Think Tank

These days, it seems headlines relating to social media fill our feeds — they’re everywhere. During the past 12 months, the growth of social media has become astounding, with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook continuing to gather new users at triple-digit rates. At the same time, hardware continues to run parallel by rapidly evolving and improving, becoming faster and easier for users to view information any time, anywhere through smart devices.

If you haven’t noticed now, in a matter of a few short years, the speed of change will devastate, invigorate and create industries that we never before could have imagined.

In the last two decades, the retailing sector has been in a state of constant evolution and transformation. Globalization, mergers and acquisitions and technological developments have drastically changed the retailing landscape. The explosive growth of the Internet has been one of the main catalysts in this process. The effects of the Internet have been mostly felt in retail sectors dealing mainly with intangibles or information products. But these are not likely to be limited to these sectors; increasingly retailers of physical products realize that the empowered, sophisticated, critical and well-informed consumer of today is essentially different to the consumer they have always known.

Moving forward, the web — in other words, social media — has given consumers much more control, information and power over the market process, posing retailers with a number of important dilemmas and challenges.

So, the underlining question is, why should retail executives embrace social media as a critical new communications channel? The fact is, retailers who are not engaging customers through social media in today’s market could be missing the boat. Social media channels enable efficient, convenient ways for brands to stay in front of their most loyal shoppers and attract new ones.

Consumers are wanting to connect with retailers, to learn about their company, products and upcoming promotions. Social media channels are becoming the first place people build relationships, which require a balance of relevant information about a certain company, brand and culture. In addition to recognizing the positive momentum social media can provide, retailers also need to be listening defensively to ensure that they are aware of potentially damaging chatter while they can still do something about it.

If your business has bricks-and-mortar outposts, businesses can tap into social media and collect tweets, posts and reviews about your business. Better yet, location intelligence can help you find out how people really feel about your store. This allows businesses to get clarity across different geographies and locations to understand the nuanced differences in customer perception of your business to figure out what they prefer and what they do not prefer about different locations.

Not everyone gave social media the credit it deserved when it appeared on the scene — but there were a few that sought its benefits and rolled up their sleeves. Those few knew what it meant for them — that they needed to engage customers in a personalized way on all social platforms. Among the few, some figured out what it meant for customers — that they expected brands to deliver these personalized experiences more efficiently than before. The few that were customer-driven used social to drive more human, intuitive and seamless customer experiences at scale, and they rewrote the rule book.

A few key points that big brands are using social media channels to improve the customer experience and increase sales include: practice proactive customer care as an upsell opportunity; leverage advocates to speak on your behalf; create end-to-end shopping experiences on social; automate and integrate advertising to increase agility; unite siloed teams to engage authentically in real-time, and use automated technology to localize social presence at scale.

The romance of in-store shopping isn’t gone just yet. The challenge for brands is clear. Young consumers — with their online shopping habits — are defining the success of brands. Millennial consumers now have a spending power of around $2.5 trillion, while Millennials and Generation Z will represent 45 percent of the global personal goods market by 2025.

How brands approach the new consumer will determine whether style is eternal.

Ameet Gwalani is Xpandretail’s chief business enabler.

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