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Looking Beyond Engagement, Retailers Embrace Social Media As A Selling Tool Featured

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Customer engagement and interaction has gone digital, and social media is helping shoppers become more communal with their favorite brands — and also gets shoppers to share more information.

Almost two thirds (64%) of social media users say they visit social media sites at least once a day via their desktop/laptop, according to a recent report from Nielsen. As a result, retailers have embraced the social storm to get their brands in front of target consumers.

Social networks are playing a role in several stages of the buying cycle. However, a new trend is emerging: Retailers are closing sales using social selling tools and tactics.

“The way I see it, social [media and engagement] is going to be a very dominant way for retailers to actually complete transactions,” said Chris Bennett, Co-Founder and CEO of Soldsie. “It’s going to be the future of the retail industry, especially in the next four or five years.”

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Soldsie, an e-Commerce service that allows retailers to turn their Facebook and Instagram profiles into extended digital marketplaces for their brands, is one of the few services available to retailers looking to bridge the gap between social and e-Commerce. With the solution, shoppers can comment on social media posts with the hash tag #sold, and then receive an email invoice to finalize their transactions.

Like many new and emerging technologies, it will take some time and effort before brands see the ROI of social selling tools, according to Bennett. “Many retailers that are new to social selling are going to have to go through a learning curve before they see it make an impact on the bottom line. These retailers need to have an open mind when they begin selling via social.”While social selling can be effective when combined with rich visual content on sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, this strategy may not align with every retailer’s marketing strategies or target audience.

“When social selling is authentic and fits in the flow of a genuine experience, it has an amazing and positive influence,” said Justin Garrity, Senior VP of Postano by TigerLogic, a social media visualization platform. “People want to know what products their friends and other fans recommend or like, and this knowledge can be especially powerful in shaping a consumer’s own purchasing decisions.”

Listen Before You Sell

To effectively implement a social selling strategy, retailers need to first leverage social media as a way to learn more about shoppers who are engaging with them. Social media facilitates word-of-mouth in the digital age, and new platforms are available for retailers to see where their audience is and what they’re talking about, according to Garrity. “When consumers are able to see what merchandise or brand content others are posting about, the experience can be especially powerful for shaping opinions on new products or the product they’re considering buying at that moment.” As consumers chatter on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram, brands can leverage this feedback in any aspect of the business — whether it’s product design, designing a marketing campaign or learning what offers or messaging resonates with brand advocates.

“In the grand scheme of things, social media is not based solely on overall revenue; it’s more about building engagement and promoting conversations,” said Eric Jaffe, Senior VP of the Shop Your Way rewards program at Sears Holdings. “You can easily measure your social success based off the conversations your content is creating and the amount of engagement members are having with one another.”

Shop Your Way is a shopping community that gives customers a place to find product information, reviews and recommendations from other shoppers within the group. Users can go to the site and research products from their favorite brands. They also can learn about new brands and products from their fellow community members.

Amplifying The Shopper’s Voice

Social not only can help expand the retailer’s message, but also magnify the voice of the customer. And shoppers are more than willing to share their experiences, whether they’re positive or negative. For example, the user review web site Yelp has received more than 57 million written reviews in Q1 2014 alone.

“Almost everyone has a publishing machine in their pocket and can post their thoughts, share photos and/or videos whenever they want,” Garrity said. “As a real-time channel that delivers the latest information, news and trends, social has created influencers that share their thoughts, reviews and recommendations with tremendous impact and otherwise might not exist.”

Social networks and online communities such as Yelp empower consumers to strengthen their voices, allowing them to reach people and brands worldwide. With Shop Your Way, Sears is encouraging customers to share their product reviews and recommendations, and ask questions to the entire community, which includes fellow consumers and even store associates.

“We are focusing around the members, and building relationships with them that go beyond what they purchase from us,” Jaffe said. “Our program is focused around understanding and rewarding our members; and what makes the difference is the fact that our members are building this social community around our brand.”

Jaffe added that while customers prefer to hear about other customers’ shopping experiences, they also are looking into “what store associates have to say about products and brand-related inquiries.”That is why Sears recently unveiled new mobile features that enable users to connect directly with store associates from their favorite brands. These associates will respond directly to the user, strengthening the connection between the brand and the shopper while also improving the shopping experience.

Merging The Powers Of Mobile And Social

Almost half (47%) of smartphone owners visit social networks every day, according to Nielsen, indicating a new engagement opportunity for retailers as consumers research and discover products. In the early years of social media, many retailers were under the “e-Commerce mindset” that consumers are shopping via social and mobile with intent, according to Bennett. However, shoppers tapping into Facebook and Instagram on their mobile devices may not be ready to complete a purchase.

“I think that is one of the reasons why retailers see such low conversion rates for their mobile and social efforts,” Bennett said. “Especially with social media, not all consumers are shopping with intent anymore — they are discovering things. You have to give the consumer time to get from that stage of discovery to the stage where they checkout and purchase a product or service.”

But if retailers are engaging socially with shoppers on a consistent basis, the eagerness to shop and discover new products will gradually increase and lead to more potential sales.

“Groups of members, especially social communities, are the most valuable to retailers,” Jaffe said. “Highly engaged members end up spending more and — more importantly — shop more frequently.”

Part 2 of the Next-Gen Social feature will publish in the June 17 newsletter.

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