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Social media for retailers

Posted: 31 July 2019

Social media dominates our society - one third of the world population uses social media, and in the US a whopping 81% of the population has a social media profile. On average US users spend more than 215 weekly minutes on social media via smartphone, and millennials are pretty much glued to their smartphones only breaking for sleep.

Anyone that is anyone has an online presence, and with the rise of online retailers we have seen marketers utilizing social media platforms to drive traffic. But does social media really work for traditional retailers?

In this article we take a look at social media and the role it has to play for bricks and mortar retailers.

Getting people into the store

In a world where we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want it at the click of a button, a major challenge for traditional retailers is getting shoppers in through the door. It seems counter-intuitive but online social media activity can actually encourage shoppers in to the store.

A great example is Victoria’s Secret. They ran a campaign where shoppers were encouraged to take a selfie in front of a specific window display and post it online using a dedicated hashtag. When they showed this to a shop assistant in the store they’d receive a free gift. This campaign worked on many levels – it increased Victoria’s Secret’s social media presence, it got shoppers down to the store and it got them talking to shop assistants who could then help customers with any other purchases they may be interested in.

Another example captured on twitter:

Limited-time offers, flash sales and special codes promoted on social media are other ways to increase interest in what is going on in your store and drive in-store traffic. This works best when you create a sense of urgency, e.g. special codes or promotions that only last a short time. Nike set up pop-up stores around Paris for just one afternoon and announced it on social media. It was to launch their Air Max 270, and within a short time all the pairs of trainers had been snapped up.

Engaging with people in-store

Retailers can use social media within the store as another way to connect with customers on their path to purchase. Most millennials only buy items with online reviews, why not use QR codes on signs next to key items that shoppers can scan with their smartphone and be taken directly to reviews of that product.

QR codes can drive engagement

A sign holder for QR codes!

Nordstrom certainly went big when finding a way to connect their in-store and online worlds. They installed a giant 3D Instagram installation on to the store’s roof. Ok, so this may be a little over your own marketing budget, but there are easy ways you can connect your social media presence to your shop floor.

Consider using signage showing images of the item from your Instagram or Pinterest post. It helps give people ideas about how to wear the item, or how it could look within a setting, and also tells shoppers about your social media pages too. This latter point is particularly important for a bricks and mortar business, you need to publicize your online presence to those within your store. Use signs within the store to tell shoppers where they can follow you in social media. Signs at the checkout and queuing area will be noticed, and even encourage people to check you out online while they wait.

Building a community

This ultimately is the glue that makes everything else work at its best. Social media gives retailers the opportunity to engage with customers even when they are not in the store and to build a community of people with similar values. The key is to know your audience – choose the right platforms and the right messages. When retailers connect with consumers meaningfully on social media they increase their visibility with an audience that’s already inclined to buy or looking to buy products. The crux here is ‘meaningful connection’. Promotions and sales etc are great and have their place, but they need to be counter-balanced by something that isn’t directly sales focused. Post content that is in line with your customers values. This is what builds the connection and the community you are looking for.

We can learn something here from online retailer Wholesome Culture. Wholesome Culture sells cruelty-free clothing targeted at vegans and those living a plant-based lifestyle. They intersperse specific posts about their products with relevant, popular viral memes that help build connection with their followers. They also post vegan recipes. They don’t sell food or anything linked to the recipes – the point is that this is content their followers are interested in and by posting relevant content Wholesome Culture becomes an integral part of that culture and community.

General Electric (GE) uses videos on Facebook and YouTube to inform customers about the wider work they do. We may all be aware of GE’s home appliances but many of us don’t know about what else they do. GE uses social media not just in a transactional way, but as a way to educate and build awareness, and to showcase their technological innovations. By telling their story they connect with followers.

Don’t forget it’s a two-way street

Social media provides a way for you as a retailer to communicate with your customers, but remember it also provides an opportunity for your customers to communicate with you.  Involve your followers on your platform.

A successful example of user-generated content (UGC) strategy is ASOS. ASOS encourages people to post photos of themselves wearing ASOS outfits with the hashtag #asseenonme. Posters have the opportunity to be featured on the ASOS Instagram feed, and ASOS adds the relevant product description and product code, so shoppers can then easily go online and find the same outfit.  ASOS may be an online retailer but traditional retailers can adopt a similar approach perhaps with the opportunity for customers to reserve an item to collect in-store.

Active participation and discussions from your followers are an indicator of brand connection and trust. Your social media presence helps increase the amount of time potential customers spend interacting and engaging with your brand – it is not only the time they spend within your store. In this way social media provides a huge opportunity for bricks and mortar retailers.

Keep your eye on the ball

Social media provides an excellent way to communicate with customers, build rapport and encourage dialog. But you must be responsive.

When customers are unhappy, increasingly they will contact you via social media to complain. And they expect a response. One in three people will go elsewhere if they are ignored online. Every comment you miss is potentially lost revenue, and of course other followers will see your non-response which may damage your reputation further. This isn’t to warn you off social media, the benefits are tremendous, but you need to be mindful to meet the expectations of your followers.

As well as being responsive you need to make sure you get your tone right. On International Women’s Day, Miele posted an image of four women looking super-happy stood around a washer and dryer. Hmm. Perhaps not Miele. They deleted their post within a few hours following negative backlash.

Snapchat is another high-profile example where they got the tone wrong. Very wrong. They ran an Ad asking users if they’d rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown – a nod to the 2009 incident where Brown assaulted Rihanna. Snapchat users were appalled and the company lost $800 million from its share price. Ouch.

And while we are on the subject of social media disasters, one more from Heinz. They inadvertently let a domain name lapse and it was taken over by a pornography site. Anyone who scanned the QR code on the backs of thousands of Heinz Ketchup bottles found themselves looking at, umm, well, x-rated content. Oops.

The moral of these disaster stories is to approach social media with care. Read, re-read and read again your posts before you send them. Check your links. Sense check them. Have someone else do the same. Is the tone what you intend and what your followers expect? And ensure you invest enough resource in to responding to followers. The more responsive and on-tone you are, the better the rapport you will build.

Key take away

Social media provides huge scope for retailers to communicate with customers when they are not in-store and to also drive traffic in to stores. Care should be taken that posts and campaigns are on-tone and that posts from customers are responded to wherever possible. If done well, social media gives retailers an opportunity to build a community around their brand which will ultimately increase their presence and their sales.

Read part two of this story for some tips.

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