StorefrontBacktalk: Making the Case for Pushing Social Media in Stores

Discussion
Jan 17, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from StorefrontBacktalk, a site tracking retail technology, e-commerce and mobile commerce.

How’s this for ironic? Retailers complain about how difficult it is to get shoppers to explore their social media efforts. And yet these same retailers have the almost undivided attention of these shoppers, often for hours every month, in an environment where the retailer has complete control of the surroundings, the store layout and the staff.

What about using in-store technology and even the sales associates to start or enhance those digital conversations?

In my mind, I can see the CEO’s face as the marketing chief explains that he wants to grab some of the consumers’ attention while they are in the store to "build a deeper relationship with them online." I have to imagine that is about as close to heresy as it gets in traditional retailing. "Wasting" precious time and attention of a shopper and "distracting" them with things that do not involve a sale in that very moment, at the point of purchase!

But if you think about it from the customers’ perspective, they don’t understand or care about the different channels a retailer has. They want to interact with the brand across all of the channels in a convenient and consistent way.

On the other side, the digital marketing folks struggle to even start a conversation with their consumers online, lost in the noise that is the social web. The folks on the ground have a relationship, or at least consumers’ attention, but they fail to capitalize on that after the transaction. How crazy is it that both organizations work for the same company, each one able to help the other with a significant problem, and yet most retailers haven’t done it?

Here are a few ideas for you to test to bridge this gap:

  • Place LCD TVs in the store that are tied to the company Facebook page, with clear directions printed on the screen that show customers how to engage online.
  • Have the sales clerk’s e-mail address printed on the receipt, with a note that says, "E-mail me with any questions."
  • Place screens around the store that show Twitter activity about your brand. When someone tweets to or about you, follow that person and engage them.
  • Sit down with your associates once a month and ask them what are the most common questions they get. Start a blog, and answer all of those questions. Choose different associates to provide each answer used on the blog.

I think what is important is to figure out how to shed the "old-way" thinking and how to break down the multi-channel barriers. It’s time to start a relationship with your customers, across all forms of connection, because the benefits are worth it.

Discussion Questions: Should stores be doing significantly more to drive online selling and social media connections at the brick & mortar level? What are your suggestions for using stores to drive engagement online?

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15 Comments on "StorefrontBacktalk: Making the Case for Pushing Social Media in Stores"


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Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 4 months ago

Good points, although the title is misleading. “Digital connections” has a far broader (and ultimately more relevant) scope than “social media.” Getting customer feedback, rewarding your frequent shoppers and providing relevant and contextual info to buyers are all examples of “digital connections” that often have very little to do with “social media.” The objective is to reach out to customers’ digital lives, not necessarily do yet another Facebook page….

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 4 months ago

Retailers should aim for one seamless experience that touches the customer at all contact points. This experience should encompass developing technologies like mobile and social media, so of course in-store social media should be actively pursued.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
10 years 4 months ago

Putting more on the backs of in-store associates is not the answer. They have enough “wildly important goals” to address in order for the store to be successful. I do like the idea shared for associates to communicate commonly asked questions or comments/observations while in-store with internal store ops communication team, and then turn the insight into information/action. A continuous feedback loop is healthy. Need to be very careful with social media — can’t push too much or be obvious, which in turn will turn your consumers off. It is a balance between information, entertainment and engagement.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

We can quibble about tactics — but the fact remains that the hardest part of engaging consumers online is getting them to the website in the first place. That’s why all organizations have to advertise their presence to drive traffic, even among the most digitally voracious.

Perhaps this is slowly changing as the world becomes more digitally oriented. But think of it in terms of the effect cable has had on television advertising. Now, if you think you have trouble connecting your consumer with your commercial in a land of 900 cable channels, how easy will it be in a world of infinite .com’s, .org’s, .biz’s, .gov’s, etc. etc. etc.?

Just as manufacturers have learned that the surest consumer communication is the package at retail, retailers should maximize the opportunity to engage consumers in all aspects of the shopping experience while they are in the store.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

All the suggestions are good ones. But for the most part, retailers — and even many CPG brands — are still pretty illiterate when it comes to understanding and applying the potential benefits of social media. In fact, too many companies treat social media as though it’s only a little bit important and they don’t even assign the responsibilities to the most able and qualified professionals available to them.

Social media needs to be treated within the domain of marketing and it’s as important to retailers and brands today as advertising and public relations, if not even more so. Know what you don’t know, quit complaining, and do it right.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
10 years 4 months ago

I like these ideas. I think many retailers still struggle with the idea of being a brand and the merchant and store ops teams are not aligned to this way of thinking in many big retailers.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

When you can not even get most sales associates to engage with customers in the store, how do you expect them to start engaging with customers in social media?

