5 big ways social media impacts retail

shutterstock_132045542For a long time, online shopping and e-commerce have been very lucrative. They still are, but there’s not been a great deal of innovation in this space. Sure, things like same day delivery have shaken it up a bit, but the experience for shoppers has been much the same.

That experience has been adequate at best on desktops and dire on mobile. Something needs to be done, and along comes social media to do something. Online retailers and retail in general need to pay careful attention to what they’re doing on social media, because before long, they’re going to rely on it in a financially major way. All kinds of online retailers can benefit from social channels in huge ways, whether they sell clothing, birthday gifts, food or anything else.

New ways to convert

More traffic is being driven to online retailers by social media links, and to capitalise on this, some platforms are introducing ways for users to buy without even leaving their site or app. Clearly users have intention to buy if they’re clicking on links, but the experience of shopping on mobile has been so bad that retailers aren’t converting. The answer: remove one of the steps. Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter have all added ‘buy’ button options for retail, meaning users can purchase right at the moment they see the product. Not having to click through, add something to a basket and complete a lengthy checkout means that the all-important intent-to-buy won’t fade away before a customer has been converted. To make the most of these buttons, retailers need to be targeting the right users and showing them the right products. In time, social shopping could prove very lucrative.

New ways to engage (and complain)

This is a point that gets wheeled out a lot, but it’s always worth being reminded: new avenues of customer interaction mean new ways for customers to complain. They aren’t necessarily going to spell it out for you, either. In the same way that somebody might make an offhand comment about a brand with a friend over coffee, they might casually mention a bad experience on social media. They won’t necessarily be talking directly to the retailer, or even to another user. Nevertheless, negative comments will reach somebody, and tarnish a retailer’s reputation. Comments about service, pricing or quality need to be searched for regularly and replied to often.

On the flipside, the opportunity to add to retail experiences positively should be jumped on. If you see a user parading their new purchase, start a conversation. Congratulate them on their choice, or maybe offer them something extra as a reward. Nowadays, going the extra mile should be the expected minimum.

Xbox are a big brand leading the way in outstanding social customer service. The gaming tech giant has a strong social media presence, with a Facebook army of over 20 million fans and 7.09 million follows on Twitter. Their “Elite Tweet Fleet” has landed them a spot in The Guinness World Records for Most Responsive Brand on Twitter. Why? They responded to over 5,000 questions in an average time of 2 mins 42 seconds between 12 and 18 March 2010.

Xbox also frequently say ‘thank you’ to fans that Tweet positive messages and occasionally will reward them for their loyalty to the brand. For example, a selection of fans that Tweeted about their excitement for the launch of the Xbox One, received personal replies from Xbox and images made specifically for them.

Mobile is king

Whilst the mobile web has chugged along underwhelmingly (all mobile sites look the same), social app offerings have continued to innovate. Native experiences are continually improving, and it’s important to keep track of new business features. Alongside various calls to action, businesses might be offered new kinds of post and new features to help their retail offerings shine.

A big reason for retailers to think carefully about their mobile presence is the sheer amount of traffic on mobile. If you’re sharing links to products or pages, then the mobile experience has to be good. Unresponsive or squished sites will score a hefty bounce rate.

Products are not enough

The social retail world demands more than great products. Retailers need to think deeply about their brand, and how they present themselves across all social channels. For example, using Twitter as a glorified sales platform simply will not work – people will not be engaged with the brand and will instantly make a beeline for the ‘unfollow’ button. Twitter demands conversation, and so a retailer needs to have a coherent voice and provide value. This means more than just giving the Twitter account to one person. It means exploring the specifics of a retailer’s identity, and making sure every tweet communicates that identity as if the brand was a single individual.

Novelty gift retailer Toxicfox.co.uk does this well. The brand regularly Tweets relevant stories, information and video content that their target market will find interesting whilst also showcasing some of their product ranges. Their Twitter account maintains a light-hearted and humorous tone, which is in-line with the channel’s description as “all about fun, gossip and great gift ideas”. This approach ensures a good balance between self-promotion and content that adds value, which keeps followers engaged and coming back for more.

Data, analytics, insights

Various platforms offer analytics tools for business users. Using these tools, retailers can now see what their audience looks like, or, more importantly, who it doesn’t include. Being able to figure out who spends time on your pages and who doesn’t is a vital and valuable insight. With a detailed picture of their audience, they can also decide what kind of products to offer and how to market them. Posts can be adapted and tested to see what works best, and weak campaigns and products dropped. Insights on Facebook in particular are incredibly deep. Particularly useful is being able to see what time of day users view a page or engage with a post, and posting more at these times.