For a few years now, social media has completely changed the business environment and redefined the way businesses communicate. Retail is a social activity, so it comes as no surprise that the retail industry was one of the first adopters of social media.

The more engaged your customers are, the better your sales. In fact, in 2014, total US sales that could be tracked to social media reached $3.3 billion. More recently, research found social influences more shoppers’ buying decisions than retail websites. How can you harness this growth to ensure your business benefits from social media

Social goes omnichannel
The switch to omnichannel retail is coming, and retailers will be expected to provide a consistent experience to their customers across all channels – with social media potentially being at the forefront. 2016 is the year of the more comprehensive social media strategy. More than ever, savvy retailers will need to be laser-focused about seamlessly engaging with prospects and customers where they are, and now that’s well beyond Facebook and Twitter. You’ll continue to hear the word omnichannel — tracking people across platforms — especially on mobile, where a monstrous half of all Google searches originate today.

Retailer-led communities
Retailers are quickly catching on to the fact that effective brand communities help build closer relationships between consumers and brands, and create long-term loyalty. Sephora has been a true pioneer, creating a complete customer ecosystem that is omnichannel, with different tiers of customers who can interact with peers, share tips and receive benefits based on their seniority in the Sephora community.

Shoppable User-Generated Content
Retailer-led communities can lead to Shoppable user-generated content (UGC). Shoppable UGC can take the form of a lookbook (a collection of photographs compiled to give viewers ideas on how to style outfits, or to show what the latest fashions are), or a gallery showing pictures of consumers wearing or using your products with direct links allowing people to buy the items pictured. This can work well for a clothing brand, for example, as prospective buyers can see what an outfit would look like on different body shapes and sizes.

A great example of a shoppable user-generated gallery is ASOS’ #AsSeenOnMe campaign, in which customers can share pictures of themselves wearing ASOS products on Facebook and Instagram using the #AsSeenOnMe hashtag, and pictures can be added into the gallery. ASOS created its “#AsSeenOnMe” platform where its community of fashion enthusiasts can show off their ASOS purchases and buy products, effectively recognizing its customers as its best salespeople and brand ambassadors.

More niche social networks
In 2016, we’ve been seeing more niche platforms gain popularity and the field of mainstream social media platforms  widen even further. Snapchat has become a must-have for brands, while more businesses will experiment with lesser-known platforms like WhatsApp, YikYak and Kik, especially if they cater to the under-30 demographic. More than ever, users are choosing their platforms based on what is interesting to them (i.e. photographers prefer VSCO rather than Instagram, videographers prefer the more robust Vimeo over YouTube). Retailers should follow suit, choosing where to place their efforts based on where their target customer spends his or her time on social media, rather than trying to have a presence on each and every platform.

Social Shopping
Good news for retailers—social network providers are going commercial. They’re adding Buy buttons, which allow users to shop directly on their sites. As we live in an increasingly on-demand economy where consumers want to purchase the product they see at that very second, even more social apps look likely to get into the game, with Snapchat and Instagram being likely contenders.
This has led to the creation of more commerce-focused features for marketers and advertisers. For example:

  • Facebook introduced 360 ads for immersive experiences
  • YouTube added 360 ads for more impactful visuals
  • Instagram rolled out its action-oriented ad format
  • Pinterest announced the limited rollout of its Buyable Pins
  • Twitter is still testing its Buy button.

Highlighted channel: Pinterest
Think Pinterest is still for Etsy shop owners and recipe swappers? Think again. As of October 2015, there were more than 60 million “shop-able” pins on Pinterest. The company announced plans to expand its buy button program, so now any commerce company that uses software from Bigcommerce, IBM Commerce, and Magento can  add the “buy button” to their Pinterest pins. Pinterest already has full integration with Shopify and Demandware, along with popular retailers like Macy’s, Nordstroms, Bloomingdale’s and Wayfair, reports Fortune. Pinterest users’ average order value is $123.50, which is about 126% more than Facebook users’ $54.64 average order value, according to a 2014 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. And while major retailers like Macy’s are making big waves on Pinterest, there’s still a place for smaller businesses or companies with a non-traditional retail business model.

Social media advertising takes off
Haven’t noticed the exponential increase in ads on your social media feeds? That probably means they’re working. In contrast to old-fashioned banner ads, the new generation of “native” social media ads like Facebook and Instagram sponsored posts, and Twitter promoted Tweets look and act a lot like normal social media updates from friends and followers. They’re also targeted with an uncanny degree of precision: Advertisers are able to drill down not just by age and gender, but by interests, location, company affiliation, role and more. So the ads you get are probably the ones you actually want to see.
For all those reasons, companies ramped up social media advertising in 2015, with spending increasing 33.5 percent to nearly $24 billion. Fueling the growth is the wealth of new tools that let small businesses design and pay for social media ads in a few clicks, simplifying a process that was once the exclusive domain of high-priced media buyers.

Video streaming
Video streaming has taken off, particularly among millennials. Using video streaming in a sales context, retailers can answer consumers’ questions, show the product in action, explain its chief benefits and/or demonstrate how to use it. All of these retail applications can help increase sales. In fact, 85% of customers say they are more likely to make a purchase after watching a product video. With millennials driving this trend, video-on-demand traffic is expected to double by 2019. Ppst – we have a whole blog dedicated to video streaming coming up, so keep an eye out.

Messaging is already emerging as a key channel for one-on-one social customer service. Chatbots, a still-emerging technology that is already a hugely hot topic in e-commerce, has a lot of promise for facilitating social shopping and customer interaction.

  • Twitter lifted its character limits and follow requirements on direct messages earlier this year with customer support in mind
  • Facebook launched chatbots within Messenger, allowing businesses to use its bot-building tools and resources to create personal assistants that help customers browse products and make purchases
  • H&M uses Kik, who will use your answers to a few simple questions to build you a custom style profile, and then source outfit suggestions based on that profile, which you can click through to purchase from its online shop.

Twitter recently acquired Cardspring, a payment company that allows individuals to sync their credit cards to online coupons. This gives consumers the opportunity to cash in discounts at checkout when they’re shopping at a physical retail space. 

Once Cardspring is integrated into Twitter, users may only need to click a button in a tweet to sync a discount with their credit card. This eliminates the need to retweet a hashtagged phrase or word in order to receive a discount – the old way of doing e-commerce on Twitter. 

This capability is valuable because it removes the clunky nature of paper. It delivers real value to consumers, who now don’t need to clip coupons or print out paper that proves they bought a deal, registered for a loyalty program, or have a certain number of reward points. This enables the end-to-end retail experience and takes customers from online to the store and helps brick-and mortar stores deliver a completely new customer experience.

Social media is evolving and offers exciting new opportunities to take advantage of the social landscape. With the introduction of new technologies, platforms, and innovative trends, social media should be a core aspect of every retailer’s business.

Can equipping your employees with mobile devices improve your retail business? Read our eBook “3 Ways to Leverage Mobile Communications to Meet the Needs of Digital Shoppers” and learn how companies are equipping their employees with mobile devices to enhance communication and collaboration, streamline operations and enable insight-rich interactions with their customers.

By Craig Barrass

Region Lead EMEA North


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