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SES Session: Don’t Be Afraid Of Social Commerce

  • Written by Alicia Fiorletta

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Benchmark research and case study examples continue to spotlight the benefits of social media, but many retailers still are struggling to develop an optimal strategy. Moreover, merchants are wondering if, and how, social commerce will be a part of the overall “social engagement” equation.

An SES session, titled “The Psychology of Social Commerce (Do Not Be Afraid),” uncovered the socially-driven behaviors of today’s shoppers. Speakers revealed that the key to social commerce is not a Facebook storefront, but a strategy that drives intimate interaction with products and brands. Panelists participating in the session included:  Dana Todd, SVP of Marketing and Business Development for Performics; Chad Childress, Senior Consultant at Crown Partners; and Michael Mothner, Founder and CEO of Wpromote, Inc. The SES Conference took place March 19-23 in New York City.

During her presentation, Todd shared insights from Performics’ recent “2011 Social Shopping Study,” conducted by ROI Research. Results revealed that a majority (87%) of consumers visit social media sites while shopping in store locations and online to search for a specific product. More than half (57%) of shoppers also tap into social sites post-purchase to share information and images of new items with their peers.

“Today, we’ll be discussing social as a piece of the overall shopping engagement cycle and how important it is [to loyalty],” Todd said. For example, she noted, retailers can leverage sites such as Pinterest and Polyvore, which allow consumers to interact with merchandise and create more memorable brand experiences. Brand marketers also can create an optimal social experience by ensuring all item images and descriptions can be shared easily across social networks.

As shoppers grow more fluent in social media and continue to seek peer insight while browsing and buying items, retailers must utilize more compelling ways for consumers to interact with inventory, offers and brand messages.

“The concept of interacting with merchandise has been around for more than 50 years in women’s magazines,” Todd added. “Consumers interact with items in the real world, and we do it online. If this is how we enjoy shopping, why have we not rethought the entire [shopping] experience?”

Spotlighting the importance of creating social experiences in store, research from Performics, which revealed that 45% of consumers check-in to Facebook while in a store, and 30% look for insight from their social graphs after posting an image on a networking site. Overall, 41% of respondents indicated that they would wait up to 10 minutes to get social feedback on an item before completing a purchase.

“Consumers are demanding interaction [with brands],” Todd said. “If you’re not there, you’re missing the opportunity to connect with them.”

The Psychology Of Social Shopping
Childress stressed the importance of delving into the psychology of shoppers and how networking sites can drive action online and off.

“Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all these other sites are not social,” Childress reported. “They simply are mechanisms that facilitate the natural human need to share our experiences in life with other people.”

Historically, social sharing occurred following a specific experience or event, Childress explained. However, consumers now are using social networking sites to share their thoughts and feelings throughout the entire customer lifecycle, from initial stimulus to interest, trial and eventually purchase or rejection.

However, to make brands “stickier” and more relevant to consumers, retailers must determine what their business represents, as well as the overall experience target audiences expect. This process will allow merchants to create more effective messaging strategies.

“Messaging is the benchmark in which your customers can actually judge the authenticity and relevance of your brand communications against what your business actually does and is,” Childress explained. “Empower your customers to be your strongest voice for change. At the end of the day, your customers aren’t your business; they’re your company.”

In the new era of customer engagement and loyalty, Childress recommended that merchants employ a Customer Experience Officer (CXO) who focuses on customer service, social, advertising, brick-and-mortar design and experience, public relations and packaging. As a result, retailers can build social conversations and apply feedback for optimal brand experiences.

Encouraging Product Reviews To Increase Buzz
Product reviews and endorsements are top drivers of social buzz and purchases. Whether consumers “Like” a brand page or share an item/in-store experience on a web site, public opinions can make or break a brand.

Although dissatisfied customers always are willing to share their poor experiences, it is vital for retailers to encourage happy customers to share/post positive reviews and experiences, according to Mothner.

“Reviews sell products,” Mothner said. “You have to embrace them. You also need to sit down and implement a strategy to determine how you are going to cultivate reviews, respond if there are bad reviews, and build and systematize reviews.”

During his presentation, Mothner discussed the power of social buttons for sites including Google+, Facebook and Pinterest. By featuring these buttons on e-Commerce sites and item pages, retailers will provide seamless access for consumers hoping to share their favorite brands and items. As a result, word-of-mouth and overall brand exposure will increase.

“Though some people are more selective about ‘Liking’ things or pressing social buttons, the more they click these buttons, the more they’re endorsing an item,” Mothner explained. “Consumers then are creating an ecosystem around brands and products, which is really a powerful thing.”