How Retail Should Think About Social Media
Social media, when used correctly, is a powerful tool for retailers. But because of the nature of retail, it is even more critical that the social media connection be authentic and personal. In essence, a retailer’s “product” is their “store.” And their store experience—whether online or a physical store—requires interaction and personal engagement with the customer. Customers may choose store X over store Y for their Nike running shoes because the sales staff is more friendly, or they carry a better assortment of running shorts, or the atmosphere is more geared toward their age group…any number of reasons. But from the customer’s standpoint, store X just “knows me” better. And what better way to feel “known” by your favorite store than through social media, which is by definition a social interaction forum.
The natural tendency for retailers is to allow product to drive the social conversation. It seems intuitive. After all, a retailer sells products. But this doesn’t work in a social world built on conversations and relationships. The challenge is to balance product content within the context of a broader conversation that connects with the audience. Think of it this way. A person strikes up a conversation with you at a party. Almost immediately he asks if you would like to buy a car from him. You would probably tell him no thanks and move on to a different conversation. Now, you meet the same person and the two of you chat for some time, he asks questions, tells a few jokes and learns about you. After a conversation, he mentions that he can get you a fantastic deal on the rare muscle car you have always wanted. In which case would you be more likely to entertain the idea? This is the way retailers should think about social media. Relationship first, sales second.
This relationship first approach is validated by a 2011 study that evaluated consumer motives when engaging retailers in social media. Top reasons were to ask a question, to gain access to exclusive deals, and to comment on an experience they had at the store. Each of these needs speaks to an expectation of a relationship, of being known and valued by the retailer. Having a question answered can build trust and loyalty. Gaining access to exclusive deals shows the community that they are valued. Sharing an experience validates the retailer’s product, the in-store experience. All of these engagements deepen the personal relationship between the store and the individual, something that can help build long-term customer loyalty.
Some retailers are already experimenting with ways to extend the in-store relationship through digital and social technology. Wet Seal and their iRunway app is a great example. It’s a social shopping app targeting teen girls that allows them to create outfits with Wet Seal styles and share with the “Fashion Community”. They choose styles to put together either by scanning the barcode in-store or selecting items online. Then when other users of the app are shopping and select that same style, they can see all the community created outfits, comment and review. Because Wet Seal is asking for feedback from its community, rather than telling them what’s in style, it’s very authentic. Look for this personalized shopping experience to be an increasing trend in the future.
Retailers need to be smart about their social media strategy by understanding the nature of the medium. Social media is first and foremost a loyalty and relationship-building channel. As such, it is critical to avoid the pitfall of focusing primarily on the product in social channels. Interactions need to be like a conversation where you share, ask, listen, and answer. Share your expertise, your unique store experience, your special events, and anything else that shows you “know” your customer. But most importantly ask your customers what they think, listen to them, and respond. It’s a conversation, not a billboard. This perspective will lead you down the road to success in social media.
Tags: B2C, Retail, social media