone like them, they are more likely to be confident with their purchase. The fact that ASOS are being upfront with its customer again may affect sales but it should definitely have an impact in reducing the quantity of returns.

ASOS have set the standards as far as online shopping goes and it wont be long before the other large retail competitors are forced to keep up. Even though this tool is seen as a unique selling point for ASOS in a few years time we will see this level of customer service as an essential, something we expect.

So for that …THANK YOU ASOS!

 

Kayleigh Tinney is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently doing a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on: Instagram – @Kayleightinney and LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kayleigh-tinney-76b240161/.

Online shopping vs IRL (In real life) shopping

If you’re like me and you love to shop you will know the struggle of finding the time to look properly while trying to do everything else that is going on like Uni, work and socialising, of course. There are two different types of shoppers, there are those who only shop online and people who actually love going in to shops.

There are pros and cons to both these ways of shopping…

Online shopping pros;

It’s right at your finger tips… Literally AB2

There are so many apps now on our smart phones for shopping the latest trends and even our groceries can be bought online and brought to our houses. We don’t even have to leave the house or if we are in work we can do it on our break, basically we can shop anywhere and everywhere, I think that is the appeal for most consumers. I have shopped online a few times because compared to normal stores there is an endless amount of clothes and styles on those apps, I mean endless you could spend hours just looking at tops alone. These sites also give you suggestions so you barely even need to look that far because they’ve already picked a look for you. With online shopping you also don’t have the stress of having to fight your way through people especially when it comes to Christmas time and Belfast City Centre is completely packed with everyone trying to get what they need. A perk I also enjoy from online shopping is getting it delivered to work because it’s like getting presents while I’m there, this defiantly helps with the 8 hour shift I don’t want to do.

Online shopping cons;

When we order online we have to wait usually 3-5 working days for our parcel to arrive and if there is a weekend in between then that’s two extra days added which is just unfair in my opinion, yes there is next day delivery but for most online shops that doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland… defiantly unfair. Then we have the charge of postage, although postage usually isn’t that dear it’s still charge on top of your items but if you’re like me and you see ‘free postage on orders over…’ and your order is just under that priceAB1 then I will buy something else, now this makes no sense because you are most likely now spending more money but it’s all about the principle of it, well that’s what I tell myself anyway. Sizing can be a problem, I like to try things on before I buy them because sizing in some shops can be completely different than sizing in another so if I order online half the time I usually send the stuff back or have to get another size which means I have to wait another 3-5 working days and that is just way to much waiting about for my gifts from me to me.

I prefer IRL shopping one reason for this is because I am a student and I can go into the city centre on a Monday at 10am when no one is there which makes it a lot easier.

IRL shopping pros;

When you go into a clothing shop and you can actually see what you are buying, you sometimes find that it looks nothing like what you saw online(which has happened to me quite a lot) so you know exactly what you are getting. You can try on the clothes before you buy them like I pointed out earlier, this is defiantly a good thing for me because I don’t have to send half of my order back. Customer service as annoying as it can be at times I still prefer to talk to a person rather than do everything through technology, having someone tell you they love what you’re buying at the till makes you feel good (even if it is a lie). We get what we want straight away. This is a big pro for me because I can be very last minute so being able to get and outfit and go works well for me and my at times unorganised lifestyle.

IRL shopping cons;

We all know how busy Castlecourt and Victoria Square can be at the best of times and it AB3is even worse around Christmas so if you aren’t a student or you can’t work from home you have to shop at the busiest and worst day to go into the city centre… A Saturday. It really is a horrible day to be anywhere near shops because everyone is off and then trying to get home after you’ve fought your way through the crowds is another nightmare, you could sit in traffic for hours. Being told they don’t have your size… this is to say the least, heartbreaking news, I hate, hate, hate when I have found the perfect outfit then the sales assistant tells me they don’t have my size then I have to start the process all over again or worse they tell me to look online, and you now know how shopping online makes me feel so you can imagine how I feel when that line is thrown in my face.

