Social Media Survival Guide for Retailers

If you (as a brand) haven’t figured out the importance social media plays in your overall success, you’re way behind the playing field. Over the past century, retail has undergone periods of consolidation. Large chains kept growing at the expense of small ones and the only ones that survived with the tech savvy and agile —leveraging social media in every way. Social media plays a crucial role for a retailers success for many reasons. One. It‘s a platform to express the brand’s voice and build it’s reputation. Two. It serves as a two-way channel between the brand's and its customers. And three. It’s an additional ecommerce pathway fulfilling a brand's omnichannel efforts.

According to a study including 5,500 shoppers, an overall average of 75% say they use social media, with 83% of millennials reporting social media use and 79% of GenXers. In the same survey, 34% of all shoppers say social media has an influence on their online purchases. More importantly, nearly 25% of online purchases were completed directly through a social media network. This increases to nearly a third of online purchases for millennials.

Over half of customers use YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest or some combination of the three to learn more about a given product. And over half of shoppers used Twitter to keep up with a specific brand, but only 15% of users made purchases through that particular social media network.

Women are over twice as likely than men to make a purchase based on social media posts. Millennials are heavily influenced by the preferences of their friends, family, and idols regarding what items to purchase. Compared to Generation X, they are nearly twice as likely to be influenced in this way. If this isn’t enough to convince you to get social, perhaps the 73% of omnichannel customers who used multiple channels during their shopping journey does

Choosing an Outlet

Different social media outlets cater to different demographics. Overall, approximately 7 out of 10 customers use Facebook. Younger social media users tend to migrate towards more instantaneous social media forms. For example, Snapchat is a image and video messaging app in which the message disappears after viewing. Twitter allows users to post public messages limited to 140 characters. In a recent survey, shoppers under 22 reported that product recommendations on Twitter influenced their buying behavior for 52% of respondents.

Older shoppers are more likely to use Facebook generally and 59% of total responders reported acting upon a recommendation seen on Facebook. What is very interesting to note is that 41% of items shoppers purchased through a social media recommendation cost under $20 and another 38% cost more than $200. This makes sense when you take into account the ease with impulse purchases may be made through social media and the influential recommendations on social media that can encourage a bigger purchase. As much as 42% of individuals surveyed reported following the recommendation of someone they didn’t know very well and that was not considered an expert or influencer.

The point of the story, any recommendation is influential for social media purchases.

Social Media Tips

Do not tackle all social media channels at once. Figure out who your audience is and where they are — a majority of Gen Zers prefer YouTube whereas Millennials prefer Facebook. The point is not to find the average user, but to find the targeted user. Talking to actual millennials is a great way of learning the reputations of various social media outlets and how you can best use them.

Using “buy” buttons within social media allows customers to make purchases without navigating to the specific website, streamlining the purchasing process. It also can be useful to have a “share” button so social media users may spread information about a product to friends quickly and simply.

Many online shoppers “follow” retailers on social media. This allows shoppers to keep up with new products and facilitate online purchasing. To cultivate a strong fan base, make it as easy as possible for potential buyers to locate and follow your social media pages. This may be accomplished by providing links to social media accounts on the main webpage and all advertisements.

In addition to directly advertising for a retailer’s products, it can be effective to inform potential customers of the shortfalls of other products and the superiority of your own. For example, when selling steel water bottles, it is a good idea to explain the benefits of steel over other types of water bottles.

After all of this, make sure you’re actually capturing the data in a way that’s meaningful to you and your staff. It’s not enough to know that you received 100 new likes last week without knowing where it came from, who liked it and why. After each campaign, analyze your findings and break it down. It's very overwhemling looking at large data sets and not really understanding what it means. It is therefore crucial to create learning milestones.

Think About Outcomes

It’s important to make specific estimates on what you think your return on your investment should be and in what metric. There are other aspects of advertising than just making a sale — you can increase engagement, website traffic, product “shares,” recognizability, etc. This can be tracked through free software such as Google Analytics. Each social media channel also typically has its own built-in analytics.

Social media is particularly good at influencing the future buying behavior of consumers as they seek more information on products and act on recommendations made by other individuals within their network. Consumers prefer to do their shopping in a sort of group or community environment. This can be difficult to accomplish over the internet, so they depend on social media to engage with other people about their purchases. This allows them to have the social aspect of shopping by permitting them to give input on others’ choices and allows them to feel validated in their choices.

It is not enough to sustain your social media campaigns. Each new experiement should be disruptive.

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