Inbound Marketing for Retailers


When was the last time you Googled anything and only one result came up? Never. If you’re doing any kind of online shopping and Google a product, here’s what that experience looks like: you quickly browse the first page of Google, open links in new tabs, compare prices, read customer ratings, and research the specs. This is a common scenario for the average consumer;

So, how do retailers stand out in a noisy online marketplace?

Inbound marketing is a strategy used by successful retailers that attracts customers to products through content marketing, social media marketing, SEO, and branding. Retailers – SMB and enterprise – are finding success in creating meaningful relationships with their audience, which translates into sales. 

When you approach the customer relationship with a goal to build trust, you’ll gain not only their trust but their loyalty. This may seem counter intuitive to retailers who are used to asking for or expecting a quick sale, but practice patience. Your customers are looking for a level of customer service entirely different than 20, or even 10 years ago. Start by focusing on the relationship, and the sales will follow.

How does inbound marketing help you build relationships with your customers?

Inbound marketing makes it easier for potential customers to discover your product online, and by doing so, you’re creating an easy path for them to engage with your company. Engagement can come in different forms such as, as comment on a social post, a like, a post share, a subscription to your mailing list and eventually, a sale. Every kind of engagement builds your customer relationship.

Where many retailers fall short with their marketing and customer engagement is failing to nurture a customer during their buying process. While some shoppers know exactly what they want and where to get it, others do not. Inbound marketing helps you keep your audience’s attention in a way that feels natural and non-intrusive.

In his book, Permission Marketing, Seth Godin explains why non-intrusive marketing strategies for retailers resonate better with the modern consumer. The reason is, as Godin describes, is that companies have a new privilege (not the right) to deliver anticipated, relevant messages to people who actually want to receive them. It’s for this reason inbound leads convert 4x faster than outbound leads. Successful retailers get this concept and are growing their businesses with inbound marketing.

The Fundamentals of the Inbound Marketing Methodology

First coined by HubSpot CEO, Brian Halligan, inbound marketing is being adopted by thousands of retailers, who value attracting qualified leads by offering relevant, helpful, value-added content. This proven method of marketing is directly aligned with the buyer’s journey, and unlike often-costly outbound marketing techniques, inbound strategies won’t fight with each other for your potential customers’ attention. If your company is creating content designed specifically to address every need of your ideal customer, you will attract your revenue-driving demographic and build trust. You can do this through a 4-stage process:

Inbound Marketing Methodology


In retail, there are thousands of types of customers. If you’re a boutique women’s clothing company, you aren’t trying to attract a HVAC contractor looking for parts and supplies. Anybody can visit your website, but you don’t want just anybody, and not everybody wants you.

There’s a certain demographic your business appeals to, these groups of people are who we call personas. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Taking the time to research and accurately identify your personas will provide your marketing strategy with structure and focus. Once your personas are identified, you’ll use the information as the foundation of your marketing plan.

Using personas to attract the ideal customer will help them find you when they’re looking for you. Before making a purchase, your target market is researching how to solve a problem they’re experiencing. When they discover a piece of content you wrote addressing this specific need, they will evolve from a stranger to a visitor.

Examples of content that will help attract your personas:

  • Blogging about relevant and semi-relevant topics
  • Frequent and relevant social media posts
  • Utilizing the keywords your key demographic use in search engines
  • Developing webpages and landing pages that address your target audience’s problems


Now that you attracted the right customer to your site, the next step is to convert your visitor into a lead. This can easily be done virtually, without employing the use of your sales team. Remember, it’s important to not push away the visitor by asking them to make a purchase too quickly.

During this stage you’ll develop the relationship and earn your visitor’s trust. Open the conversation in a way that works best for them. Maybe it’s gathering their information on a landing page form by offering them a piece of content in return, for example: a downloadable guide, eBook, or white paper. Once you’re able to connect with the visitor, nurture the relationship by providing relevant information and solutions to their needs. Examples of tools that will help convert visitors to leads:

  • Calls-to-action
  • Lead flow forms
  • Landing pages
  • Non-invasive forms
  • Virtual messaging and chats
  • CRM tools


For those salespeople eager to make the ask, the first two steps may feel like you’re delaying a potential sale. It’s important to practice patience and remember that not every site visitor will transition into a qualified lead, and not all qualified leads become customers. It all depends on their position in the buyer’s journey, which we cover later on in this article.

