Navigating a Social Media World
With more and more consumers accessing social network sites to gather input and post reviews, Chain Store Age spoke with Dick Reed, CEO of Just Media, on a subject that is a top priority for retailers across the board: how to reach out to consumers in today’s social media world.
Your company has done some detailed research on how consumers make buying decisions in today’s social media world. Tell us about it.
We ran an online survey to discover what information sources were being referred to when regular consumers considered the purchase of a technology product. Our objective was to discover what sources they use and which are the most important and influential.
We did this to help a client understand the purchase process because, while we had run a successful advertising campaign (in terms of response and interest) promoting one of their products, there had been a lack of conversion to actual sales. Our belief was that other factors were impacting this conversion, most notably some poor user review scores that appeared on various e-store websites.
We believe that the response data we collected is quite representative of purchase processes for many general product categories given the overwhelming access the general population has to information through smartphones, computer and tablets.
How important are online reviews?
They are critical. Cumulatively, 73% of respondents claimed online user reviews were “critical, I always check this” (23%), or “an important part of decision” (50%). Professional reviews came in second, at 70% overall. Compare this, however, with feedback from in-store sales person at only 19%, or manufacturers’ own reviews at 22%.
Should retailers ignore negative comments?
Generally speaking, retailers are ill-advised to ignore complaints since the impact of the negative comments is obviously quite severe. Put emotion and hurt to one side, take a deep breath and respond professionally. Remember, even when he or she is not, the customer is always right!
More importantly, user feedback offers the retailers or manufacturers an opportunity to see where they may be falling short in terms of service, and to address the issue before it impacts on their business long term.
Many retailers seem uncertain when it comes to the thrust of their social media strategy. What should their focus be?
One of the most interesting responses we saw in the survey — and certainly the one that surprised us the most — was that users are not giving much credit to opinions posted in social networks like Facebook and Twitter. They much prefer user reviews posted on sites where they actually buy, such as Amazon.
We suspect this is because random comments in social networks are less in context with regard to others, so it’s hard to get a good overall picture. Users know that a few negative comments are always likely, and it’s a question of how the negatives compare with the positives.
Given this, we advise clients to focus on helping purchasers who like their products become advocates for them by posting where it matters, at the point of purchase, or where many user reviews are gathered like on a product review site. Facebook pages might be nice to get fans and share and build communities, but it’s not necessarily going to help those new prospects become a buyer.
Is online advertising on social media sites an effective strategy for retailers?
Yes, we have found social sites to be good areas for online campaigns, which perform as well if not better than many other types of online sites.
Summing up, how should retailers reach out to consumers in today’s social world?
Never underestimate the power of user reviews, and encourage your social community to actively help by becoming advocates. Do not ignore negative comments, and if you have a product that users really don’t like, refrain from using marketing to try and drive the sales … all you do is actually damage the brand by directing people to all the negativity. Indeed, it actually makes sense now to advertise the products people love the most to help boost the brand and encourage even more positivity.
Spreading Holiday Cheer
A lot has changed in the past year on the social media block. Facebook and Twitter are no longer the only two major players helping retailers connect and engage with their shoppers in real time. Consumers are flocking to platforms such as social-photo sharing sites Pinterest and Instagram, and some brands are even creating their own social blog accounts on Tumblr.
As retailers start to get ready for the busiest shopping time of the year, experts say they must consider how to best reach their target audience via the social platforms on which they already engaged.
“Unlike print, radio and television, social media gives some control to shoppers, allowing them to share with friends, comment or even curate,” said David Dorf, senior director of technology strategy at Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle. “Done right, a smaller budget can actually reach more people and ‘go viral,’ allowing shoppers to participate and shape the message. These efforts can sometimes be stickier than traditional advertising and can engage these shoppers in ways that retain them in the long run.”
Here are some suggestions for how to make the most of the key social media platforms this holiday season — and all through the year:
Twitter: In addition to pumping out last-minute deals to followers, Twitter is unprecedented when it comes to optimizing direct-to-consumer marketing and customer service. Retailers can take advantage by combing through tweets and searching for keywords.