So, those are my thoughts on online vs IRL I’m sure some of you will share the same thoughts as myself in this department and if not you now know my views on two methods of shopping xo

 

Aoife Ni Cheallaigh Bairr is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/aoife-ni-cheallaigh-bairr-a42534164/

From the table to the top

When I think about what I want to be when I grow up (I say ‘when’, but it’s about time I admit – I am grown) I don’t exactly know what it is I want to be, but it’s safe to say that if I was as successful as Sophia Amoruso, I’d feel pretty good about myself. Or better yet, who’s seen the Devil Wears Prada? I’d settle for being Miranda Priestly. But at the moment my life is a lot more like Andy’s before she got the really good bangs and the jeans that made her go from a 2 to a 10.

When I snap myself back to reality, catch myself on and accept that bopping about New York in Louboutins is a bit farfetched… I can take some little bit of comfort in the fact that some of the most successful business women in the world, turned their kitchen tables into booming brands and became leaders in their industry.

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Huda Kattan: Founder of cosmetics line ‘Huda Beauty’

The Huda Beauty story began when Kattan followed her lifelong passion of beauty and enrolled in a makeup training course in LA, resulting in gaining a massive clientele including Eva Longoria, Nicole Richie and even members of the royal family. She then set up her blog, HUDABEAUTY.COM in 2010.

So how did blogging result in Huda producing some of the best make up in the industry? Basically, she never liked any of the eyelashes she was using on clients. She was constantly cutting them up or stacking different styles on top of each other to reach the desired look. It was then that her sister, Mona, who had the light bulb moment. Why not create your OWN lashes? So she did. They launched at a Sephora store in Dubai Mall in 2013 and sold out the same day.

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From that very day the Huda Beauty brand has grew and grew, resulting in Huda being approached by investors, having been offered $1.5m for a 60% share in the firm in 2014 – which was turned down as Huda had her own vision for the company that she didn’t want anyone or anything to interfere with,

“I was so afraid of losing the magic of Huda Beauty if we took investment,”

During an explosive growth period, Huda Beauty literally couldn’t keep up with demand. Orders grew and grew, so much so that they didn’t have enough products to distribute, and they couldn’t even increase production as they didn’t have enough money to hire more staff. So it was in 2017 that Huda Beauty partnered with TSG Consumer Partners investment firm,

“It was truly a long process in finding the right partner for us because we wanted to partner with a company that really understood our company’s vision… but it has honestly been such an amazing partnership and they’ve allowed the brand to flourish.”

Huda Beauty is now the number one Beauty Instagram account with over 26 million followers, the 61st most followed person on Instagram.

Ella Mills: Food Author and Entrepreneur under the brand ‘Deliciously Ella’

The Deliciously Ella story began in 2012 whilst Ella was in University and had just been diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome. In the simplest of terms, she had digestive issues and chronic fatigue and was fed up with her medication not having any positive effects. This resulted in her hitting rock bottom both mentally and physically. Not really what any university student needs.

So she took it upon herself to find other ways to manage her condition and soon realized it heavily depended on her diet and lifestyle, in which she had to massively change. Although there were a few problems:

“1. I couldn’t cook.

2. I had no idea about plant-based food

3. I had lost all of my sense of drive and passion”

(honestly Ella, SAME)

So… she decided to combat this and used a blog as a way to keep track of her culinary efforts and people LOVED IT. Hits began to grow and her audience wanted more. She soon began hosting cookery classes and “supper parties”. Her blog successes resulted in publishing opportunities, with the first Deliciously Ella cookery book being published in 2015, becoming the best-selling debut cookbook ever in the UK.

