Chris Gates, director of retail at Hitachi Consulting UK, examines the potential of social commerce in the multi-channel retailing environment
The explosion of social channels, such as Facebook, Pintrest and Twitter, means today’s consumers are connected, empowered and leading a social revolution. As a result, consumers are interacting with brands in news ways – from blogging about their retail experience, tweeting customer service teams to pinning the latest products on their wish list. In addition, consumers are doing this through a variety of devices, on-the-go and with increasing selectiveness.
Barclays recently predicted by 2021, more than 41% of purchases would be influenced by social media. This is a sharp increase from the 17% of shoppers who currently see their online social networks as important to their purchasing decisions as reported in Hitachi Consulting’s recent consumer survey.
Being able to replicate and extend the social aspect of going shopping with friends across all channels is a potential goldmine for retailers, and more and more brands will look to connect with new audiences by blurring the retail and social channels.
As a result, social media has started to dramatically alter the commerce journey and retailers need to start preparing. Today’s consumers hold all the power. Modern businesses therefore need to be agile and adopt innovate new techniques in order to engage customers and boost sales.
For example, at London Fashion Week, Topshop broadcast its show across its website, Twitter page and more than 200 media partners. It also brought the fashion show onto the high street and broadcast the event on large screens in its flagship store on Oxford Street. In addition, Topshop partnered with Facebook to create a camera app that allowed viewers to capture their favourite looks and share it with their network. Overall, it is estimated Topshop reached almost 200m people with its interactive, social campaign.
Retailers are also beginning to realise social networks are where their most loyal customers interact with the brand. ASOS, the e-commerce provider, has developed campaigns deliberately designed to engage social customers by offering those that ‘follow’ or ‘like’ the brand, exclusive access to online sales. This approach effectively rewards customers that go online to recommend products, discounts and offers to their networks. Brands have always known consumers have the power of recommendation among their friends, but a new age of word of mouth marketing is emerging and the retail industry will develop a raft of fresh ways to encourage consumers to act as brand ambassadors that spread the message.
Social media also offers brands a unique opportunity to get to know their customers. By monitoring the channels consumers are using to engage with the brand, when they are online and the content they are promoting to their networks, retailers can gather important information about a customer’s preferences. It is then possible to incorporate this information into a multi-channel approach so retailers can target customers with the right information, across their preferred channel and at the optimum moment in time.
The rise of social media offers retailers a valuable opportunity to connect with their customers – one that revolves around developing a more collaborative experience that generates conversations and helps develop strong relationships with customers – and dramatically alters the retail journey. Now retailers need to think about their social commerce strategy, and how they can develop innovative ways of engaging social customers as part of a holistic, multi-channel retailing experience.