Australian retailers are making the best efforts to fight the post-recession sales slump with an innovative new campaign.

A group of traders from Camberwell in Melbourne’s east have embarked on a nifty social media campaign paired with good old fashioned community engagement to bring consumers back to local shops.

Giant shopping centres and online outlets have seen sales dramatically slow for independent retailers in small Australian communities, and Camberwell is just one example.

The group of shops situated across the Camberwell shopping precinct decided to do something about it and initiated their My Camberwell social media campaign to attract a new generation of shoppers and generate exposure online, previously a platform where they had very little presence.

Running until December 4, the campaign includes The Great Camberwell Treasure Hunt, a Facebook photo challenge and a mass coffee giveaway on Twitter. Each activity aims to encourage local people to support their local community.

Camberwell Centre Association Manager Kerry Daly said more than 350 members across the Camberwell stores decided to participate in a collective campaign to take advantage of an easy way to use social media to promote their small businesses.

Daly said a big reason for participating in a social media campaign is to avoid a retail slump in the current economic climate, as local retailers expressed concern over recent media reports of business being lost to internet sales.

“We needed to find ways to reach our customers more directly and encourage them to support their local shops, talk to them on the internet if that is where they were looking, and give them reasons to come to the area beyond the shops [i.e. food, services and everyday needs] and tap into the dollars they were willing to spend.”

Another motivation behind the campaign was to develop a personality for the Camberwell shopping precinct and compete with the large complexes and internet outlets that are typically more impersonal, says Daly. “Our goal is to create a ‘Camberwell community’ who support the local businesses because they feel connected to the precinct. They know our shop keepers, the range of stores, what’s going on, and how they can get involved.”

Above: Henk Kelly-Kobes, owner of Camberwell bookstore Dymocks

Henk Kelly-Kobes, owner of Camberwell bookstore Dymocks, says it is a tough time to be retailer with many stores suffering a second year of lower sales, claiming fashion and homewares have taken the worst hit. “The retail slump is real, with consumer confidence shot,” he said.

The book trade has faced testing times following closures of giant stores such as Borders and Angus and Robertson in recent months. Henk confirms that sales across the book industry have been down, in line with the retail slump.

In an effort to fight the plummeting sales, Henk has been forced to come up with creative new ways of doing business to attract customers. While they are still marketing to their consumers in the same ways as before, Dymocks have always thrived with their loyalty program and are now pushing that angle with new customers. Being a part of Camberwell’s social media campaign has meant that another channel of communication between retailers and customers has opened up.

The current retail slump comes as a timely reminder for customers to support their local shops. Henk says people should “stay with the bricks and mortar” but recognises that physical shops need to improve their offers to compete.

While it has been difficult for Henk to notice any positive results that have come directly from the debut social media campaign, he acknowledges that it is still in its infancy and will help in the long run. “Social media is here to stay and needs to be part of our engagement with our customers. It is part of the mix to maintain and increase our consumer awareness of our offers. Being local is also important and social media can help with that.”

Camberwell-based digital marketing agency, Assemblo, have helped Camberwell Centre Association to develop the social media campaign on a limited budget.

Production Director Steve de Niese says it was important for Assemblo to design a strategy that would provide a two way communication channel between Camberwell businesses and their customers. “The ability to communicate with your audience immediately and directly, and build a personality for your brand, is critical.

“We want to establish a loyal following of active local shoppers who can share their stories and help Camberwell to build on what it is that makes Camberwell so great through their feedback and comments.”

The Camberwell shops’ competitiveness relies on making people aware of their offers and being connected to the local community, adds Daly.

“Social media is the best way for us to ‘talk’ directly to our customers and reinforce our ‘local shops’ personality. Small business operators know they need to look at social media but are not often early adopters and have little time to spend managing social media so may not do it as effectively, or at all. We cannot afford to be left behind in what is already a difficult retail climate.”

For more information about the My Camberwell campaign, visit http://www.mycamberwell.com.au/