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Social Retail: Finding, Engaging & Cultivating Today’s Connected Consumer

Ron Schott
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social-retailThe consumer is changing. No longer is a consumer finding the next styles or products they want in a catalog that ends up in their mailbox.

Today’s consumer is finding out about new products, styles, and trends online – from friends, brands, and influencers. Likewise, the shopping experience has turned into one that is connected as consumers are using mobile devices while shopping.

How can brands take advantage of these trends? What tools are at brands’ disposal? How can brands more effectively tap into the data, conversations, and experiences in today’s changing retail environment? I’m glad you asked

Pre-purchase Interactions

Before a consumer even enters a store (physical or digital), they have the chance to interact with a brand. Through social and mobile integrations, brands are reaching these consumers in new and creative ways.

Social Recommendations

The world of social media is littered with brand mentions and recommendations from friends, friends of friends, and perfect strangers. Now, more than ever, consumers are turning to social media and the digital space for product research before purchase.

  • 76 percent of consumers recommend companies they trust to a friend or colleague (Source: Edelman)
  • Millennials are highly-skeptical of brand content and marketing in social media, instead 86 percent of consumers in that group say that user-generated content has more influence on what they buy (Source: Bazaarvoice Study)
  • 62 percent of all online shoppers read product-related comments from friends on Facebook, with 75% of these shopper clicking through to the retailers site (Source: Sociable Labs Social Impact Consumer Study)

With increased social recommendations being at the forefront of information gathering and product/brand discovery, it’s incredibly important that brands are taking advantage of these touch points and creating opportunities for consumers to create, share, and interact with recommendations via social networks, forums, blogs, and brand-owned websites and storefronts.

Friend and Influencer Interactions

While millennials are trending toward UGC, many digital consumers are still relying on a more traditional form of word of mouth to get their information – their friends.

  • 57 percent of shoppers are more likely to buy after receiving opinions from friends (Source: Sociable Labs Social Impact Consumer Study)
  • The top-two reasons consumers are driven to action are: 1) Their friends shared reasons the bought a product or prefer a brand 2) Their friends shared discounts (Source: Sociable Labs Social Impact Consumer Study)

With the increase in reliance on friends and influencers in the purchase decision process, brands must activate influencers and engage current customers in content and programs that not only continue to meet the needs of current customers or brand advocates, but also provide valuable information or potential customers when shared.

Brands must also build sharing actions and functionality into their sales, marketing, and purchase processes in order to create sufficient levels of social content.

Social Entertainment

Users engaged with TV and movie content aren’t simply sitting on the coach or in a theater watching the entertainment anymore. Mobile devices and applications aimed at bringing users deeper into the entertainment experience are quickly becoming the norm.

As brands, products, and services are increasingly inserted in entertainment, the chance for integration with social entertainment experiences increases. While the apps in market are still in the early days, the facts about mobile device and PC use while consuming entertainment are undeniable.

  • 86 percent of tablet owners and 88% of smartphone owners in the U.S. use them while watching TV (Source: Nielsen)
  • The 2012 Super Bowl saw 8 commercials mention Twitter and 8 mention Facebook – the most ever (Source: Advertising Age)
  • U.S. and U.K. consumers have higher simultaneous use of TV and smartphones/tablets than the rest of the world… combined (Source: Nielsen)

With a number of clear app leaders and opportunities for branded content delivery alongside and within entertainment content via mobile and tablets, brands must develop a strategy that incorporates advertising and content in order to tie existing on-screen integrations into digital campaigns for extended reach and added impact.

Image-based Social Networks

There’s something about an image. Where it was that they once were worth a thousand words, images are now translating not only into words, but into real dollars for brands.

The emergence of visual bookmarking site Pinterest and the super-simple mobile image sharing network Instagram have increased the importance of a brand image strategy.

  • Instagram (which Facebook agreed to purchase in April) sees 565 likes and 81 comments per second… all of which are now connected to Facebook (Source: Instagram)
  • 67 percent of Instagram’s 100 Million+ users are active every day
  • Pinterest drove 3.6% of referral traffic in January 2012 (Source: Comscore)

Brands must build image-focused marketing strategies aimed at not only engaging consumers, but driving to interaction points where information exchanges can prove useful for consumers and brands.

Connecting digital experiences to offline and online retail provides a clear path of discovery, vetting, and purchase that retailers are accustomed to trying to prove through historical advertising.

In-store Interactions

Once a consumer entered a store, it used to be that it was up to the sales people to convince them to buy an item or a service.

Today, though, users are still interacting with digital media via their mobile devices while taking part in the shopping experience. These touch points offer lower-funnel access to consumers for brands in close proximity to the purchase decision.

Social Shopping Applications

While consumers are consuming information from and interacting with brands in different ways, they mostly want to have that connection for a few key reasons:

  • To hear about new products and offerings first.
  • To get a deal.
  • To have a clear line of communication.

Social shopping apps have sprung onto the scene and are taking care of the first two points.