She then met her husband Matt and it was a true culinary love story. They joined forces by using her creativity and his business mind to open the first Deliciously Ella Deli in Seymour Place, London. This lead to the launch of the Deliciously Ella food range including energy balls, granolas and frozen meals that are sold in over 6,000 stores in the UK including popular food stores Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Holland & Barrett

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Sophia Christina Amoruso: Founder of ‘Nasty gal’

From an online eBay store to the CEO of one of the fastest growing companies, Sophia Christina Amoruso has had her fair share of success… so much so that she was named one of the richest self-made women in the world by Forbes in 2016. Sophia’s success story started at the age 22, when she started an online eBay store selling vintage clothing and other items, which she named “Nasty Gal Vintage”. She handled the whole thing herself, from buying the products, writing product descriptions and taking pictures of the products to share with her customers. Two years later she moved the store off eBay onto its very own website, rebranding as “Nasty Gal”

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This was just the beginning of Nasty Gal’s growth. Each year it grew and grew from opening its headquarters in LA in 2010, reaching $24 million revenue in 2011 (11,200% three-year growth rate) to opening their first brick and mortar store in 2014 in the famous LA Melrose Avenue.

Despite her evident success, Sophia’s journey was not smooth sailing as she called herself a “young, naïve founder.” Sophia stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal in 2015, after admitting “she felt incompatible with the demands of being a CEO”. Soon after, Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy, resulting in Boohoo Group purchasing the brand for a whopping $20m.

Although it was the end of Sophia’s Nasty Gal journey, it was not the end of her. After stepping down as CEO, Sophia had time to reflect and wants to pass on the wisdom and hard-learned lessons. You gotta learn from your mistake, am I right? She used her own experience to help others and founded GirlBoss Media in 2017, named after her best selling memoir #GirlBoss.

“Girlboss is a community of strong, curious, and ambitious women redefining success on our own terms. We are here to inform, entertain, and inspire action through the content and experiences we create. We are unapologetic in our beliefs and values of supporting girls and women who are chasing dreams both big and small.”

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So yeah, as much as our biggest career goals may seem totally out of reach – if there’s anything that the twenty-first century constantly teaches us, it’s that business opportunities are literally at our fingertips. It only takes a blog or vlog to build a public persona, Instagram to forge a brand, and eBay to have a proper business from home. It’s not impossible and our idols prove that. I wouldn’t suggest giving up the day job…  but don’t give up on the dream either. After all, the expert at anything was once a beginner.

Catherine Maguire is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: catherinelauram and LinkedIn: Catherine Maguire

“Would you like a bag with that?” What retail taught me about PR!

Retail is a mad environment, a mad environment that I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working in for nearly 5 years! Don’t get me wrong it’s fun but it’s also fast-paced and tough, standing on your feet for 8 hours hurts, running back and forward like a mad eejit to get items for customers will increase your fitbit steps considerably, as will dealing with difficult situations and moving fixtures to name but a few! If you have worked (or currently work) in retail you’ll be able to relate to this blog in some way, shape or form! If you don’t work in retail – no worries, I am hoping you’ll get a glimpse of life from behind the counter and what retail workers deal with daily!

Before starting university, I didn’t realise how much I’d learned in the world of retail nor how much it had prepared me for my future career in Public Relations. Who would have thought that retail makes you quite the PR professional…OK, maybe not a professional but you’ll definitely develop a bit of a flair for it. As I am a student, I will include some academic writing just to prove my point (and to sound highly intellectual).

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Trust me, it will all make sense!

Public relations is all about building, maintaining and managing good relationships though communication, according to the two academic legends Grunig and Hunt, who wrote this in 1984. Apply their analysis to a retail setting, or any setting where a customer/client relationship is involved, and you must deal with them appropriately, right? In retail you encounter a wide range of customers with some extremely unique characteristics. The ones who’ll quip “well I’m hardly going to carry that around now am I *insert laugh*” after you’ve offered them a bag; or my all-time favourite “if there’s no price on it that must mean its free!” I have heard that 6 times today… Bet you’re reading this, and you’ve said that yourself more than once! Haven’t you?