Shoppers are not interested in Twitter posts and Facebook comments when they shop. What they want is better face to face service. Let’s get that one right first before we move on to getting social media right in the stores.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
10 years 4 months ago
How you execute social media integration will depend on what kind of brand you are, what kind of shopper you already attract and what kind of culture you’ve created for your store associates. I could see a company like American Apparel aggressively adopting the author’s suggestions and making social media “everyone’s job.” Other brands may want store managers to be the drivers of social media engagement and keep associates focused on providing great customer service out on the floor. The important thing is to do something; the opportunity to deepen customer relationships and bolster a multi-channel strategy is too great to pass up. Once you are using your stores to drive more customers to engage with you socially, the next challenge will be how to recognize your online relationship with a customer when they are in your store. Tie-ins between your loyalty program and Facebook as well as location based services like Foursquare are a good place to start. As technologies like location awareness and augmented reality mature, the opportunities will multiply. Those who get… Read more »
Dan Raftery
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

I must be missing something here. Why would a retailer want to draw the shopper’s attention away from the in-store experience? And why would a Web-savvy shopper want to use the store’s Internet connection rather than his or her own smart phone or tablet?

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

These are good, practical ideas that seem worthwhile. But I also love the Instant Poll showing just what I expected: significant confusion.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 4 months ago
Ben Ball has it about right. While I’m hesitant to use Zappos as an example this week, both Zappos and Amazon are good examples for plastering their .com on everything. Retailers that actually have both a physical presence and an online presence should plaster their .com, .co, .biz, etc. on everything, everywhere. That would be a good starting point. One of the huge differences between online and brick & mortar is the information available about the customer’s shopping online. It’s a huge advantage being able to dissect analytics about your customer traffic. In the physical world, that can be done somewhat by utilization of a shopper card, but not nearly to the extent of online customers. Retailers should be looking at ways to identify this same type of information for the physical customer. Beyond that, they could simply start by getting their customers to their website to begin with. Once you get them there in the first place, you can begin the process of identifying what is of value there to them and then making… Read more »
Pamela Tournier
Guest
Pamela Tournier
10 years 4 months ago
Interesting ideas, but not so practical, for reasons outlined below. I agree with the comment that Tweet-feeds displayed on-screen in the store does little to enhance the shopping experience. There needs to be a point to all the social sharing. Toward that end, how about contests, games, etc., that can be solved collectively (i.e., with your friends) wherein clues are provided in tweets which can be displayed in-store? Contest winners/team photos, etc. displayed online and in-store via social media. Votes on proposed new merchandise lines, fashion items, crowdsourced opinion-sharing, maybe tied into an existing loyalty program. Thumbs up, stock the item. Thumbs down, the line goes bye-bye. Instant voting results displayed in-store. Share results from different store locations/cities. Points awarded for voting. Store events, parties, etc. are a natural … photos of guests enjoying themselves at the event shared online and in-store. My point in proposing these counter-ideas is two-fold: (1) social media should enhance the customer’s experience, and (2) customers who choose to participate should be recognized and rewarded for contributing to the experience.… Read more »
Pamela Tournier
Guest
Pamela Tournier
10 years 4 months ago

One more thing I forgot to mention … if I tweet about a store, I sure don’t want the store to stalk me and ‘engage in conversation,’ displaying our exchange in-store!

Give me points or shoot me a special deal I can share with my friends if I happen promote the store; solve my problem if I complain. But please don’t share this with tout le monde unless I, the customer, agree to the sharing!!!

Again, the point of all this is not the social exchange itself — it’s all about the benefits, baby!

Theresa Sim
Guest
Theresa Sim
10 years 4 months ago

While ideally store associates could be better at “engagement” by simply providing good customer service, there are also other ways that retailers can bring social media (or as the first commenter pointed out, “digital connections” might be a better phrase) into the in-store experience.

I certainly find it helpful when I can do product research in store — yes I typically use my own phone, but it helps if stores offer free Wi-Fi to ensure a quick connection.

Amazon’s price comparison app (obviously not to the benefit of brick-and-mortar retailers) is another good example. Along those lines, we encourage sharing of products discovered at brick-and-mortar locations with a mobile app as well.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

The suggestions made in the article are a very good start to connecting brick and mortar merchants with their customers in the social world.

I would add consideration of geo-fencing to be able to connect “in the moment” deals with consumers actually in store.

I would also use QR codes selectively in the window to allow customers to learn about products and services, effectively extending store hours.

This is a great topic that we could brainstorm for hours and probably explains why 40% of poll results say “do much more.”

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