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How Retailers Can Benefit From Consumers’ Reliance on Social Media

January 9, 2013 By Bruce Warren
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Consumers’ relationship with social media is rapidly evolving, with sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest taking center stage during in-store shopping trips. While consumers are using social media as a tool for reviews, price checks and other activities, retailers are less willing to embrace the social channel as a brick-and-mortar resource.

Going forward, the question isn't whether consumers will use social media to help make purchase decisions, but whether retailers can engage consumers by successfully integrating social media into the larger customer experience.

Social and Mobile Technology in Retail
According to recent Empathica Consumer Insights Panel research, more than half (55 percent) of consumers have used their smartphones to perform price checks in-store; 34 percent have used mobile devices to scan QR codes; and 9 percent have used mobile devices to write reviews.

In many ways, mobile technology is the driving force behind consumers’ growing reliance on social media during retail shopping experiences. Almost three-quarters of consumers have made retail or restaurant decisions using Facebook, which can be easily accessed in-store via mobile apps.

Consumers also have a desire to use social media to engage retailers in meaningful brand dialogues. An overwhelming majority of consumers have provided some form of feedback to retailers, and two-thirds of them prefer to do so using online technologies such as popular social media sites.

Integrating Social Media Into the Customer Experience
As consumer use of SoMo (Social and Mobile) technologies increases, it's imperative for retailers to take a more proactive role in the use of social media as a customer experience management resource. Although specific social channel tactics vary, there are a handful of traits and characteristics that should be prioritized in every retail-based social media strategy. They include the following:

  • Consistent messaging: Social media initiatives are extensions of a brand's larger marketing strategy. By using social media to offer special in-store deals or incentives, retailers have the opportunity to significantly improve brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. However, the information and messaging that's communicated via social networks must dovetail with the brand's multichannel content. If the information that's communicated on Facebook, Twitter or other sites is misaligned or inconsistent with other content, it can severely damage consumers’ faith in the brand.
  • Honest brand dialogues: Consumers value honesty and transparency in retailers’ social media strategies. While most brands instinctively want to suppress negative mentions, consumers assign more credibility to brands that publish both positive and negative reviews and comments on their social media profiles. Rather than alienating consumers by filtering out the occasional negative comment, emphasize transparency and give consumers visibility to the full spectrum of customer-generated content.
  • Advocacy mechanisms: In addition to creating powerful digital connections with new and existing customers, retail social media strategies should generate brand advocacy, enabling consumers to share brand messaging and product content with their personal social networks. Retailers can facilitate advocacy through on-site share buttons and other features that make it easy for consumers to distribute brand content to their circles of influence.

Bruce Warren is the vice president of marketing at Empathica. Bruce can be reached at bwarren@empathica.com. 


 

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