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Regardless of who or what you encounter, having good public relations skills will ensure you make their retail experience a pleasurable one which they will hopefully repeat regularly. Imagine you are a customer purchasing goods and the sales adviser is rude, arrogant and totally unpleasant – you would be outraged and leave feeling annoyed at the situation. You would have little or no inclination to shop there again and at worst, you would give the shop a poor social media review.  If you’re of a “certain age” you might prefer to phone and ask to speak to a member of staff. Imagine poor customer service in a PR agency?  You’d be out of business in no time.

In retail the customer is your priority and in a competitive market they expect the 5* treatment.  Ever heard the expression “kill them with kindness?” I’m pretty sure that was written for retail workers. To be successful you must always be polite and attentive, listening to their needs, communicating with them effectively and showing a genuine interest in them. Remember us Irish love retail therapy!  But BALANCE is key🔑 in all of this as an over-zealous approach can also be off-putting and have customers behind the mannequins in lingerie like an episode out of “Fr Ted”.

Similarly, in PR, when working closely with a client, it’s vital that you listen to their needs, concerns and ideas – showing that you care about them. By remembering customers’ names, their likes and dislikes, whether they want the receipt in the bag or in their hand your customer will hopefully feel they are appreciated. They must feel that your world revolves around them.

In retail you need to be able to multi-task to the best of your ability, including doing 10 different jobs at once!   Merchandising, deliveries, not to mention manning the tills whilst also bending over backward for your customer while a queue begins to form with impatient coughs beginning to resonate towards you.  Yes my friends, if you can do all this under tight deadlines and still keep that smile on your face, then you should be able to work in PR……

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Sometimes you might wonder “why do I bother?” but in the PR world you need to be highly motivated all the time – adapting to every situation that is thrown your way.  There really is no such thing as a typical day!

Often in retail you can find yourself in a situation you’d never have dreamt of, smiling as you deliver a suitable response to an unhappy customer in order to survive.  Time to shine a light on your problem-solving skills – this might be rhyming off your companies return policy to Susan who clearly bought the item in a different country and wore it 100 times, or how the bags cost 5p and it’s not your fault.  Let’s not forget the customer who will not believe that you genuinely have none of that item left!

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You guessed it! Us PR Wizz kids need to work with other managers to solve communication problems. Being able to act quickly during a difficult situation calls for a crisis communication plan. Now, in the PR world this will be most likely be on a mass scale, it might involve writing a press release, releasing a statement to the organisation’s publics on social media and taking calls from members of the press to ensure the same message is communicated to all.

I am thankful for all that I have learned during my time working in retail, I feel it’s a rite of passage for us millennials.  Now to graduate, get a job and enjoy some retail therapy of my own.

Alannah Stephens is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. Alannah can be found on Twitter @AlannahStephens and on  Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/alannah-stephens-ab1525127/ 

The High-Street Hustle

Success within a changeable industry

 

As reports of huge retailers filing for bankruptcy or closing a multitude of stores grow increasingly regular as the weeks fly by, it’s pretty hard not to think about what the future really holds for the High Street as we know it. As an Assistant Manager of a popular Belfast Retail Store (and frequent over-spender), I for one have struggled to keep up with the changes in Belfast City Centre over the last year with so many stores moving premises, rebranding, or ceasing trade entirely.

The world has gone online, and it’s more and more obvious by the day just how much of an impact the digital age is having on our High Streets. A recent report by The Office for National Statistics published in August 2018 states how online spending has “continued to increase to reach a new record proportion of all retailing at 18.2%.” With no doubt a strain is evident, what is the secret to achieving a steady turnover in a world dominated by Amazon Prime?

 

Brick and Mortar

The key to maintaining success in this increasingly competitive high street market is to focus on customer perception. Why may a customer choose to head into the City Centre for a bit of shopping on a Saturday afternoon, rather than snuggling up on the sofa with their iPad and a nice cuppa, scrolling through ASOS for hours on end.