“If people are tweeting about having a sore throat, we’ve seen drug stores tweet back with a deal for cough drops,” said Molly Garris, digital strategy director for global ad agency Leo Burnett. “If a shopper says they are looking for a last-minute gift for a child, tweet them a suggestion and a discount code. Social listening is powerful, especially when it’s done at the right time and with the right message.”
Solutions are also available from companies such as New York City-based LocalResponse, which “listens” > for keywords and locations, and tweets targeted messages.
Meanwhile, Oracle’s Dorf recommends having someone on Live Chat and social media 24/7 to field customer-service inquiries.
Instagram: Although Instagram has been around since 2010, its growth skyrocketed in the past year, boasting 50 million members in the spring — around the time Facebook acquired it for a rumored $1 billion.
“Brands can get consumer consideration at a new speed,” Garris said. “Coupled with beautiful photography, companies such as Banana Republic are presenting looks in ways that resembles a high-end brand. Merchants are also sharing pictures that hint at future trends, which make shoppers feel like they have insider access.”
Pinterest: Pinterest — which also launched in 2010 — has become one of the most buzzed-about social networks, and retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstrom are already working hard to tackle the medium.
“Pinterest allows users to upload and share products — and a retailer can benefit from click-throughs to its website — but it’s also great for providing do-it-yourself project ideas and gifts,” Garris said. “Retailers can get creative and show how to make something special with their products.”
Facebook: In addition to posting pictures on Facebook that give context to products — such as a sweater for the dorm or a blanket for watching TV — integrating a Facebook Like button on product pages allows shoppers to share items with others. The images then show up in their friends’ news feeds, which furthers the brand’s reach.
“Brands aren’t necessarily seeing a lot of purchases from Facebook, but the ads are useful and so is encouraging people to share their purchases on the site,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, VP e-business and channel strategy at Forrester Research.
Tumblr: Brands such as Kate Spade, Anthropologie and Saks Fifth Avenue are turning to Tumblr — which rakes in 250 million page views each day — to create destination pages for fans, where they can check out pictures, videos, editorial and other multimedia content that bring products to life. Think of it as a modern-day, interactive catalog on the Web.
Overall, social media sites hold the key to engaging shoppers this holiday shopping season in ways that could last throughout the year.
“Broadcasting deals might drive sales in the short term, but smart retailers will find ways to establish a deeper, long-lasting relationship,” Dorf said.
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Focus on: Holiday Prep
There’s no question about it: Shoppers will have more options than ever before when it comes to shopping this holiday, from where and how they shop to how they pay. Given the myriad of choices available, experts agree that one of the keys to a successful holiday season — and long-term survival — is customer engagement.
By giving shoppers easy access to more customer touchpoints using both personal and store-level proprietary devices, retailers will be in a better position to drive customer relationships and sales. Here are some examples of how retailers are using innovative solutions to increase customer engagement:
• Geo-location-based Mobile Marketing
The proliferation of smart mobile devices has changed the retailing paradigm, as shoppers access e-commerce sites, social media, online customer reviews and even pay for purchases right from the palms of their hands.
By integrating a mobile platform that allows retailers to interact with consumers through their own personal devices, chains are inching closer to the “holy grail” of one-to-one personalized relationships. Geo-location-based marketing messages can help achieve this goal.
Austin, Texas-based University Co-op, which operates on the University of Texas campus, has deployed Digby’s mobile marketing platform, Localpoint, an opt-in program that delivers targeted messages to shoppers when they check in to the store, as they move through the space and when they scan bar codes and read reviews.
Shoppers download “The Co-op” app and the device’s GPS interacts with University Co-op’s SSID (service set identifier), or a name assigned to the retailer’s Wi-Fi network, creating a geo-fence. When the app is launched, the geo-fence detects a smartphone user’s proximity, and as they approach or enter a store, the app delivers personalized messages that can be stored in the app’s “offer wallet.” To redeem offers, customers simply click on their desired promotion and show the screen to the cashier. The app is available for both iPhone and Android smart devices.
Localpoint’s analytics tool gives the retailer insight into repeat visits, unique visitors, bar-code and QR code scans, offer redemptions, and time spent at each location. The tool determines patterns, and measures the economic impact and success of marketing initiatives.
“This is a fresh strategy and we are already seeing a significant impact,” said Brian Jewell, University Co-op’s VP marketing.
