American Marketer


Consumers’ retail journey to improve with amplified social media strategy

August 23, 2016

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Social media provides retailers with a toolkit for enhancing, influencing and personalizing the consumer journey, but 81 percent of retail marketers feel their methods need to improve, according to a new report by Boston Retail Partners.

Through the use of social media, retailers are able to create a memorable and personalized experience, but, despite 69 percent of retailers seeing the medium as a catalyst for curated customer journeys, there is still much uncertainty surrounding best practices. In a Special Report supplement based on the “2016 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey,” BRP outlines five key areas where retailers can improve the customer journey through social media strategy.

“One of the greatest challenges for retailers is that social media is still relatively new and is still evolving,” said Brian Brunk, principal at Boston Retail Partners. “Retailers still have uncertainty as to how to best leverage and integrate social media into the customer shopping experience.

"The social media vehicles available to consumers to interact with brands and influence shopping behavior have never been more varied, and continue to be very dynamic," he said. "This makes it difficult for retailers to identify, create and maintain a strong social presence that integrates well with the entire brand experience.”

Let’s get social
When used efficiently, social media offers retailers unlimited opportunities to connect with target consumers through entertaining interactions. Social media has also provided retailers with visibility into their customer base, a relationship that has dissolved as consumers turned increasingly to the anonymity of online shopping.

By understanding who their consumer is based on social media data, retailers are better equipped at planning decisions and anticipating what the consumer wants, when, where she wants it and why based on posts and feedback.

Social media has also made it easier and more cost effective to share content and promotional materials. Simultaneously, social media has become an essential aspect of the customer journey as consumers regularly rely on various social channels for inspiration.

While retailers have tapped into social media’s potential, many feel that their current offerings need to be improved to garner a larger impact among consumers.

To assist with these improvements, BRP has outlined five key areas where retailers can improve.

The first area of improvement is experience. Sixty-nine percent of retailers see social media as a method to enhance consumer experience, because social networks influence purchase decisions.

As shopping becomes more social and less transactional, retailers can use social media to build personal and trusting relationships to effectively influence purchases. As with peer-to-peer recommendations, consumers are much more inclined to buy from a trusted brand or retailer that has an established relationship with its community. shopping 400

Image courtesy of Bloomingdale's

BRP’s second recommendation is interaction, a method that 75 percent of retailers execute, but 81 percent feel needs improvement. Using social media interactions works to inform consumers on the retailer, the brands it carries and available products.

In addition to an interactive information source, social media also doubles as a forum where consumers can voice praise or concern. Today’s consumers expect near immediacy if questions or feedback are vocalized on social media, resulting in a critical need of strategy, staffing and technologies to field inquiries and meet expectations.

Above all, BRP stresses to acknowledge the consumer’s voice on social media. For example, if there is a complaint posted to social media, the retailer must responded quickly to show that the consumer has been recognized, before following up with a solution as soon as possible.

In a similar vein, brand endorsement from social influencers, whose voice reaches a large community of followers, is ideal for generating positive exposure for a brand. While not a new concept, brand advocacy via social media has made it much easier for retailers to leverage influencers.

Fifty-nine percent of BRP’s respondents plan to use brand advocacy and social media endorsement to uncover valuable consumers within the next three years.

Neiman Marcus CUSP shopper

Image courtesy of Neiman Marcus

But, many retailers are still unsure of how to measure brand advocacy. BRP suggests to first identify current advocates by tapping into unofficial ambassadors that are inclined to share positive experiences with the brand. These individuals can then be encouraged to expand endorsement on their channels.

Tapping into brand advocates leads to ensuring consumers, especially those who are vocal and influential, are satisfied. Customer satisfaction measurements help retailers to define their messaging and to understand what is and what is not working.

A simple method, used by 59 percent of retail respondents, is mining social media comments to measure customer satisfaction. By doing so, retailers can quickly address any dissatisfied consumers, and the sooner the better because 55 percent of online shoppers tell peers if they had an unsatisfactory experience with a brand.

Lastly, BRP explains that social media offers a huge opportunity for retailers to become more customer-focused in their planning. Sixty percent of respondents shared that the insights received from consumer feedback on social media has driven merchandise decisions.

Insights can be gleaned from social media analytics that assess, examine and interpret interactions and associations of consumers, topics and ideas through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. By studying crowdsourced data, retailers are able to identify sentiment and trends.

Also, by understanding target consumers’ interests, retailers can plan personalization promotions and marketing campaigns to drive sales, but also enhance consumer loyalty.

“Of the five areas outlined in the BRP Special Report on Social Media, interaction is the most vital area of social media for retailers to improve as it offers the greatest ability to create a more intimate relationship between customers and the brand,” Mr. Brunk said.

“Social media is the predominant customer communication forum outside of the direct in-store experience and increasingly customers have shown that it is their preferred forum to maintain an interactive dialog with their favorite brands,” he said.

Apps of note

With so many social media channels available, retail marketers must stay nimble and aware of changing consumer preferences while online as well as the potential different outlets can provide.

Snapchat, for example, is promising for retail marketing due to its popularity among millennials.

As Snapchat is just now establishing itself as an integrated purchasing platform, consumers lack significant intent to purchase, but that does not mean retailers should not test the waters with small campaigns that include direct calls-to-action.

While campaigns that consist of user-generated content see the most success on Snapchat, as the platform flourished as a platform without advertising, call-to-action-enabled campaigns still have the opportunity to see positive results. Alternatively, retailers without a paid campaign can see a favorable outcome with organic content that entices users to complete an action such as sharing a coupon code or having users Snap their purchases for a prize (see story).

WeChat, a Chinese social messaging platform, has also offered brands the ability to reach target consumers, but, research by L2 has detected that luxury brands are not taking advantage of WeChat’s direct marketing capabilities.

Brands in the fashion and watches and jewelry categories receive an average of 7,000 views per WeChat post, a pittance against the 700 million monthly users. Rather than using WeChat in ways similar to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, brands should take advantage of its one-to-one communication interface for CRM purposes, to encourage loyalty or drive online-to-offline activity (see story).

“With the explosion of social media usage, especially among millennials and younger generations, all luxury retailers are using social media to engage their customers,” Mr. Brunk said.

“While many luxury retailers have been slower and more deliberate with their social media strategies, Burberry stands out as probably the most social media savvy luxury retailer," he said. "Burberry taps all the top social media platforms with its campaigns with consistent messaging and pushes the envelope with creative social strategies.

"For example, they reached more than 100 million impressions with their live streaming of the spring/summer 2016 fashion show combined with shots of its new collection on Snapchat before it premiered on the runway.”