By adaptive - February 4th, 2015

Retailing is increasingly a social event. Those retail brands that can understand how social media is impacting their businesses will be able to build sustainable social enterprises.

The influence that social media has on retailing is immense. According to the latest research from Internet Retailer’s 2015 Social Media 500 study, social media influenced purchases totalled $3.30 billion in 2014, up 26% on the previous year. 
Stefany Zaroban for Internet Retailer said: “Merchants are having to spend more on ads to have their content seen by consumers. That’s because Facebook shows fewer of a brand or retailer’s posts to its fans now than it did a few years ago, a strategy that effectively forces marketers to spend more on advertising to reach Facebook users.”
What does this mean for retailers who have been moving through tumultuous times right across their industry? E-commerce is now a well-understood channel. M-commerce is the growing fast, and social media is influencing both of these online retail spaces.
David Walmsley, Director of M&, told delegates at Internet Retailing Conference 2014 that its customers had a “phenomenal level of engagement with our brand” on Facebook. He added: “I think in our social space is where our marketing team comes to life, really driving the customer experience in an extended, enhanced way.”
“Mastery of the customer experience is a challenge with many facets. Retailers are overwhelmed by the complexity of data, technology and understanding of the customer journey,” said Paige O’Neill, Chief Marketing Officer at SDL. “Our latest research indicates that North American retailers are acutely aware of their technological shortfalls when it comes to creating a seamless, personalized customer experience across multiple channels.”
For retailers then, the art of leveraging social media is to understand how social networks have empowered consumers. Their ability to connect with each other is a powerful paradigm that the retail sector is only just beginning to understand. Those corporations and their retail brands that work to place social retail into the context of their brand values will be clear winners.

Social retailing

“The possibilities for effectively engaging consumers are limited only by imagination, and each advance in new technology brings excitement and anticipation of a brighter future for the retail industry, ” said Mark Larson KPMG US and Global Sector Leader, Retail in a Brandwatch retail report.
Brandwatch comments: “For brands, maintaining a holistic awareness of the online landscape and being properly equipped to react against or capitalize on shifting opinions is paramount. This is perhaps truest for the retail industry, where social favor toward a brand’s identity can have dramatic effects on a business’ success.
“Indeed, 71% of leading retail executives cite social media as having a significant impact on their businesses. For brands operating in such a competitive market, gaining significant social capital can directly contribute to increases in revenue. As such, having the tools to track, understand and foster a strong online community is highly valuable.”
Brandwatch-An average day for leading retailers on facebook
The type of content that retail brands use across their social media networks is also important to understand. Video continues to be the most talked about and shared type of content. Images are a fast second, but links to images seem to perform better and of course deliver an easier way for customers to share the content your corporation’s retail brand has posted.
Brandwatch-Image based content sharing
Says Nicole Leinback-Reyhle, Founder & Publisher at Retail Minded: “Be where your core customers are most and remember to not just post on social media, but also to respond. Customers are quick to post on social media when they need customer care, so be sure to react to it and follow up right away. Don’t neglect social media or your customers will in turn neglect you.”
Brandwatch also focused heavily on retailer’s use of Twitter and concluded: “Overall, retail brands only responded to 46.6% of the tweets with direct @mentions. Unsurprisingly, brands are far more likely to respond to Direct Queries (64.6%) than Neutral Mentions (28.8%). However, brands only engaged with untagged complaints 1.9% of the time, a large majority of the brands neglecting these conversations altogether. Also, UK brands had a higher response rate in all categories except untagged complaints. These results definitely indicate that even leading retail businesses are missing opportunities to engage and build support amongst their online communities.”
For retail brands the writing is on the wall as it were. More engagement across social media is an essential component of their futures. However, improving the quantity of engagement isn’t enough. A deeper understanding of how consumers are interacting with the retail brands they covet, and how this is being expressed across their social media channels is a call to action that all retailers must answer.
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