• “SoLoMo” Loyalty
When apparel retailer Guess?, Inc. was ready to launch its exclusive loyalty program, it decided to tap into the power of a social-local-mobile (SoLoMo) strategy.
A concept that evolved through the popularity of smartphones and tablets, SoLoMo integrates geo-location and the use of social media to allow retailers to gain a more intimate relationship with their shoppers.
“When retailers ask too much of their shoppers, loyalty tends to drop,” said Michael Relich, CIO and executive VP IT, Guess, Los Angeles, which operates 503 stores in the United States and Canada and 264 stores in Europe, Asia and Latin America. “By tying social media with our CRM [customer relationship marketing] database, we have access to more information than we could ever capture on our own.”
The retailer invites shoppers to download its mobile app to gain access to accrued loyalty points connected to previous purchases, new arrivals, a store locator, a gift-giving guide, a QR code scanner for merchandise scans and to receive geo-location-based promotions. If they link their personal Facebook account to the app, a token within Facebook gives Guess access to shopper information and navigation across the Guess fan page.
The company also aligns this information with a CRM database in the cloud “to do analytics on customer preferences and trends,” Relich explained. “Facebook allow us to learn about our customers and successfully do micro-segmentation.”
• The Next-Gen of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
A retailer’s e-commerce site is often an omni-channel shopper’s first stop in the path to purchase. Details such as price, item attributes and even customer reviews are often available, helping to shape her overall decision. However, sometimes consumers need a deeper insight into merchandise.
Adorama, a New York City-based photography and related accessories multichannel retailer, improved the user experience of its website in time for last year’s holiday season. Its updated site design > features tools that help shoppers make better buying decisions, including buyer’s guides, gift-finder tools and a new question-and-answer tool from TurnTo Networks, New York City.
“Customer service is important all year long, but most importantly, during the holiday season,” said Glen Holman, CIO for the multichannel retailer. “Some shoppers troll forums and customer reviews to get answers about merchandise, but we go one step further. Our shoppers have specific technical questions, so we offer a community that can answer specific questions.”
When shoppers click on a product, they see an “Ask a Question” icon on the product’s page, which allows consumers to pose a question by clicking on a “Discuss” button. The question is sent out via email to other shoppers who have purchased the item in question. As responses come into the TurnTo tool, they are forwarded to the shopper via email and also posted on Adorama’s site.
Adorama has been using the tool for almost 12 months, and during testing, the emails had a 9% response rate, with consumers receiving an average of 4.3 answers per questions. A majority of these answers were received within 24 hours.
While other companies rely on FAQs or live chat to deliver immediate responses, these options are better suited for more common, general questions, such as those about customer service or sales information.
“Our incoming questions are very detailed and specific about our merchandise, how it works and functionality,” Holman explained. “Allowing them to ask specific questions and giving them detailed responses are big advantages over static reviews. We feel we are building communities around specific mini-topics.”
• Digital Signage
Eager to help shoppers make educated purchase decisions and find their desired product, more retailers are adding innovative digital signage solutions to in-store customer engagement strategies.
“While e-commerce is a strong piece of the [omni-channel] retailing equation, chains need to ensure their store-level experience reflects the ease and convenience of shopping online,” said Corbin Webster, an IT contractor who is currently working on projects for retailers, including Kroger and Kohl’s. “Deploying digital signage can help retailers keep the customer engaged and streamline the shopping experience.”
SaskTel, a Canadian-based wireless retailer, knows this challenge first-hand. The popularity of smart technology keeps its 11 stores buzzing with shoppers, but long waits to complete transactions were impacting the overall customer experience. When the company began a three-year store redesign program, it put consumer-centricity at the top of its priority list and chose digital signage as a means to deliver consistent information across the chain.
“The screens broadcast wireless rate plans, accessories, as well as static promotions, information that is paramount for shoppers make better purchase decisions,” explained Joel Ganong, marketing manager, SaskTel.
Currently, four digital screens feature product information, as well as up to six 42-in. monitors that display advertising messages.
Since installing the digital screens last spring, Ganong reported that SaskTel has increased sales by an average of 58%, compared with stores not yet using the electronic signs.
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