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Social Media In The Retail Space

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Consumer technology is forever changing the shape of the retail marketplace and forcing retailers to consider how they can better serve shoppers who are equipped with smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. In growing numbers, retailers are realizing that the use of mobile and other technologies is creating a need for more sophisticated social media strategies. When used in combination with mobile & local strategies, social allows consumers to broadcast their experiences to large online communities and to engage in two-way brand dialogues.

This trend of SoLoMo (or Social, Local, Mobile) is having a profound influence on the way retail brands interact with their customers and will lead to greater shopper loyalty and advocacy when done properly.

With smartphone users turning to their mobile devices for an ever-expanding list of in-store activities, retailers need to target the social channel as a venue for creating real-time connections with consumers and for achieving meaningful improvements in the customer experience management process.

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The Social-Mobile Retail Marketplace

Mobile and social channel technologies are pervasive in the retail marketplace. According to recent Empathica Consumer Insights Panel research, 55 percent of smartphone owners have used their devices to perform price checks during in-store shopping experiences.

But even though price checks are the most common in-store mobile activity, consumers aren’t just using their devices to shop for better prices for products online. The Consumer Insights study shows that 34 percent of consumers use their devices to scan QR codes and nine percent use mobile devices to write product reviews while in-store.

The research indicates that consumers have a strong desire to use technology as a customer feedback mechanism. More than four out of five consumers (85%) have provided some form of feedback to retailers, and two-thirds prefer to offer feedback using online technologies, which can include social media.

Social media plays an important role in decision-making. Nearly three out of four consumers have used Facebook to make retail or restaurant decisions and half have selected a new retailer or restaurant based on a recommendation they received via social media.

The bottom line is that consumers are extremely open to using social media as a way to connect with retailers. But to fully leverage social channel opportunities, retailers need to develop strategies that go beyond the accumulation of social “likes” and instead, use social media as a resource for crafting more innovative customer experiences.

Leveraging Social Media In Customer Experience Management

Brands need to embrace social media as a full partner in the customer experience management process. This means not only creating and maintaining active profiles on the most popular social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), but also using social media to enrich in-store interactions and to generate additional value for consumers.

Transparency

Consumers place a high value on brand transparency — and this is especially true in the online world. Although many brands instinctively want to eliminate any negative mentions from social media sites as quickly as possible, the credibility that retailers achieve by publishing all reviews (positive and negative) online is significantly greater than the damage inflicted by the occasional unflattering comment.

Retail brands that emphasize transparency in their social media strategies generate a level of trust that extends across the entire customer experience. On the other hand, brands that limit social media content to glowing customer reviews risk being perceived as disingenuous and may even alienate the consumers they are trying to reach through social media.

Consistency

It’s becoming increasingly common for retailers to offer deals or special offers through social media. In many instances, retailers are combining social media offers with in-store shopping opportunities to achieve meaningful improvements to the customer experience.

But while social media has the potential to forge deeper customer relationships, inconsistencies between the retailer’s social media presence and other marketing channels can threaten the integrity of customer connections. Consequently, the messages and offers presented through social media need to be carefully aligned with content across the brand.

Brand Advocacy

Brand advocacy is the holy grail of retail social media. Although connecting with new or existing customers through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites is important, the real goal is for retail customers to use social media as a platform for sharing positive experiences with the brand.

Since new consumers tend to view messages generated by other consumers as more authentic than messages generated by the brand itself, it’s important for retailers to make it as easy as possible for customers to share their experiences using social media features located on the company website (desktop and mobile optimized version), branded apps and other digital venues.

Retailers should also consider the possibility of using social media to present branded video content to consumers. For example, product demos or product lifestyle videos can be distributed through YouTube and other social media sites, inviting consumers to view and share brand content with others in their circle of influence.

Historically, some retailers have struggled to attach ROI measurements to specific social media tactics and strategies. But despite the challenges, it’s important for retailers to establish a plan for monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of social channel initiatives, and to thoroughly integrate social into the organization’s larger customer experience management strategy.

Dr. Gary Edwards is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. He is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. Edwards has served a key leadership role during program development, implementation, and follow-up with clients for the past eight years at Empathica. He has a PhD specializing in Social Research Methods from Wilfrid Laurier University.

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