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Retail in the era of social media, the new store front

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The race for holding the fickle customer’s interest long enough to make a sale is on. Organisations of late have been committing serious funds and efforts to social media to build and strengthen customer engagement and involvement. While the sheer seamlessness and frictionless experience of social media is a big draw, customer ‘distraction’ is one large negative that brands and retailers struggle to contend with. Therefore, marketing strategies have to work extra hard to get a prospect’s attention and then hold it long enough for them to naturally progress to the next stage.

Social media is the new store front. Whether it is Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube, these apps have now become one more access point to funnel customer interest and, hold their attention long enough so as to culminate into a sale.

In recent times the shift to e-commerce has been significant. This has been fuelled in parts by smartphone penetration, cheap data prices and, the post pandemic ecosystem which has amplified it even further. It doesn’t need a marketing genius to understand that the time is ripe to quickly latch on to this opportunity and reap benefits by pouring thought and effort into it. Multi-brand retailers and even brands who have e-commerce enabled websites are all waking up to using social to progress the conversation from awareness and interest and to culminate into prospect conversion and cementing loyalty.

So digital window shopping apart, brands and the retail industry alike have woken up to Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter etc offering opportunities arising from catching the customer’s interest ‘live’ and, in the moment so to speak. Along the way, the importance of influencers and user generated content helps to progress customer journeys from interest to conversion. Fashion players especially in cosmetics or say in eyewear have been early movers in this game. In India Bestseller brands including Only, Vero Moda or major players like L’Oreal and the home grown Lenskart have not only artfully captured customer interest but also co-opted virtual try-on features; some also complementing such initiatives with AR/ VR features on their digital assets to nudge the customer into opening their wallets immediately.

Do these retail in social media opportunities have CX lessons for us? They most certainly do. Here are some customer-focussed perspectives that need to be considered:

Build Trust & Assurance

Customers are more likely to purchase a brand if user-generated content (UGC) is available. Add to this is the influence of product ratings and written reviews that provide nudges in the right direction. More than 50% customers admit that product photos made them more likely to purchase something. Product photos are a visual endorsement of the message and can help firm up action from intent. This ensures that seemingly random arbitrary interactions have a better lead-in to retail purchases.

Clicks-to-Bricks Is the Reality Today

Some global markets have moved the needle firmly from physical into the virtual space. In India however, now more so after the vaccination drives are gathering momentum, we continue to see strong inclination and interest in mixing and traversing both online and offline experiences. So, while social media provides a viable door opener especially among the younger demographics, one cannot lose sight of the 35-45-year-olds with higher disposable incomes who may enter too but continue to yearn for physical experiences. Smart customer centric marketers should work on such customer preferences and design experiences that do not disadvantage either of the user’s preferences.

Align to the Ephemeral Nature of Social media 

The everchanging nature of social media is alluring especially to customers who are fast-moving and constantly seeking instant gratification. This cohort gravitates towards always seeking new fixes to start conversations or stay engaged. Social media complements this need. To be customer centric, retailers are constantly challenged to refresh, reinvent and introduce novelty and all the time create strongly unique experiences that deeply connect with their customer.

Delinking Assisted & Digital Experiences is Impractical

I know of instances where on one hand serious investments are made in digital technologies but, corners are cut while re-skilling and uplifting frontline skills or investing in socialising the digital playbook internally. While you may build video-game kiosks, digital sign boards, digital pop-a-shots etc to offer a more interactive experience, remember to complement the digital program with great CX by staff on hand. The frontline employee’s conviction and knowledge can reinforce or dilute the customer focussed message and goals that the company’s digital assets are supposed to achieve. Turned off staff can single-handedly kill all the ‘buzz’ that you are aspiring to create.

In sum, use social media to go much beyond just acquisition and conversion and, rather spend effort and resources on fulfilling customer aspirations for lasting benefits. While social presence acts as a crowd puller and enhances the sales pitch, there is also that human connection that complements and uplifts the experience.

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