  • 33 percent of consumers use their mobile phones to check for sales and specials (Source: PowerReviews Study)
  • 32 percent of consumers have checked ratings and reviews of products on their phones (Source: PowerReviews Study)

With consumers expecting to be able to get feedback, deals, and reviews while standing in a retail environment, brands must be ready to act – not only by making sure their web content is accessible via mobile device, but through partnerships and advertising on apps like ShopKick, GoTryItOn, and others.

Consumers are looking to make smart, informed purchasing decisions and they’re doing so by tapping their networks in real-time.

Location-based Marketing

In the battle for hearts and minds of consumers, there’s a push to be able to deliver the right content to the right consumer at the right time and place. Location-based marketing takes care of the place (and time in most cases), but marketers have missed the boat for the most part.

Real-time exclusive deals and offers are a clear path forward when looking at the impact location and time data can provide on consumer purchase intent.

  • 750,000+ business use Foursquare to interact with consumers (Source: Foursquare)
  • 12 percent of smartphone owners check in via location-based services

While Foursquare and Facebook deals tied to location may not be the best way for all retail brands to interact with their target consumers, the wealth of data that can be culled from check-ins is staggering. For retail brands with target audiences that index higher in areas of technology and social network use, the chance their audiences will be using and expecting brands to be participating in location-based services is much higher.

Augmented Reality Apps

While retailers in the fashion space have been toying with the idea of virtual dressing rooms for some time, they have yet to break into the mainstream. Online retailers like Amazon.com have released applications that in fact take purchases out of brick and mortar retailers by allowing users to view products in person and price compare via augmented reality applications.

  • 8 percent of today’s augmented reality use for marketing is focused on point of sale experiences (Source: Hidden Study)
  • 7 percent of today’s augmented reality use for marketing is focused on “try before you buy” experiences, giving consumers the chance to “see it on” or test drive a product before purchasing (Source: Hidden Study)

As mobile technologies and bandwidth continue to progress, augmented reality will become the norm for in-store experiences and retail shopping. Brands must be moving at the same pace their consumers are and have a plan in place for augmented reality usage as it relates to navigation, content delivery, and product experiences.

Post Purchase

Where consumers use to buy a product, leave the store, and end their conversation with brands (unless trouble arose), social now connects consumers and brands in a much easier, more conversational space.

Conversations that once happened over coffee or at the gym are now catalogued online for brands to measure, analyze, and interact with.

Access to consumer satisfaction commentary and actual access to consumers in the social realm has lengthened the relationship between consumer and brand, giving brands the chance to create and cultivate valuable brand advocates.

Customer Service

Phone calls to 1-800 numbers used to be the norm. Now, a user expects to tweet, post to Facebook, or make a blog post and receive some sort of response from a brand. In a world where publishing is as easy as texting, brands must be quick to react.

  • More than 50 percent of Facebook users and 80 percent of Twitter users expect a response to a customer service inquiry in a day or less (Source: Consumer Views of Live Help Online 2012, A Global Perspective, Oracle)
  • Social customers will tell an average of 42 people about a good customer experience, and will tell an average of 53 people about a bad customer experience (Source: 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer)

Brands must be ready to react and interact on social media. There is no time like the present to take great customer interactions to then next level or make a poor customer experience just a little bit better.

Real-time is the only option these days as customers expect quicker, easier ways to get in touch with brands in order to solve their pressing problems.

Brands are also finding out very quickly that simply cross-training existing customer service teams to act in social is not always the best solution. Social customer services leads need to be able to empathize and communicate just as social consumers do.

Influencer Programs

The gathering and growing of consumers into social channels is something that, while it looks good on reports, is only useful if something is then done with those consumers after the fact. One growing area of focus for marketers and brands in this space is influencer relations.

While Klout was first to market with their influence rankings, marketers are finding that they need more in terms of analysis and data than a simple Klout score. By reaching those individuals that spark conversation and carry great amounts of social capital, brands are able to better land their messaging and increase potential reach.

  • 62 percent of influencer impressions are made on Facebook (Source: Forrester)
  • 83 percent of all holiday shoppers are influenced by customer reviews. (Source: ChannelAdvisor "Consumer Shopping Habits Survey")

Tapping into influencers is quickly becoming a line item in many marketing programs, but brands and marketers are still trying to get the mix right. While “major influencers” provide incredible reach, the next level of influencers, where peers, friends, family, and coworkers reside, carries great ability to sway purchase decisions.

With new tools such as Traackr, Appinions, and more coming online, the space is getting crowded quickly. Brands need to be ahead of the curve.

Final Thoughts

Retail, whether online or brick-and-mortar, lends itself perfectly to social media marketing. The connection between consumer, store, and brand plays out well in the social space where interactive content, deals, and recommendations create better overall customer experiences.

Brands and marketers must keep pace with advancements in technology as it relates to the retail experience, including mobile/social integrations, virtual reality and dynamic display, and more.

Still, though, the most important part of retail social media marketing is remembering that there is no silver bullet. Social, along with digital display, traditional print, in-store, television, and radio (and more) is a piece of the puzzle – not the entire picture.


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