Building Long-Term Customer Relationships With Social Engagement

shadow RTP RT019 Feat SocialMedia May 2014By following their favorite brands and retailers on social networks, consumers can gain access to an insider’s view of companies and products as well as a first look at new releases, offers, contests and giveaways.

Today’s retail environment has entered a “new social norm,” with more people using social networks on a daily basis, according to Nielsen in a recent report. The Digital Consumerreport concluded that 64% of social media users tap into sites at least once a day on their computers. Approximately half (47%) of social media subscribers use their smartphones to access social networks.


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Progressive retailers such as Nordstrom, Alex and Ani, and Duane Reade are embracing social channels, including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram, to boost bottom-line results.

“Many brands are beginning to realize that social media can be used as a powerful tool to drive in-store engagement and sales,” said Pau Sabria, Co-Founder of Olapic. “For many consumers, social media can provide inspiration on how to decorate a space, plan an outfit or see how it fits on a real person instead of a traditional model.”

But retailers’ participation in social channels should not end once a customer completes a purchase. To drive ongoing sales and promote long-term loyalty, forward-thinking merchants are using social networks to build ongoing relationships and provide value to their customers over time.

“While social media can help promote flash sales and short-term objectives, and overall, help get the word out, it’s generally a long-term play,” said Kyle Wegner, Associate Director of Digital Strategy at The Integer Group. “It’s not as simple as using a hash tag on in-store promotions and calling it a day. That doesn’t give your shoppers any reason to engage with your brand or even recall it after they visit a store. You have to think about the utility and value you’re going to provide to your customers.”

Nordstrom Taps Pinterest To Improve Assortment Relevancy

With more than four million followers on Pinterest, 423,000 followers on Instagram and more than 2.5 million “likes” on Facebook, Nordstrom has a large, passionate community of customers that actively engage with the brand.

“What’s great about social media is that it creates a bigger platform for customers to share their experiences with us and with each other,” said Dan Evans, Business PR Director for Nordstrom, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We want to create a seamless shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in store, online or through our mobile app. Social media gives us a way to engage with customers in real-time as they shop. We love to be there to help them find that perfect item.”

Evans clarified that Nordstrom “doesn’t have a channel strategy; we have a customer strategy. Social media is another way for us to stay connected with customers throughout the entire shopping experience.”

Communication and engagement have become even more seamless and compelling since Nordstrom implemented a series of in-store tactics to promote its social presence. For example, the retailer is using special displays and signage to promote items popular on social networks.

“Customers speak to us through their pins about which items are most relevant and exciting, and the top-pinned items in our stores is an attempt to bring these pinned items to life,” according to Evans.

As shopping preferences continue to shift, Nordstrom will strive to evolve with them, “no matter how they choose to engage or shop,” Evans reported. “We realize the definition of service is changing, too.  We continue to listen and learn from customers through social media platforms like Pinterest and do our best to serve them on their terms.”

Alex And Ani Puts A Local Spin On Social Engagement

Social media and real-time customer engagement have a “front row seat” in the digital program at Alex and Ani, said Ryan Bonifacino, VP of Digital Strategy at Alex and Ani, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

Alex and Ani Founder and CEO Carolyn Rafaelian established the jewelry brand and retailer to “put customers first with authenticity no matter how large of a company we become,” Bonifacino said. “The company makes large investments not only into personnel and agency relationships but also sophisticated social listening, social content management/distribution and social analytics tools.”

To establish and cement relationships with loyal customers, each of Alex and Ani’s stores nationwide includes a social media liaison who stays in constant contact with the retail social team at company headquarters.

Having these local representatives helps create more relevant campaigns and events, resulting in “extremely high engagement,” Bonifacino explained. They also “add to the sense of loyalty our in-store and crossover customers have with our brand.” Alex and Ani also has seen success with a user-generated content strategy, which is fueled by Olapic technology.