The answer? Communication. That all important customer interaction is what keeps people coming back. This is something that you will not get online, and for many tends to categorise shopping as an enjoyable pastime rather than a necessity. How many times have you found yourself engaging in conversation with a Sales Assistant (usually surrounding a completely random topic), and left the store with a smile on your face. Equally, a less enjoyable encounter may reduce the likelihood you will rush back to that store.

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Carrier bag 5p, Experience Priceless

Belief in your brand is vital. Customers do not want to be sold a product, but a lifestyle. Present your belief in the item, the company, and most importantly your genuine interest in the people who are giving you a reason to switch on the lights.

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you have undoubtedly heard the infamous comment that a particular item is cheaper online. Fast fashion is rapidly available, but isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For this particular group of individuals, the price point will not be the pinnacle when contemplating a purchase (although I’m pretty sure there is a good percentage of Belfast’s population who’d happily switch to the online market just to get out of having to pay 5p for a carrier bag). A friendly, positive attitude and a soft-sell, non-scripted approach is best-practice. A customer should never feel as though you are pushing an item in exchange for an additional cocktail on Saturday night. Let’s just say Disneyland would not hire me pre-morning coffee, but the secret is simple… buy the Latte, pop on that retail smile and put your best self on the floor.

 

I can’t, but we can

The team. The word itself says it all. There is no ‘I’ in team, and the foundations for the successful running of a Retail Store will always come down to those representing the brand. A customer doesn’t know the Managing Director, they don’t know who runs the Warehouse or who manages Payroll (and probably don’t particularly care either). All they are interested in is the product, and respectively the individual selling it to them. A company can have an incredible hierarchical back-bone, but in most cases the customer will not see beyond the Sales Assistant.

Your team members are your forefront, the lead on your reputation, and act as the focal pull to the potential customer. Training is vital, and can make or break a retailer. Build a strong, dependable, enthusiastic team that will do all necessary to avoid providing a customer with reason to grow disengaged with the service implemented in-store.

Buy now or cry later

Visual Merchandising is your best friend. Creating a visual atmosphere that draws people in will change your life (well maybe not your life but your footfall counts at least). You may be surprised by how many people prefer to see an item in person before purchasing. The opportunity to touch it, feel it, and try it on… (spoiler alert: you’ll also save yourself the bother of repackaging an unwanted item and carting it to the Post Office).

I personally find myself more likely to develop an attachment to an item that I have held in my hand, as opposed to the multitude of items on my Topshop ‘online WishList’. We have the ability to view short catwalk snippets, and even spin online images 360 degrees to view the item from all angles, but is this really the same as viewing the item in person and physically touching it? A glimpse at how the item looks partnered with your style, how it feels, does it look the same as advertised… (pretty much all of the guess-work involved in an online haul).

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Sink or Swim

I am sure Brexit alongside other factors will bring more ups and downs to our Economy, our High-Street and our Retailers. This is a bridge we will cross when we come to it. The present is our priority, and we are more than capable of continuing to thrive (and even grow). Do we give in to the online market? Or do we present an experience that will make the customer want to return to the store. Online retailers are here to stay, but I believe in the importance of brick and mortar and believe that many others do too. Know your competition, monitor KPIs, set targets and aim to exceed them. Provide unmatchable customer service and respect the sales team (they are the face of your brand). Sell an experience over a product, reiterate the importance of a consistent Brand Identity and implement Consumer-led Strategy. Take every chance you have to thrive.

To remain competitive and relevant in a constantly evolving industry may be a challenge, but remind yourself that impossible is only an opinion. If your work isn’t fun, you’re not playing for the right team.

Nora xx

 

Nora Brennan is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on: Instagram – @noraellenb / Twitter – @noraellenb / LinkedIn- Nora Ellen Brennan.