It’s a classic rule of thumb: If you want to succeed in business, go where your customers are. And if 15 million brands are any indication, social media’s where it’s at.
Make no bones about it, social media is a beast. It’s a moving, breathing network of customers offering free-wheeling discussions of what amazes them, excites them and drives their impulses and decisions.
Newer technologies like smartphones and tablets have made it even easier for the exchange to go on 24/7, with images, videos and virtual games adding context to the global dialogue.
For retail most especially, social media has changed the game. For the first time in history, the customer is no longer a faceless buyer, but an active member of a brand’s business.
Everyone loves social media – and with good reason
“When social media messaging is consistent with the company’s brand and product, it really boosts consumers’ confidence and trust, leading not only to first-time purchases but repeat purchases as well,” he explains. Increased customer dialogue, product buzz, brand referrals and even customers helping other customers online are proof positive that retail’s target audience is #superexcited about being part of the action.
And brands are taking notice. At an advertising conference on March 5, Dan Levy, Facebook’s Director of Small Business, announced that the number of the website’s brand pages had a two million jump in the first three months of 2013 alone, bringing the total to 15 million pages.
In December 2012, digital marketing firm Acquity Group shared that in a study of the 50 largest retailers in the US, 90% used Twitter, 72% had smartphone or tablet apps, 60% engaged customers on Pinterest, and 42% were on Instagram.
Clearly, social media is making its mark on the retail industry—and retail has been quick to reciprocate.
“If you are a global fashion-forward retailer, your customers want to see you use the latest social media,” says Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Management professor Donna Smith, who teaches digital marketing for the school’s retail management program. “You need to be out there.”
The benefits of social media to a company’s brand image are well-documented, and with good reason. “I often advise companies to focus on social media not simply because it is a trend, but because it could really be a potential source of brand awareness, customer loyalty, and revenue, especially in the retail space,” agrees Toan.
Social media and technology in the world of retail
How have technology and social media developed into viable communication tools for retail businesses? Here, Donna discusses the present—and future—of this phenomenon:
An eMarketer study showed that one of the main reasons people join Facebook is to show others what products they support. The consumer is speaking out to the public (positive and negative word of mouth). This is important to retailers and will remain important in the future.
Since it has the power to announce important news, marketers are using Twitter to generate leads. Twitter can help increase buzz around products, although its 140-character limitation means it can’t be specific. Twitter can say “more” with “less” and that is highly valued today.
According to a study by BizRate Insights, 69% of online consumers who visit Pinterest have found an item they’ve bought or wanted to buy, compared with 40% of Facebook users. Intent to purchase doesn’t mean you’ll go out and buy, but it is a positive indication.
Apps like Pinterest and Instagram show the power of the image. We love to see beautiful images and we want to know what others—who we aspire to be like—believe are “on-trend.”
Mobile devices are used in-store to compare prices, so they keep retailers “on their toes.” Customers can now literally price-check in the middle of the selling process.
These apps are used for payment/purchases, and also help you lessen the number of loyalty cards in your pocket or purse. QR codes are used for multiple purposes. This is huge moving into the future.
That being said, people are becoming addicted to their smartphones and there may be a backlash in the future if information overload consumes consumers.
Company blogs are less credible than independent blogs. Fashion blogs have proven to be extremely influential, with bloggers securing front row seats at fashion shows next to top fashion editors. Mention in key blogs can be influential.
Will Vine, a mobile app by Twitter that enables its users to create and post short video clips, morph into home videos or a useful selling tool? Some large retailers have posted clips from events that are image-building, but may make you dizzy. Retailers have to figure out how to optimize the tool. It seems to me that, building on the power of Pinterest, brands need to entice customers to purchase the product by showing them more details.