The news that chocolate maker Thorntons, is not reopening any of its remaining 61 stores, with the loss of over 600 jobs, didn’t come as any real surprise. It had been limping along for some time, uninspiring and under-invested. Under owners Ferrero, it had been scaling back its store estate over the last five years, from over 250 to the 61 which are now not to reopen.
However, it would be a misnomer to assume that Thorntons has become yet another victim of the pandemic, and of our insatiable appetite for anything online. To get to the truth of why Thorntons has failed, we have to look a little deeper.
There have been many comparisons made between Thorntons and its nearest direct competitor, Hotel Chocolat, which hint at the underlying mis-management of the brand. Thorntons’ own words on their website as to the reasons for the closures are revealing, saying:
“….changing dynamics of the high street, shifting customer behaviour to online, the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the numerous lockdown restrictions over the last year….has meant we have been operating in the most challenging circumstances”.
Contrast that with Hotel Chocolat co-founder and chief executive, Angus Thirlwell, speaking in January after posting group revenue up 11% over the 26 weeks to December 27:
“The strength of the brand and our ability to flex our multichannel model meant that despite the challenging environment every business and every family has faced, we were able to keep on delivering chocolate happiness, launch new products and deliver strong sales growth”.
Clearly Hotel Chocolat are doing something which Thorntons haven’t been and I wanted to find out what that was.
Brightpearl are leaders in providing multichannel capability for retailers, and their chief revenue officer, Nick Shaw told me, “Businesses which invest in their multichannel capability have been able to respond successfully to crises like Covid because they have the agility to overhaul their business models and pivot quickly to focus on individual channels”
But it couldn’t just be this could it? The uninspiring stores and uninspiring website were certainly strong clues. But there had to be something else.
Now, there’s a basic rule in retail; know your customer. And it follows that knowing your customer means communicating with them. And in this social media age, it’s never been easier. So I asked Maybe* – a business which specialises in advising businesses how to drive sales through social media, to compare Thorntons with Hotel Chocolat over the last three months.
The results were shocking.
In the period between December 16 to March 15, Hotel Chocolat posted on social media nearly ten times more than Thorntons. And in the same period, they had 161,000 social media engagements, whilst Thorntons had…..eight.
And looking back on the Thorntons Twitter account uncovered something even more revealing. Since April 9 2020, the number of times that Thorntons have communicated with their customers on that channel, has been precisely……zero. Nothing. Not a squeak for nearly a year.
Maybe* CEO, Polly Barnfield told me, “Retailers that neglect the conversation with their customers are paying the price. Those that embrace the channels where customers are engaging reap the rewards. Retail has always been about service, that is a thing that no longer happens in one channel. Wherever customers are, retailers need to be. This data says it all.”
Could it be that they had nothing to say? Hotel Chocolat certainly do, in fact they can’t shut up. Frequently bringing new ideas and recipes to their customers, telling a story and giving their customers a reason to go online or want to visit their stores once they can reopen.
It’s a sobering lesson and Thorntons are not alone in their ignorance of the power of social selling. But it is probably the most acute example yet of a retailer failing to engage with its customers, and paying the price for its silence.