Social Media And The Retail Experience
While it has yet to come of age, one can say that social media has definitely graduated from the experimental phases to a now recognized prong in most corporate strategies. What was once seen as a time-wasting hobby, similar to congregating around the water cooler to gossip at work, is now being leveraged not only to cut advertising costs and engage customers in dialogue, but actually heavily influence retail decision making.
In the past couple of years, monitoring social channels for feedback and brand mentions have become common practice among businesses large and small. Now, however, savvy retailers are taking social media one step further, and are actually mining the networks for useful data in regards to displays, product development, and marketing campaigns.
Nordstrom, for example has been a pioneer in this regard. Instead of using mannequins alone to drive sales on select articles of clothing, the visual merchandisers at Nordstrom actually use the most popular items on Pinterest to help them dress their mannequins and work out their displays. As consumers walk in, a shoe or handbag may have a sign emblazoned with the Pinterest logo, noting that this particular product is the main attraction of discussion groups. Consumers flock to these products, feeling familiar with the item because a celebrity or close friend snapped a photo of it and posted it online. Retailers will place these marked products near the store’s entrance to gain as many walk-in sales as possible.
Brazilian retailer C&As was another rather early adopter of this practice, but instead of working with mannequins, they went with hangers. Their special clothes hangers are networked to count the number of Facebook fashion likes a specified look gets, real time. The nifty hangers sporting virtual thumbs up from peers around the world, give shoppers the second (and third, and millionth) opinion they might crave. Although some shoppers found it to be a turn off, the truth is, we humans are social creatures, and community approval definitely does encourage sales.
Target is experimenting with a similar concept called The Awesome Shop. The online shop powered by Pinerest is basically a catalog with the top pinned items from Pinterest and the most reviewed products on the Target website curated to one page. The idea of course is to further publicize and track these already popular items. Like Nordstrom, they are using the information gleaned from the tracking to stock shelves, and create in store displays.
Although leveraging information from social media for in store displays and activities is only in the beta phases, it is clear that retailers who can most successfully merge the on and offline worlds will emerge as winners. With customers communicating and engaging like they never have before, using the information to further sales should really be a no brainer, and was one of the top trends predicted to be picked up by retailers across the board in the year 2014.