The relevance and importance of social media in today’s retail landscape is often misunderstood or overlooked. Why is this the new battleground for retailers today?
What was your last shopping experience like? Good? Bad? Indifferent? I would suggest that if it was a bad one and you are a regular user of either Twitter or Facebook then the likelihood of taking to either or both to vent feelings is quite high. And when read, it is equally likely that those thoughts will not be ignored by your audience; after all, we pay attention to impartial peer feedback right? I call this the TripAdvisor effect and whilst it is not a new phenomena, the importance and relevance for retailers is only just beginning to be established.
Central to the assertion that social is critical to retail success is the fact that consumer expectation, especially amongst millennials, is of a proportion unknown 10 if not 5 years ago. And the primary driver behind this level of expectation? Smartphones. Penetration in the UK currently runs at 58% of mobile phone sales and is estimated to hit 75% by the end of 2014. Why is this significant?
Smartphones liberate the consumer like nothing else before and put a significant amount of influence if not power and control in their hands. The ability to quickly and easily engage or disengage, endorse or reject a retail brand has never been so straightforward. In doing so, consumers have a degree of (social) influence on retailers previously unheard of. The ability to influence product, price, merchandising etc are all now in the hands of the consumer.
But there’s another aspect to this; the opportunity for retailers to utilise the power of social in order to create a following, if not loyalty, amongst its customers.
Two examples where this is happening can be found at Dixons and Ann Summers where both retailers recognise the power of Facebook to create a sense of community and Twitter in order to have more immediate interactions with their customers. Not all are positive interactions but both realise that it is far better to be able to see the negative as well as the positive in order to capture the mood of their customers; a kind of customer barometer if you will.
In the new normal of retail where customer engagement and interaction is fast becoming the defining differentiator on the (online & bricks & mortar) High Street, a retailer is in effect operating blind if visibility of social is not present.
And most important of all is that today we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface. The omni-present consumer is here and so too is the opportunity for them to become brand ambassadors. If we look at what Burberry is doing in order to engage with their customers, we get a glimpse into how the new model will look and feel.
Social influence for consumers is still in its infancy but if you haven’t already, get yourself a Klout score and monitor it and work constantly at maintaining and increasing it. That is unless you don’t require that room upgrade, that business class lounge, that additional 10% discount off a new outfit.
Andrew Busby is Retail Business Head at Zensar Technologies and a former retailer.