Product detail pages are adorned with photos of fans sporting Alex and Ani jewelry, a social commerce strategy that helps show products “in the wild,” Bonifacino noted. This “shop the look” component has been “quite effective at lifting time spent on the site, average order value and conversion rates.”

The user-generated content initiative has been so fruitful that Alex and Ani plans to integrate consumer photos from across social networks into its new brick-and-mortar strategy that features iBeacon technology.

“Our digital strategy includes a very forward-thinking approach to the digitization of in-store retail experiences,” Bonifacino said. “We are oftentimes the first brand in our category to test and scale new and emerging technologies — as was the case with iBeacon technology. This technology will serve as the backbone to a handheld experience that brings both product information and user-generated content from social media through Olapic into the hands of our customers and fans.”

Duane Reade Uses Social As A Content Delivery Channel

New York City-based pharmacy chain Duane Reade takes a highly localized approach to its strategies for merging social media and its stores.

Specifically, the retailer embraces a hybrid of localized social asset management and influencer advocate marketing, both of which are part of Duane Reade’s patented “Parallel Persuasion Equation,” according to Calvin Peters, PR and Digital Communications Manager for Duane Reade. The Parallel Persuasion Equation is: Brand Advocacy + Brand Voice + PR Integration + Conversation Relevance = ROI.

Duane Reade has rolled out a series of notable social amplification programs to promote its private label legwear line, such as the Boo-Ti-Ful Legs campaign. Taking an omnichannel approach to these initiatives, the retailer integrates social media with mobile and the store, focusing on user-generated content and images.

Marketing campaigns and strategies “are seamlessly implemented across the board,” said Peters in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We are always looking for relevant ways to communicate value-added content to our customers when it’s most actionable in their daily routines.”

Duane Reade has implemented a variety of in-store marketing initiatives, such as strategically placed in-store creative assets and in-store radio. The retailer also recently launched a 10-store iBeacon test, which will allow Duane Reade to “integrate our core authentic user-generated content and value-added assets per category at the precise point of decision in-store,” Peters said. All content and assets will be custom-tailored to individual customers and their prior purchases.

Peters added that the in-store assets, radio and iBeacon roll out will all play an important role in reaching customers in a relevant and compelling way while they’re browsing in stores or checking out at the point of sale.

Technology Helps Connect Social To The Store

Innovative retailers are tapping mobile technology to help blur the lines between social networks and brick-and-mortar stores. For example, in-store Wi-Fi and beacon technology can help link online shopping behaviors with in-store browsing and buying patterns.

“Companies are trying to close the loop by tracing shopper profiles throughout the entire lifecycle of activities and touch points,” said Bob Heaney, Principal Analyst of the Retail/Wholesale Markets and e-Commerce Practice at Aberdeen Group. “One way to connect shopper sales activities and all-device channel interests is to tie social and mobile activity to web and in-store location-sensing technology via loyalty program extensions and device-agnostic shopper profiles.”

Closing the information loop will provide retailers with the information they need to make in-store social engagement more relevant. “When I see social strategies across the entire shopping journey, what I see missing is contextual relevance,” noted Laura Davis-Taylor, SVP of Omnichannel Experience at The Integer Group. “People love social media but brands and retailers are not always thinking about understanding how consumers are using it organically before, during and after they shop.”

Mobile devices present a variety of opportunities for consumers to connect social data and in-store experiences, Davis-Taylor said. For example, shoppers can tap their smartphones to access product information and determine how many “likes” an item has received on social media.

RFID and NFC also can help create more connected experiences. Using their smartphones, shoppers can activate digital signage on RFID-tagged items to access ratings and reviews or user-generated content, Davis-Taylor explained. “The ability to connect the information cloud to the shopper while they’re in the moment is a really exciting concept.”

As consumers continue to expand their use of digital channels and technologies in their everyday lives, retailers will have more opportunities to unify the social and brick-and-mortar experience.

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