Seamus Whittingham explains why he thinks retailers should be more socially aware
Omni-channel. Curation. Integrated marketing. Whatever the buzzword, the underlying message is that products need to be where customers are, and today’s shoppers are online. Many retailers are still reluctant to embrace ecommerce, but integrating ‘brick and click’ is essential. In particular, social can complement traditional channels, such as comparison shopping engines, affiliate networks and product review platforms, making them more engaging for consumers and more valuable for retailers.
Social commerce is already opening up great opportunities; for example, many shoppers access social platforms on the go through mobile devices, so, with a social commerce channel, retailers boost their access to shoppers anytime and anywhere. Personally, I’m watching Facebook very closely. According to a recent study by Nielsen, Facebook users spend an average of eight hours a month browsing, which is a fantastic opportunity for retailers to engage with the target market. Crucially, these consumers are becoming more open to commercial messages; 56 per cent have clicked through to a retailer’s website because of a friend’s Facebook post, and 67per cent of shoppers spend more online after receiving online recommendations from friends. With these kinds of figures, it’s unsurprising that 'F-commerce' is predicted to be worth almost £20bn by 2015.
Facebook enables retailers to create customisable campaigns, promote in-stock inventory, build brand loyalty and drive sales, so smart retailers will want a slice of that action. Of course, a sophisticated approach is essential; brands must be careful not to fall into the trap of simply replicating their website on Facebook. The key is for brands to be socially aware, and ensure their Facebook campaign is one people will actually Like:
Link your Facebook feed with your inventory system in real-time, so it is easy to promote individual products and remove out-of-stock items. Never place your whole range on Facebook; regularly update a selection of products for themed promotions or daily deals to keep it fresh, educate fans and drive traffic to your website.
Build your campaign within the style of your brand, with specific colours and details. Ensure that it works smoothly and is high quality, while being simple to edit, allowing for seasonality. For example, many British retailers saw positive results from their Jubilee themed pages.
Use Facebook primarily as an engagement channel rather than a sales tool. Create a meaningful relationship with fans by actively starting discussions, posting questions and holding polls. Include social buttons such as Like, Share and Send for each promoted product, to encourage interaction with and sharing of items. Some retailers have even profited from asking followers to help shape designs!
Don’t lose sight of current fans while chasing new ones; offer Facebook-only deals. With the Timeline format, competitions are increasingly successful; anything temporal works well, because enticing images can advertise a daily deal for a short period only and unobtrusively drive fans back to your website.
Measure how your fans are interacting with specific products to guide future promotions both on and off Facebook. To follow a fruitful strategy, you have to monitor what works for your fans.
Fundamentally, you must remember that people use social platforms to browse and chat, so brands must beware of trying too hard or overtly selling. In the last year there have been some impressive examples of retailers using Facebook brilliantly, with high-street favourites New Look, River Island and Urban Outfitters clocking over a million fans each, and Topshop reigning supreme with 2.36million. Clearly people want to get in touch with their favourite brands, so it makes sense to go with what the consumers want, and try to convert Likes into sales.
Beyond Facebook, the likes of Groupon and LivingSocial have proven that you can build a business on the platform of social, so retailers should be looking to build social commerce into their overall marketing strategy to create a cohesive multi-channel presence.
The other player to keep an eye on is Pinterest, which could become a perfect ecommerce channel for retailers, because 80 per cent of pins on the site are products. Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten’s recent investment is a testament to Pinterest’s potential; as the fastest company in history to grow from zero to 10million unique users, this platform is primed for monetising social. Interestingly, Pinterest’s success is partly down to its integration with Facebook, because Pins are automatically shared between the user’s friends. Of course, Facebook is still far ahead, with almost 900million users worldwide. Since the average Facebook user has more than 100 friends, the level of word-of-mouth advertising that comes from comments and Likes is dramatic, so it will be fascinating to see how Pinterest builds on its early success.
There’s no doubt that social commerce is a fast-moving space, with huge potential for retailers both large and small. But, while the rush towards social can seem scary to some, if you follow the age-old rule of putting the customer first, you can quickly build a seamless and integrated online offering that reaches as many customers as possible and, crucially, keeps them engaged in your brand. Never mind the jargon, the message is simple: take your products to where the shoppers are, get to know them and what they want, and in return they’ll keep coming back for more.