When you have a qualified lead, how can you effectively nurture the relationship into a sale? Through effective use of big data, lead nurturing, email, and lead scoring. For example, your emails should have relevant calls to action, and the lead nurturing campaign should be guiding them further through the buyer’s journey until finally your lead becomes a customer.

Examples of tools that will help convert leads to customers:

  • Pipeline management
  • Lead nurturing
  • Email marketing
  • Predictive lead scoring


This stage is crucial but is often overlooked by retailers focused so intently on new customers. It’s critical to build and grow your customer satisfaction and retention rates. Your customers have higher expectations because of the level of respect you treated them with throughout their process to become a customer. Don’t fail them now. Continue to engage and delight your customers by asking them questions, offering them special content, and deliver them the tools to be successful with their products. The happier your customer is, the more product they will buy and serve as brand ambassadors in their own networks.

Examples of tools that will help delight customers into becoming brand influencers:

  • Smart content designed exclusively for existing customers
  • Virtual and real conversations
  • Customer-only specials
  • Workflows

Why does the buyer’s journey matter to your customers?

We’ve all been in a store with an overzealous sales person showing us the newest product on the shelf, pushing us to buy it, making us uncomfortable and eager to run out of the store. We were only there to browse after all. On the flip side, how frustrating is it when you’re shopping for something specific and you walk into a store and see mostly empty shelves?

Whether you are window shopping or ready to make a purchase, both stages are equally important in your customer’s buying journey. According to HubSpot, the buyer’s journey is the process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate, and purchase a new product or service. This journey is a three-step process: 


Let’s break down these stages:

  1. Awareness Stage: the customer realizes they have a problem.
  2. Consideration Stage: the customer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.
  3. Decision Stage: the customer chooses a solution.

Here is a scenario where each stage is clearly illustrated:

  • Awareness Stage: I will be going on a tropical vacation and I want to get new swimsuits and tank tops, but my local stores are still carrying only winter season clothing.
  • Consideration Stage: I found online retailers selling summer clothing, but I’m not sure I will want to keep everything I buy.  
  • Decision Stage: I can buy the summer clothing online and go through the return process if I decide not to keep it. Or I can rent clothing from a company that will send me a box of clothing to wear, enjoy, and return at no extra cost. I’ll rent the clothing because there’s a lower commitment.

It’s important to be aware which phase a potential client is currently in, and it will help you determine the content they should receive. If a potential client is familiar with your product, should they receive the same content you would provide a stranger in the Attract phase of inbound methodology? Perhaps a blog or guide about your services would be a better fit because they are in the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey. Here are examples of blog topics that would be appealing to the customer above going through the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness Stage: Where to Find Summer Clothing in the Middle of Winter
  • Consideration Stage: Going Somewhere Tropical This Winter? Here are 5 Reasons to Rent Your Vacation Wardrobe.
  • Decision Stage: How to Use ABC Company as a Personal Stylist for Your Tropical Vacation

If you’re unsure what kinds of challenges and problems your customers are facing in their awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, it’s a good idea to get a better understanding. Ask them questions through online surveys or hold interviews. Your company’s salespeople are also good resources to help you understand what your average customer’s buyer journey looks like. Download our Retailer’s Guide to Inbound Marketing to see sample questions to discover more about your target customer’s buyer journey.

Once you identify your buyer’s journey, be sure to provide relevant content for each stage that is tied back to the 4 stages of inbound marketing methodology. If you’re serving up the right content at the right time for your potential customers, you’re going to edge out the competition and gain the trust of your customers. Remember, no one likes to be sold, so use inbound marketing to educate and build trust with potential customers and your existing database.

The inbound marketing process can be complex, but at the core it’s a logical explanation of human behavior. Once you understand the fundamentals of what inbound marketing does and how it brings the right customers to your business, you’ll begin to see how retail marketing strategies can easily adopt inbound. 

The Retailer's Guide to Inbound Marketing 

Whitney Mitchell

Whitney Mitchell

Whitney Mitchell is a certified Inbound Marketing Coordinator for Can-Do Ideas, Montana’s only HubSpot Gold Partner and inbound marketing agency. She is a fifth-generation Montanan with a background in supporting national brands from the public affairs, association, and non-profit industries. Whitney has spent 7+ years utilizing digital marketing strategies and marketing software automation systems designed to fill the funnel for ERP and CRM software and SaaS organizations.

TOPICS: Inbound Marketing, Customer Service, Retail

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